Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
" REPENTANCE FROM SIN IS IMPERATIVE FOR SALVATION ."
88 Q. What is the true repentance or conversion of man?
A. It is the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new.
 Rom. 6:1-11; I Cor. 5:7; II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:5-10.
89. Q. What is the dying of the old nature?
A. 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.
 Ps. 51:3, 4, 17; Joel 2:12, 13; Rom. 8:12, 13; II Cor. 7:10.
90. Q. What is the coming to life of the new nature?
A. 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.
 Ps. 51:8, 12; Is. 57:15; Rom. 5:1; 14:17.  Rom. 6:10, 11; Gal. 2:20.
91. Q. But what are good works?
A. Only those which are done out of true faith, in accordance with the law of God, and to His glory, and not those based on our own opinion or on precepts of men.
 Joh. 15:5; Rom. 14:23; Heb. 11:6.  Lev. 18:4; I Sam. 15:22; Eph. 2:10.  I Cor. 10:31.  Deut. 12:32; Is. 29:13; Ezek. 20:18, 19; Matt. 15:7-9.
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Our chief Prophet and Teacher was very categorical to the Jews who brought Him the latest news. Pilate had killed some Galileans as they were bringing their sacrifices? Said Jesus: "unless you repent you will all likewise perish." Jesus repeated the point with His reference to some old news about the collapse of the tower in Siloam that took 18 lives; "unless you repent you will all likewise perish." "Perish": Jesusí reference is ultimately to the judgment of God in hell. To this chief Prophet and Teacher itís one of the other: repent or perish. No one wants to the agony of hell, and the only way to escape it is to repent. Thatís Jesusí pointed instruction in Luke 13. And just how seriously Jesus means this instruction is pointed up by the theme of His first preaching; Matthew relates that after He triumphed over Satan in the temptations of the desert, "Jesus began to preach and to say, ĎRepent, for the kingdom of heaven is at handí" (Mt 4:17).
Who must repent, lest they perish? We understand: itís not just the crowds around Jesus in Luke 13. Nor is it only the people who heard His preaching in Mt 4. Jesusí point is true for all men; all must repent, or else they perish. Itís true for us too. That in turn makes it essential that we understand well what repentance is. Thatís the material of which the church makes confession in Lordís Day 33, with its question about what the true repentance or conversion of man might be. Our Catechism answers the question with reference to actions and attitudes, with reference also to emotions of the heart.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
REPENTANCE FROM SIN IS IMPERATIVE FOR SALVATION.
1. Repentance involves new attitudes and actions.
Both the Hebrew and Greek languages use the term Ďrepentí in a variety of ways. Always, though, the common element in their use of the term is the notion of changing direction. That is: one is headed in a given direction, and for whatever reason does a 180 degree turn, goes back in the direction from which he came. That picture helps us to understand what is meant by repentance in our Lordís Day. Ever since our fall into sin we have been traveling in a direction away from God. To repent is to change this direction, is to turn around and travel back to God. That picture is true also in relation to falling into specific sin; to repent is to turn around and do again the will of the Lord.
Apart from this overriding characterization of repentance as changing direction, the Bible presents us with a number of other pictures to teach us what repentance really is. I want to pay particular attention to two of them this afternoon, with reference first to Romans 6 and then to Colossians 3.
Iíd mentioned Romans 6 last week already, when I spoke about the restoring work of the Holy Spirit. I didnít, though, go into a great deal of detail, and I need to do that now.
The apostleís argument in the previous chapters had been that sinners are made righteous before God on account of Christís sacrifice on the cross. His work, made ours through faith, ensures that we have peace with God, the forgiveness of our sins.
That glorious gospel raises the question of 6:1: "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" Freely we receive grace; shall we then do more sin so that we may receive more grace? The answer of the apostle is clear: "Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" "Died to sin," says Paul. In this chapter Sin is presented as a king, a boss who tells you what to do (see vs 12, "sin reigns"). But when you die, you no longer can do what a king tells you to do; he can give you a thousand commands but you are free of his instructions, you are dead with respect to that king. That is Paulís point in vs 2: we "died to sin," and therefore that king called ĎSiní can no longer tell us what to do. Hence his conclusion: donít listen to that king called Sin anymore, donít live in sin any longer!
The inevitable question, of course, is this: when did we die to sin? And how? Paul answers that in vss 3ff. "Do you not know," he writes, "that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Notice how Paul speaks here about Good Friday and Easter Sunday. He speaks about Christís death, Christís burial and His resurrection, and says that in some way we died with Christ, we were buried with Christ, and we were raised with Christ. We think of Good Friday, of Christ being nailed to the cross, and our thoughts are limited to Christ alone being crucified, Christ alone being buried. Not so, says Paul. Vs 5: "we have been united together in the likeness of His death." Vs 6: "our old man was crucified with Him." Vs 8: "we died with Christ." Christ, says Paul, was not the only one who was crucified on Good Friday; in a way I canít understand we were crucified with Him. Christ was not the only one who died on Good Friday; in a way I canít understand we died with Him. And when Christ was taken down from the cross and buried in that tomb in the garden, we were somehow buried with Him. So too Easter Sunday; when Christ arose from the dead, we arose with Him.
That reality has a consequence. Whatís the reason why we should no longer live in sin? This: when Christ died on Good Friday, we died to sin Ė and therefore may no longer live in sin. When Christ arose on Easter Sunday, we arose with Him Ė and therefore are made able to walk in newness of life. Since thatís the marvelous work of God, an obligation follows for us. Vs 12: "therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts." Itís what we said last week: "be what you are!"
Itís on this material, congregation, that the Catechism builds its instruction about true repentance. Question & Answer 88: "What is the true repentance or conversion of man?" The answer is this: "It is the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new." The first proof text listed is Rom 6. What is repentance? This: God unites us with Christ so that we died to sin and were raised to new life. The old nature, the old man, our sinful self, is crucified with Christ, put to death with Him, and as weíre raised with Christ in His resurrection we receive from the Lord a new nature, a new man, a sanctified self. That old nature, that sinful self, traveled away from God; the new nature, the sanctified self, travels to God. That 180-degree turn, that repentance, is Godís mighty work in us. And its results are obvious; this U-turn results in a radically different set of attitudes and therefore in a radically different manner of living.
To draw out this new manner of living, I ask your attention for Colossians 3 and its description of repentance.
The passage begins with Easter Sunday, and Christís resurrection from the dead. "You," says Paul, "were raised with Christ." That reality has consequences. Since you are a new man, have a new nature received from Christ, OK, then "seek those things which are above, where Christ is," in heaven. The old nature is earthly, seeks the things of the earth, including earth-centered attitudes and actions. No, says Paul in vs 3 (with reference to Good Friday): "you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." So donít be earth-focused, but instead be heaven-focused. Hence the obligation of vs 5: "therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry."
Then the apostle, congregation, picks up a new set of imagery to describe what repentance is. In vs 8 he speaks about Ďputting offí, and in vs 12 he speaks about Ďputting oní. Putting off, putting on: itís the language of clothing. You take off the one coat, and put on another. Which coat do you take off? Says Paul: you put off a set of evil attitudes and actions. Like what? Vs 8: "anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one anotherÖ." Those kinds of attitudes and actions belong to the sinful self and characterize the old nature that was crucified with Christ. Since God has united you with Christ so that you were crucified with Him, died with Him, buried with Him, raised with Him, the obligation follows that we be the new creatures God in Christ has raised us to be. And thatís to say: thereís no place for these old attitudes and actions anymore! You died with Christ, were raised with Him; "therefore put to death your members which are on the earth," take off that old coat of sin. In its place put on that new coat, the one that characterizes what new life with the resurrected Christ is all about. Vs 12: "put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering." Attitudes like that lead to godly actions towards the other. Vs 13: "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." Christ showed you mercy when you were unworthy, Christ extended kindness when you were His enemy: put that same attitude into practice in your conduct towards those who hurt you. "But above all these things," Paul continues in vs 14, "put on love" Ė as Christ loved you and gave Himself up for youÖ.
This passage from Colossians, brothers and sisters, lays the emphasis on our responsibility. The Romans passage drew out that repentance is Godís work in us; we certainly canít unite ourselves with Christ and die with Him, let alone raise ourselves from the dead. But Colossians 3 develops the other side of the coin. Exactly because repentance is Godís work in us do we have a distinct responsibility to work along with God. Since God has had us crucified with Christ and raised us to new life, we have the specific responsibility to act as new persons. That responsibility is driven home with the imagery of putting off and putting on. Others donít undress or dress us; we do that ourselves. By using the imagery of clothing, Paul drives home the individual responsibility we all have in relation to repentance.
Itís a point, beloved, that I need to press home. Our Lord Jesus Christ insisted that one either repents or perishes; itís one or the other. The Lord our God unites His people-by-covenant to His Son Jesus Christ so that we die with Him and are raised with Him. Recall the Form for Baptism from this morning: "when we are baptized into the Name of the Son, God the Son promises us that He washes us in His blood from all our sins and unites us with Him in His death and resurrection." Thatís baptism: we die with Christ on Good Friday and arise with Him on Easter Sunday; the wonderful truth of Romans 6 is promised to us all. But that does not mean that we have satisfied the demand of Christ: repent or perish! For we have a responsibility, says Col 3, and that is that we put off the old nature that was crucified with Christ and we put on the new nature we receive when we arose with Christ.
To be specific: where I retain anger in my heart (be it against people for what theyíve done to me or against God for what Heís let happen in my life), I am not in a state of repentance. Where I retain rage in my heart, where I let myself fly off the handle at a drop, I am not in a state of repentance. Where I retain malice, hatred of persons in my heart, I am not in a state of repentance. Where I give myself to some filthy language, I am not in a state of repentance. Where lies fall easily off my lips, I am not in a state of repentance (vs 8f).
I may say the same in relation to the list in vs 5. Where I enjoy a bit of fornication (be it with a secret partner or with a late night movie or with an internet chat room), I am not in a state of repentance. Where I let my passions go, where I satisfy my evil desires, where I want more and more, I am not in a state of repentance. And that means in turn that I shall perish Ė unless I repent!
Flip side: where I have put off the old nature and put on the new, my conduct shall be characterized by the attitudes of vs 12. Not anger, wrath, hatred, etc, but attitudes of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience shall characterize my actions. More: I shall bear patiently with anotherís weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, I shall readily forgive as Christ forgave me, I shall let the peace of God rule my heart, I shall be busy with the Word of God, shall speak it and sing it and pray it day by day. Such conduct and attitudes are evidence of repentance, and therefore freedom from the sentence of damnation.
So, my brothers and sisters, older and younger: look at your own attitudes in your family circle, and the actions that follow. Is your attitude to your parents one of humility and meekness, or of knowing it better? Is your attitude to your spouse one of mercy and kindness, or not? Is your attitude to your neighbor one of forbearing and forgiving Ėas Christ forgave you though you were so unworthy- or is it one of intolerance, impatience, judgmental? You see: repentance cannot be hidden; those who died with Christ and were raised with Him live by the principles of the new nature, make a point of putting off earthly attitudes and putting on heavenly ones. Your attitudes to spouse, family, neighbors are earthly? I tell you: then you are not repentant! Yet Jesus says that one must repent, else he perishes!
As it is, the Lord God has not yet called us to appear before His judgment seat; He still gives us time to repent Ė and thatís His patience. More, in His care for us He has brought us to church so that we might be confronted with His ultimatum: repent or perish. So the onus, congregation, is completely upon us; it is for us to take to heart what the Lord says about repentance and so see to it that we put off whatever is earthly, and put on what is of heaven. And no, thatís not something weíre to do once only; itís something weíre to do day by day.
Repentance, then, involves new attitudes and actions, patterns of behavior rooted in heaven. Yet repentance involves more than attitudes and actions; repentance touches ones emotions also. Thatís our second point:
2. Repentance touches the emotions of the heart.
The Scriptures, we learned from Rom 6 (and Col 3) describe repentance as dying with Christ and coming alive with Him again. The Catechism echoes this revelation from God with these words: repentance "is the dying of the old nature, and the coming to life of the new." But what is this dying of the old nature? And what is this coming to life of the new? They remain concepts somewhat out of reach for our understandingÖ.
The Catechism explains the two in terms of our emotions. Question & Answer 89: the dying of the old nature is "to grieve with heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sinÖ." Question & Answer 90: the coming to life of the new nature "is a heartfelt joy in God through ChristÖ." Heartfelt sorrow and heartfelt joy: we know what sorrow and joy are. Sorrow: it brings tears, anguish of heart, restlessness. Joy is its opposite; it brings laughter, contentment, peace. Both, says the Catechism, have a place in repentance.
The Scriptural evidence is easy to find.
After David admitted his transgression with Bathsheba, his mood was one of sorrow, grief. Ps 51 (and thatís the prayer David prayed after Nathan the prophet confronted him with his sin): "have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindnessÖ. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before meÖ. A broken and a contrite heart Ė these, O God, You will not despise" (vss 1, 3, 17). And he fasted and lay on the hard ground in sorrow for his sins, pleading for Godís mercy, till the child had died (2 Sam 12:15ff).
Peter denied the Lord those three times, and when he realized what he had done "he went out and wept bitterly" (Mt 26:75).
Paul had persecuted the Christians, dragging them off ruthlessly to jail. When the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus, and Paul realized how wrong heíd been, he neither ate nor drank for three days Ė a Scriptural indication of his sorrow for his sins (Acts 9:9; cf vs 19).
One can easily make the list much longer.
Yet we need to understand well, beloved, that not all sorrow for sin is automatically the sorrow of repentance. Judas Iscariot realized the wrong heíd done in betraying Jesus, but he didnít cast himself on the mercies of God in repentance; he in sorrow and despair instead went out and hanged himself. Esau too regretted greatly that he sold his birthright to Jacob, and "sought it diligently with tears" (Heb 12:17). But his were not the tears of repentance, and so God rejected him. Itís a point we need to be aware of: one can sorrow for sin because weíve hurt God; we can sorrow for sin also because weíve been caught out. That second, sorrowing because weíve been caught out, is simply not repentance; thatís self-pity.
To catch the difference between the two, we need to appreciate the cause of the "heartfelt sorrow". The cause of the sorrow is not that we were caught out; the cause is instead that "we have offended God by our sin." This God has done so much for us in Christ; He even sent His only Son in order to die in our place, yes, God united us with Him in His death and resurrection. And in response I have done what displeases God, have offended Him? That, that causes sorrow, heartfelt sorrow as David worded it in Ps 38: "I acknowledge my transgression In confession, Deeply troubled by my sin." That realization makes you stop in your tracks, makes you turn around, and seek again the God of your salvation.
Thatís the other side of the coin of repentance, the coming to life of the new nature: "it is a heartfelt joy in God through Christ." That return is the joy of being secure in Godís everlasting arms, forgiven of sin, washed in Jesusí blood, peace with God again. This aspect too is amply illustrated in the Bible.
David fasted and sorrowed over his sin, but did not stay in mourning; in due time he focused his attention on the redemption God had promised and delighted in Godís forgiveness. So he could sing out his jubilation in Ps 32: "Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered," and conclude his psalm like this: "Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!"
Peter "wept bitterly", but did not continue to weep bitterly till the day of his death; he delighted in Godís forgiving grace and praised God.
Paul fasted for three days, and when Ananias baptized him he not only ate but took it upon himself to preach the gospel of redemption. Time and again his letters give the instruction to rejoice Ė for joy is the emotion befitting the sinner who knows his trespass covered.
Itís clear: the joy of the forgiven Christian is not limited to an emotion tucked away in the heart; this emotion drives to action, to cheerful and eager obedience to the commands God in wisdom has given. That will of God is the delight of the forgiven sinner!
Repentance from sin is essential to salvation; one either repents or perishes. What is this repentance? Itís something so genuine, something so truly from inside, that it touches the emotions in very real terms: heartfelt sorrow, heartfelt joy. Something so deep as that in turn determines attitudes: not anger, not hatred, but mercy, kindness, humility, patience, love. And those attitudes produce godly conduct: forgiving the other as Christ forgave us, patience toward those around us, yes, cheerful obedience to all Godís commands.
Repent or perish, Jesus said. Woe to him who is not sorry for his sins, who does not grieve wholeheartedly that he has hurt God with his attitudes and actions. Blessed is he who has died with Christ and been raised with Him, who has put off the old nature and put on the new. His attitudes and actions today foreshadow the redemption he shall enjoy eternally. Amen.