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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:True Repentance
Text:LD 33 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Suggested songs:

Hymn 3
Hymn 1A
Psalm 6
Psalm 32:1-2
Psalm 57

Readings: Psalm 6, Acts 2:29-41, Colossians 3:1-17
Text: Lord’s Day 33

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

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Sometimes people speak the same words but they mean different things.  This can happen especially when you’re dealing with people from different cultures who speak what appears to be the same language.  We once had somebody boarding with us from Australia.  She’d come in the house as we were leaving and would ask, “How ya going?”  And I’d say, “Well, it looks like we’ll be taking the car.”  What she meant was “How are you?”  What we understood was “How are you going to be travelling?” 

That miscommunication happens in a way among Christians too.  Sometimes Christians from other churches will ask you, “When were you converted?”  If you follow the way of thinking in the Catechism, you might answer, “Just this morning again.”  However, it’s more than likely that you’ll recognize that they’re using the definition of conversion found among many Christians, namely the moment that you first came to faith in Christ.  Our confessions usually refer to that as regeneration, or rebirth, you could say, “being born again.”  Lord’s Day 33 speaks about a process which begins with regeneration, but continues throughout the whole life of a Christian.  Lord’s Day 33 speaks about repentance or, as some call it, daily conversion.  This is another way of speaking about sanctification, the process of becoming who we are in Christ.  In Lord’s Day 33, we confess that this repentance or daily conversion is a dying and a coming to life.

But even the Catechism seems to speak two different languages when it comes to this.  Back in Lord’s Day 16, the Catechism says that “Through Christ’s death our old nature is crucified, put to death and buried with him…”  But now in Lord’s Day 33, the Catechism talks about our old nature dying.  So, what is it?  Is our old nature dead or is it dying?  Has it been crucified or is it being crucified?  Finished act or ongoing process? 

And just to be fair, don’t blame our Catechism for making what appears to be a contradiction.  Because that kind of language is also found in the Bible.   What appears to be double-talk is even in the same chapter.  Like in Colossians 3.  In verse 3, Paul says that “you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”  In other words, like Paul says in Romans 6, your old nature has been crucified with Christ.  And then in verse 5 of Colossian 3, “Put to death, therefore, what belongs to your earthly nature.”  So, is our old nature dead or is it dying?  Is it a finished act or an ongoing process?

The answer is:  both.  And there is no contradiction between the two.  A clue to help us understand this is found in the structure of the Catechism.  Lord’s Day 16 is found in the section on Our Deliverance.  We could say that it has to do with our justification, our being declared right with God.  Lord’s Day 33 is found in the section on Our Thankfulness.  We could say that it has to do with our sanctification.  So, from the point of view of justification, our old nature has been crucified with Christ.  It is an accomplished fact.  But from the perspective of sanctification, our old nature is still there.  Even though we are justified, we remain sinners so long as we are in the flesh on this earth.  So, from this point of view, there is a call to put our old nature to death.  There is a process that’s still ongoing.  And it’s only in the hereafter that these two aspects become completely one.

Having cleared that up, we can now consider more closely the elements of true repentance or daily conversion.  The Catechism tells us that there are two:  the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new.  And these two elements express themselves in what goes on in our hearts and what lives in our actions.  So, I preach God’s Word summarized in the Catechism with this theme,

True repentance is a dying and a coming to life

These two elements continually express themselves in:

  1. Grief and joy
  2. Hating and loving
  3. Fleeing and living

1.  The two elements of repentance continually express themselves in grief and joy

Not too many books have been written on the topic of repentance.  In fact, if you go to and do a search you’ll find only a few results with the word “repentance” in the title.  Unfortunately, the best book ever written on the subject is not on the list.  It’s a little known book by Thomas Watson.  The book is called The Doctrine of Repentance.  Watson was a seventeenth-century Puritan, but don’t let that scare you off.  Watson was a powerful communicator and his books still speak clearly and powerfully to modern readers.  This was because Watson was a master of word pictures.  The Doctrine of Repentance has Watson writing at his best.  At one point he says this about repentance:  “A woman may as well expect to have a child without pangs as one can have repentance without sorrow.”  Even today with the advent of c-sections, epidurals, and laughing gas, ask any mother and you’ll be sure to find out that child birth always carries pain with it.  It’s the same with repentance:  true repentance always carries sorrow with it. 

The Catechism makes the same point in QA 89:  “It is to grieve with heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sin…”  You can think here of what David says in Psalm 38:18, “I confess my iniquity, I am troubled (or deeply anguished) by my sin.”  For another example, you can hear what happened to many of the Jews who heard Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:  they were cut to the heart.  Literally, Peter’s message stabbed them in the heart.  The result was that they felt grief for what they had done to the Lord Jesus. 

That same kind of grief is evident in Psalm 6.  This is one of the penitential Psalms, it’s a Psalm written by someone who has sinned and is seeking the LORD.  David evidently committed some sin and experienced God’s anger as a result.  This is clear from the first verse of the Psalm.  In verse 6, David writes about drenching his couch with tears and flooding his bed with weeping.  He mentions weeping in verse 8 as well.  It’s clear that David was full of sorrow because of his sin and its consequences.  This shows us part of what repentance looks like.  Repentance includes deep and sincere grief over sin.

But why?  Why should we have such deep and sincere grief?  The Catechism says that it’s because we have offended God.  It should bother us that we’ve done that.  God created us to give him glory, but when we sin, we’re robbing him of that glory.  That should trouble us and cause us sorrow.

There are right and wrong reasons for grieving over sin.  2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”  What is worldly sorrow?  It’s being sad over sin because we were exposed and had our pride hurt.  Worldly sorrow is being sad over sin only because it hurts us.  Worldly sorrow is superficial.  Godly sorrow is sorrow because of what our sin has to done to God and his glory through our relationship with him.  Godly sorrow is focussed on God.  That’s the kind of sorrow that’s a part of the dying of the old nature side of repentance. 

And on the other side of the coin, on the coming to life of the new nature side of repentance, we have a heartfelt joy in God through Christ.  This is a joy that comes from knowing that we have been received back into relationship with the Father.  It’s the kind of joy that we find in the parable of the lost sons in Luke 15.  When the younger lost son was received by his father, the father was glad.  But so was the lost son!  Verse 24 of Luke 15 says, “They began to celebrate.”  There was music and dancing – you can be sure that the younger lost son was just as happy to be back in relationship with his father.

We have this joy because we know that there is a restored relationship.  Because we have been made right with God through Christ, because our sins have been forgiven, there are no obstacles between us and God.  We’re not only on speaking terms, but on loving terms.  We’re in a healthy relationship again and we’re going to live in this relationship – faithfully and gladly following the ways of our Father. 

How does this kind of joy express itself?  That’s an important question.  There are people who say that the joy of faith will always show itself with a happy face and a cheerful disposition.  Christians are always whistling and singing.  The joy we have in God through Christ can express itself this way.  But it’s deeper than that.  Just like godly sorrow is not superficial, so also godly joy in God through Christ is not superficial.  This runs deeper than having a permanent smile on your face and a song on your tongue.  Because let’s be real:  sometimes life is hard.  Sometimes there’s really tough stuff.  Can you still be joyful as a believer in the middle of difficult circumstances?  If we define joy as being happy in appearance only, it might be hard.  But if we understand joy as something that runs deeper than pain or pleasure, then perhaps there can be true joy even in hard times.  Even in the most difficult circumstances of life, we can have joy in God through Christ – knowing that we are accepted in the beloved.  That’s not to say that we always do – many believers struggle with finding joy in difficult circumstances.  But it’s not impossible – we can pray for it and strive for it.  And when we repent, we’ll know that our repentance is sincere, when we not only grieve over our sins, but also experience the joy of knowing that our sins are forgiven, that we have been received by God in grace. 

Now let’s move on to two other ways that this dying and coming to life express themselves:

2.  Hating and loving   

Over and over again, the Bible tells us to hate sin.  Psalm 97:10 gives us one example, “Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the life of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.”  So the Catechism faithfully summarizes Scripture when it says in QA 89 that the dying of the old nature means that we more and more hate sin. 

What does hatred of sin look like?  Here I’m going to summarize what Thomas Watson writes about this in his book.  He puts it really well when he gives four ways to recognize proper biblical hatred for sin. 

The first is that a person is totally consumed with hatred for sin in body and soul.  Even when Satan paints sin with beautiful colours, we still hate it.  Watson writes, “Suppose a dish be finely cooked and the sauce good, yet if a man hates the meat, he will not taste it.  So let the devil cook and dress sin with pleasure and profit, yet someone who is really repentant who hates sin will be disgusted by it and will not meddle with it.”  Moreover, a repentant believer hates the root, the stem and the fruit of sin.  He says he hates it with his tongue and he hates it with his heart and mind.  True biblical hatred for sin is consistent hatred. 

The second way to recognize proper biblical hatred for sin is that it is hatred against sin in all forms.  Watson puts it this way, “He hates this serpent not only for its sting, but for its poison.  He hates sin not only for hell, but as hell.”

The third way is that true hatred for sin is relentless.  The one who hates sin declares war on it in his life and will never be reconciled to it.  Watson says, “Sin is that Amalek which is never to be taken into favour again.” 

Finally, where is a real hatred for sin, we not only oppose sin in ourselves but in others too.  There are several examples of this from Scripture.  In the New Testament, in the beginning of the book of Revelation, the church at Ephesus was commended because she could not tolerate wicked men.  Paul sharply rebuked Peter for his behaviour, even though he was an apostle.  Christ whipped the money-changers out of the temple.  In the Old Testament, Nehemiah rebuked the nobles for their exacting unjust levels of interest and their profaning of the Sabbath.  Psalm 101:7, “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house.”  Watson writes, “Those who do not hate sin are strangers to repentance.” 

But then there’s the flip side and that’s found in QA 90:  a love and delight for God’s will.  The depth of our hatred for sin has to be matched by the height of our love for what God wants.  An excellent example of this kind of love can be found through many of the verses of Psalm 119.  Just listen to verses 47-48 as an example:  “…for I delight in your commands because I love them.  I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees.” 

Many of you know what it’s like to be in love.  When you’re in love with something or someone, you do a lot of thinking.  For instance, you dream and imagine the next time you’re going to be with the person you love.  And so what does it mean to have a love for God’s will?  This is where we’re very rich as Reformed people.  We have this solid biblical practice of hearing the Ten Commandments every Sunday again and again.  There are a number of good scriptural reasons why we do that and one of them is that it drives God’s Word into our hearts.  After you’ve heard the Ten Commandments Sunday after Sunday for several years, you should have them memorized.  You should be able to say them in your sleep.  When you love God’s will, you can use this piece of God’s Word that you’ve memorized.  You can call it up in your mind and mull over it – reflecting on the beauty of these Words and how perfect and righteous they are – how they point to a God who is pefect and righteous and holy. 

So, as part of the coming to life of our new nature, our daily conversion, we meditate on God’s Word, the Word that we love.  We haven’t just taken off the sin that we hate – so that we’re left naked, so to speak.  No, we take off and we put on.  That’s what it says in Colossians 3:12 and following.  First we have to get rid of the old, take it off.  Then we have to put on the new.  We have to clothe ourselves with God’s will for our lives – that will that we love.  We’ll see more of this taking off and putting on as we now look at how:

3.  The two elements of repentance continually express themselves in fleeing and living

Answer 89 ends by saying that the dying of the old nature takes place when we not only hate sin but flee from it.  In fact, those two things are connected.  If you hate something, but still stay around it, especially when you can do something about it – do you really hate it?  No, it’s pretty clear, if you really hate sin, you’re also going to take actions to make sure that you’re not sticking around. 

The Catechism faithfully summarizes Scripture on this point too.  A couple of examples:  in 1 Corinthians 6:18, the Spirit through Paul says, “Flee from sexual immorality.”  That’s a specific kind of sin, of course.  The command in 1 Corinthians 10:14 is more general:  “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.”  The broadest expression is in 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee the evil desires of youth…” 

So, the dying of the old nature means that we’re going to constantly turn away from sin.  Not just once, but everyday.  And not slowly:  fleeing means that we’re going to get away as quickly as we can.  Every day, when sin is there calling us back, we’re going to run away rather than tinker with it.  And this fleeing is not going to be like Lot’s wife, longingly looking back.  This kind of fleeing is not going to be fleeing some sins while still holding on to others, our little pet sins.  That’s a kind of half-turning that doesn’t fit the biblical picture of repentance.  Thomas Watson describes that kind of so-called repentance as being like a man with several diseases.  He gets cured of most of them, but still has terminal cancer in his lungs. 

So, we’re continually fleeing from sin.  But we’re also continually turning to righteousness.  Embracing it and running towards it.  A minute ago I quoted the first part of 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee the evil desires of youth…”  That verse finishes with these words:  “and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”  So, running away from evil, means running after and pursuing a life according to the will of God in all good works.  That’s the positive side, the coming to life of the new nature expressing itself.  You can’t have repentance unless a person not only runs from sin, but also turns to the Lord and his will.  Somebody who is repentant will show it not only with what goes on in his heart, but also with what you see in his life. 

That’s the focus of the last question and answer of Lord’s Day 33.  What is it that you can expect to see in the lives of repentant believers?  Good works!  What kind of things fit the definition of good works?   The answer focuses on the source, rule and purpose of good works.  The source is out of true faith.  Works that are good in God’s sight are those done by people who have a true and living faith in Jesus Christ.  They find their only comfort in life and death with the Saviour.  The rule of good works is the law of God.  Works that are good in God’s sight are those done in a way that fits with what the Bible says, rather than following what people think and say.  Finally, the purpose of good works is the glory of God.  Works that are good in God’s sight are those done so that his name will be more and more lifted up. 

So, grieving and rejoicing, hating and loving, fleeing and living.  All those things together make up the biblical picture of repentance or daily conversion.  When by God’s grace we endeavour to see this biblical picture in our own lives, we begin to really experience the freedom that Christ came to give.  It’s like Thomas Watson said, “True repentance, like nitric acid, eats away at the iron chain of sin.”  It brings freedom.  And with freedom comes rejoicing in and glory to the God of our salvation.  AMEN. 


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

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