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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Slow Change of Repentance
Text:LD 33 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 139:1,2                                                                              

Ps 146:1,3  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Mark 9:42-48; Colossians 3:1-17

Ps 34:1,4,5,9

Sermon – Lord’s Day 33

Hy 48:3,4

Hy 70:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, we’re fascinated by the idea of a quick change. You can always watch some TV show or another about big transformations. Maybe a person’s spotty face and bad hair undergo a ‘total makeover.’ Or you get to follow the story of a drastic home remodeling project—it can be really interesting.

This love for ‘making things over’ can lend the idea that change is easy. Pay a big amount, connect with the right people, or be determined enough, and transformation will happen in a hurry. And you’ll never look back! It’s an attractive idea, but unrealistic. Because real change takes a lot longer. The far more significant transformations in the life of a person—change in our character, our lifestyle, our core beliefs—these can’t be accomplished overnight, or by the end of an hour-long TV show.

That’s because we face a problem that goes way deeper than the surface of things. The problem is sin, and its effect is far-reaching. Sin doesn’t just touch the outward character of a person, like my actions and words. Sin impairs my internal condition, my very nature and being. It’s like renovating a home while its foundation is cracked and crumbling, and all its timber is rotten through. It’s not going to be enough to throw on some paint, or even put in a new kitchen. If change is only external, our condition is no better than it was before. Change has to go deep.

As Christians, we believe in God’s almighty power. We believe He’s able to raise the dead; Christ can heal what has been completely broken. And He has, causing us to be born again through his Spirit. But there’s still no easy fix to the problem of sin. Which means that the process of being regenerated must always continue. This is what we see in Lord’s Day 33, concerning the true repentance or conversion of man. Here’s our theme,

Let us continually lead a life of repentance:

  1. by putting off
  2. by putting on
  3. and keeping on


1) putting off: Let’s begin with an example. Say there’s a particular sin in the life of a believer. And she comes to realize and confess it as sin. Perhaps it’s the sin of gossip, against the 9th commandment. She thrives on sharing negative stories about other people. She just can’t resist passing along rumours and slander and bad reports. But then she comes to see how this sinful habit has become so engrained in her daily conversation, how it’s destructive and wrong. She acknowledges it to God, and she asks for his mercy. There was a sin in her life, but she put it away. After going the wrong direction, she turned around—she repented.

And this is wonderful. It’s a work of God when we confess our sin and we make a stop to what we were doing before. But we all should realize that resolving to repent of such-and-such a sin is just the beginning. For what happens now? After a brief sabbatical, does that sin of gossip (or drunkenness, or pride, or greed, or lust), does it come back in full force? Or is that sin simply replaced by something worse? After our confession of sin, what happens?

This is why when the Catechism talks about repentance, it emphasizes that there needs to be an ongoing change. It asks, “What is the true repentance or conversion of man?” And the answer: “It is the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new” (Q&A 88). Notice those two activities, simultaneous and side-by-side: dying, and coming to life. The point is, even once we’ve repented, we need to keep working with our repentance. We need to keep ‘putting off’ that sin—so that it doesn’t come back.

The first aspect is what we focus on in this point, how repentance is the dying of the old nature. The Catechism explains: “It is to grieve with heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sin, and more and more to hate it and flee from it” (Q&A 89). Let’s give attention to the three actions listed: there is grieving, but there’s also hating, and there’s fleeing.

To us, grieving might seem like a quiet or passive activity. We picture someone sitting in a chair, silent tears rolling down her cheeks. That is grieving. But perhaps it’s better to think of how people in Bible times would grieve: letting out loud cries, waving their hands, expressing strong emotion. This is how the Lord in James 4 calls out to sinners, “Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (v 9).

For there must be a real expression of repentance. It’s not about making a show of our sorrow, but about grieving for our sin in a real and heartfelt way. And we’ve got things to learn here. For I suspect that often we don’t give our sins much more than a second thought. Sin no more troubles us than having to stop at a red light or losing a Saturday soccer game—it’s disappointing when we sin again, but we get over it pretty quickly. But Scripture says we ought to mourn how sin comes between us and our Father. By your sin of showing disrespect for your parents, or by your lack of trust in God, or your envy for someone else’s success, you have offended God’s perfect holiness. So we must humble ourselves.

The next two activities of repentance are hating sin and fleeing from it. Appreciate how important this is too. It’s easy to tolerate sin, instead of hating it. Think about how we make excuses for sin, get defensive about it: ‘It’s just a stage I’m going through.’ ‘This is my character, and I’m too weak to fight it.’ Or, ‘I was tired—I had a bad day and I needed to let go.’ But hating sin means we don’t defend it but despise it.

Other times, we remain too close to sin. Maybe you can probably think of a situation where you knew that a specific sin was nearby—where the temptation was very real—but you didn’t flee like you should’ve. After all, you’re strong. You know your limits. You can stop when you want to. But see the third duty of true repentance: God calls us to flee from sin! Remaining close to sin is the exact contrary to this. And it’s for good reason that we should flee: sin has power, deceptive and overwhelming.

Grieve, hate, and flee—Scripture confirms this approach when it says we must be severe in our response to evil. Consider Colossians 3, “Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (v 5). Throughout this section, Paul is contrasting two styles of living: an earthly style and a heavenly style. Verse 2 is his theme: “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” You can live like you did before, as someone dominated by wicked and worldly thoughts. Or you can live a life united to Christ, one filled with glory and ruled by gratitude.

There’s no question about which style of life is better. But the heavenly life involves a serious demand. There should be a violent severance from all the old ways: “Put to death whatever is ‘of the earth,’” says Paul. Kill it! Be finished with sin. Somewhere else the Holy Spirit speaks about crucifying our old nature—nailing it to the cross together with Christ, killing it completely—so that it doesn’t come back again.

We find these same activities of hating and fleeing sin in the teaching of Jesus, in Mark 9.  Because the time is so urgent, the Lord teaches us to fend off the evil one. Jesus says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (v 43). And again, a couple verses later, “If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off” (v 45). Doctor’s advice is spiritual amputation! He shows how seriously we should take the matter of ongoing repentance. Anything in your life that is a regular cause of sin, or that is a certain seduction to sin, or that is an obvious opportunity to sin, you should (as much as possible) remove it from you.

That’s more than just a superficial response. We all know that sin doesn’t start in the eye, and neither does sin arise from your physical hand or foot. In the same way, the evil of greed doesn’t live on your credit card, and your sin of drunkenness can’t be blamed on Jack Daniels. Your lust can’t be blamed on someone else’s revealing clothing or on the programs on your computer. All these things are only the physical instruments. They are the tools for transgression taken up by our sinful hearts.

But to start fighting against sin, we need to bring these physical things under control. Proverbs teaches us to turn our eyes, to restrain our feet, to hold back our hands. Master these things, instead of being mastered. Repentance involves taking real steps to combat our sin.

So if there’s a stubborn habit which you know seduces you to evil, you must give full attention to breaking that habit. That is God-pleasing repentance. Or if there’s a friendship which regularly—or potentially—brings you into sin, then you should end that friendship. If there’s an activity coming to ruin you, or dominate you, take steps to reverse that trend and remove it from your life. Take away the occasion. Shut the door of open access. Get rid of whatever enables. And bring it out into the open, so that others can help.

Do we really need to take this so seriously? Isn’t all this a little drastic? Listen again to Jesus’s words. This what’s at stake: “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye—or one foot!—rather than having two eyes—or two feet!—to be cast into hell fire, where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’” (vv 44, 46). It’s better to go without today, deny ourselves today and suffer today, than to give in to Satan, and forfeit salvation.

All this means that our repentance must be more than just good intentions. Repentance is more than merely hoping to avoid temptation. Sometimes we sin, and we say, ‘Well, hopefully better next time. Maybe next weekend I’ll have stronger self-control.’ No, we need to do something about it. You want to do something about it, because you don’t want to die in your sin, and you want to honour God.

Paul says a bit later in Colossians 3, “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth” (v 9). Put them off! Like stripping off dirty and stain-covered clothes, and tossing them away from you. Get rid of your sin, through a conscious and deliberate activity. And then make sure that you’ve put on something better.


2) putting on: There’s a verse in Psalm 34 that nicely captures the whole idea of repentance. It comes in verse 14: “Depart from evil, and do good.” There’s the two parts of true repentance, reflected in the Catechism. We stop doing our own will and start doing God’s will.

Because when that sister ended her chronic gossiping, it was well and good. When that brother resolved to stop watching porn every night, that was good. But this was only the first step. There’s another side to repentance: it’s “the coming to life of the new” (Q&A 88). What does that new life look like? “It is a heartfelt joy in God through Christ, and a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works” (Q&A 90). We replace the evil deeds with a dedication to good works.

Colossians 3 speaks of this same way of life. Look at verse 9, “Since you have put off the old man with his deeds…” That’s a reminder of how we all have “an old man,” the nature inside us which is, in principle, already crucified and dead—but in practice, it’s still being killed. The remnants are hanging on, which we experience every day.

And in the place of ‘the old man,’ something else is coming to life: “[You] have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (v 10). That is the miracle of regeneration! We are slowly being renewed, gradually being restored in the image of the One who made us.

But how do we actually see and experience and promote this activity of ‘putting on?’ We saw that Christ calls us to take real steps in fighting against our sin: grieving, hating, fleeing—confessing our sins, closing doors on sin, getting help to fight our sins. And in the same way, Christ calls us to take real steps in doing what is good. Delighting to do God’s will is something that we can learn.

And as always, we have to begin with what’s inside. From the overflow of your heart, comes everything else. Remember what Scripture says, “Set your mind on things above” (Col 3:2). If you will ever glorify God in your life, then his majesty must first become more real to you. A mind set on adoring God will be set on serving God! On the other hand, if God doesn’t impress you, you’ll have no motivation to live for him. So we need open eyes for his glory, the glory so evident in his creation, so evident in his Word. When we begin to delight in the character of God, the promises of God, we get the resources we need for a changing life.

Paul puts the change from one style of life to another in very practical terms. This is what it should look like: “As the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (vv 12-15).

Hear how the Spirit keeps saying, “Put on this, put on that. Put on mercy, put on forgiveness, put on love, put on thankfulness.” It’s again the image of putting on new clothes. We gain a fresh look to our person after we take off what was old and smelly and stained. By Christ and his Spirit, we receive a whole new wardrobe—now clothed in his righteousness, robes of pure white, washed in his blood.

Exchanging ‘old for new’ plays out in real change. It is seen in daily things like our habits and our attitudes. For example, instead of gossiping again, that repentant sinner strives to use her mouth to praise God and encourage others: old replaced by the new! Instead of being given over once again to his private lust, a repentant sinner aims to increase his delight in the Lord and in the Lord’s people. He finds something new to be busy with besides his device, finds something new to give him joy: putting off evil desire and putting on holiness.

And the amazing thing is that doing God’s will never goes to waste. Be assured that sin is only a dead-end road. On its own, sin never produces something good. But God gives our good works a power and effectiveness. God uses our little efforts to make his Kingdom come.

The quiet prayers that we offer for a struggling family—they matter. The gentle witnessing that we do at work—God uses that. The daily and often repetitive instruction we give our children; our flawed labours in the church; the money we contribute for the gospel; the passing kindness we show to our neighbour—the LORD says that all these things count. They make a difference! So we’ll do them, and we’ll do them even more!

For a sinner who has repented, doing good is a delight, because it’s even liberating. The Bible says it’s like a new-found freedom. For sin traps us. Temptation forces us into a corner, when it seems that this is all we know how to do: just give in once again. But when you have the Spirit and you’re guided by his Word, you can begin to do God’s will, to do it freely and joyfully and continuously.


3) keeping on: By now it should be clear that there’s no such thing as a one-day makeover for the Christian life. Any conversion, or new birth, is the beginning of long and even arduous journey. Every good thing that is put on in Christ, must be kept on!            

The Catechism hints at this when it describes the dying of the old nature. It speaks of how we must grieve our sin, and “more and more to hate it” (Q&A 89). If you do anything ‘more and more,’ that means it’s growing and increasing: ‘Lately, I’ve been running more and more.’ So for our repentance. If we’ve tried to separate our favourite sins from our grasp, if we’ve taken steps to remove it from our lives, then we have to keep doing so.

So also when it comes to doing good: “more and more” must be our motto. Year by year, we aim for a growth in the fruits of repentance. The Catechism speaks here of living according to the will of God, “in all good works” (Q&A 90). Not just serving the LORD in some good works, like doing our Sunday thing or making sure we say our bedtime prayer. But do God’s will in everything, “in all good works.” There should be no moment of our day and no part of our character that has not be touched by the sanctifying light of the gospel.

In this regard, our repentance is always an unfinished project. If you repented yesterday, you must do so again today. If you repent today, you must do so again tomorrow. This may be one of the most difficult (or perhaps frustrating) things in the Christian life: the fact that we need to keep going. There’s no break from it. Our enemies are always hard at work, and our weaknesses are often so evident. Progress is erratic, not on a stable arc toward perfection. So it’s hard to keep going, hard to keep eyes on the prize.

But then we remember God’s purpose. He chose us before time. He saved us through his only Son, and He promised to make us perfect in him. And we know that God will be faithful, right to the end! So how do we persevere? How do you keep going? We hold onto God’s promise, confident that in us and for us, He’ll fulfill his purpose: “that He who started a good work in us will bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).

In the same certainty, Paul reminds the Colossians of their prize: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (v 4). One day soon, our Saviour will appear. And then He who is our life today, will be our life forever. We’ll surely appear together with him in glory!

Be encouraged by this to keep on going, to keep working: to mature a little more in your trust in God’s name, to increase in your love, to make every effort to add to your faith virtue, and knowledge, self-control, brotherly kindness, perseverance, and godliness. To grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!

As the Spirit writes in another place, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap a harvest if we do not lose heart” (Gal 6:9). Having walked in our shoes, Christ knows very well what it’s like for us down here on earth. But He says, “Don’t grow weary. Don’t lose heart. When you have repented from sin, keep going in that good direction! Repent again, and again, and draw near to God, because you’re almost there.”  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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