Freedom from Confusion Is a Gift

Those who believe in the sovereignty of God ought to be the most kind instead of belligerent, and the most patient instead of panicked, in discussions with those who disagree. This is true logically; it is inconsistent to act as if you make the difference while saying that God makes the difference. So it is an issue of being consistent. It is also an issue of obeying God’s command.

the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:24–25)

Act in accordance with your doctrine, and that doctrine is displayed in the next sentence. As the Lord’s servant behaves himself, “God may perhaps grant them repentance.” Turning from sin is a gift of God, a work of His independent grace.

But what particularly interests me is the result of repentance. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”

Repentance precedes knowledge. Sin is blindness,. and God gives the gift of open eyes. Sin is willful error, and God gives the gift of hating falsehood. Sin is slavery to lies, and God gives the gift of freedom from confusion.

This is God’s work in unbelievers, those who are caught in “the snare of the devil,” those who were “captured by him to do his will.”

As it applies to spiritually dead men repenting toward a knowledge of the truth, let us not forget that spiritually alive men still need to repent, and our repentance will result in knowing more truth. We are rescued from the devil’s stranglehold, but we are not without need of correction. Sometimes our sin makes us stupid, and we learn when we turn.

A Bucket Worth of Behavior

Repentance is both a change of thinking and a change in action. It is both abstract and concrete. Because of the internal part, which is both necessary and first, it may be tempting to treat repentance as an invisible thing. True repentance takes place in the heart, but is that all we can know?

Repentance is internal but it is not invisible, at least not indefinitely. Repentance on the inside—again, where it must begin—will work itself out. It will be external and so it will be visible. A fruit tree may be healthy without producing fruit, but only for a time. Likewise, the sap of repentance will produce a bucket worth of behavior.

John the Baptist used this type of terminology when he addressed a crowd that came to him to be baptized. He called them a “brood of vipers,” and he admonished them,

Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (Luke 3:8 ESV)

There ought to be fruits, plural, and fruits “in keeping with” or “worthy of” (KJV) or consistent with a change of mind.

It’s not as if they had done nothing at all. They came to John, they said they wanted to be baptized by John. But he knew that more was necessary. When they asked, “Like what?” he told them to share their clothing and food with the needy (verse 11), that the tax collectors should be honest (verse 12) and that soldiers should not use their force for personal gain (verse 13).

The point is, we can’t lift up our desires to first place, or seek our own advantage, or use our opportunities to serve self. Selfishness is what we need to repent from, and it will be obvious to others.

Stiff-arming the Truth

Though a short exhortation always precedes the act of confession in our Lord’s Day worship, why not place confession after the sermon? Imagine the large variety of sins that could be harvested by spending more time in the Bible field. More Spirit-inspired truth gives the Spirit more tools to dig for deep rooted sins.

There’s nothing wrong with liturgy in a different order. Revelation provides reasons to repent so presumably more revelation leads to more reasons leads to more repentance. But just as often God describes the reverse: repentance leads to accepting the truth.

Peter and James both assume that a Christian must deal with sin before consuming the Word. “Putting away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” crave the spiritual milk (1 Peter 2:1-2). Likewise, “putting away all filthiness and rampant wickedness, receive the implanted word” (James 1:21). Sin spoils our appetite for Scripture. Sin stiff-arms the truth.

Paul presented the order even more plainly to Timothy as he explained the process for persuading opponents. Correct opponents with gentleness and “God may perhaps grant repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25). He isn’t describing the proper order of a Sunday worship service, but the principle applies. Repentance enables knowledge.

Which comes first: the understanding of truth or repentance from sin? Sometimes we don’t need more information or another sermon before we change. Sometimes we can’t see the truth because we’re clutching sin patches over our eyes. What sights we’ll see from the place of repentance.

Our Pile of Sin

Sin is not sweet. We shouldn’t ever look at it, or look back at it, with nostalgia. Confession is not a time for warming ourselves by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa telling a wistful story about the time when we blew it, and doesn’t it just take us all back to a happier time? And, hey, look how transparent we were!

Sin is gross. We should be gentle with babies when they soil their pants. But we should be gentle as we clean off the mess. I realize that some Christians still can’t seem to explain why it stinks everywhere they go. They aren’t acknowledging their mess, they don’t ever confess their sin. But it is also possible to run around holding our pile of sin under everyone’s nose. “Isn’t this great?” No, it’s disgusting.

Sometimes I confess my own sin publicly, occasionally during our weekly time of exhortation, maybe as an application from something the in sermon, even at a Men to Men or Life to Life meeting. Isn’t that showboating? It could be. If I did it to attract attention to myself it would be wrong. If I did it without actual repentance that would also be wrong.

I try to do it so that it’s clear that persons need to repent. We can study what the Bible says about confession, but then we need to do what it says. Confession is a doctrine that we must practice. Even persons in positions of leadership and authority need to confess; men and husbands and fathers and pastors sin. I need to repent of my sins more than I need to be an expert at seeing the sin of the other guy. I never had an example, so it can be helpful to see what repentance might look like. But the sin is ugly. My sin stinks. Sometimes I confess in public so that you know I know it’s good to kill it.

We don’t need sympathy for our sin. We need a Savior from it. Don’t confess your struggles here, or in a small group setting, or on your blog, or over coffee because you think it’s a treasure to show it to everyone. That’s not necessarily more honest, it may just spread the stink around.

Big Minds Make Big Changes

Wise people are willing to change their minds. A man who won’t ever change his mind, no matter what, will end up a fool.

Education is not confined to gathering information. Yes, we do learn by exploring unread pages and turning them upside down until a new (to us) truth falls out. We do learn by interrogating teachers until they open the doors of their knowledge store. In one sense, our brains are like baskets that can hold many apple facts. We should shake as many bushels of apples as we can from songs and sermons and science sound-offs. God created many things for us to know and enjoy. But collection is not the only path to education for students.

Part of the reason why hunting and gathering isn’t the only way to catch an education is because our minds are not straight arrows. We are image-bearers but, because we are in Adam’s family, we are bent. Even when we are aimed to hit the broad side of the truth barn, we often drift into the bushes. G.K. Chesterton once remarked that our minds are like open mouths and meant to close on something. Because of sin, we will swallow garbage as long as we have something to chew. We may throw up, but at least we’re not hungry.

To summarize: far too often, in pursuit of learning, we end up in the bushes chewing our own vomit. And we ask the band to start playing Pomp and Circumstance.

The Bible describes the character who won’t admit when he’s in a mess as one who is “wise in his own eyes.” Solomon wrote, “Be not wise in your own eyes / fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7). The opposite of being wise in one’s own eyes is fearing the LORD. The wise-in-his-own-eyes-guy, or “wise guy” for short (note that we do not use this as compliment) has a worship problem; he worships himself. He sets himself up as the standard. His knowledge is the end all. Solomon also said, “turn away from evil.” This is not simply a generic exhortation to righteousness. It’s saying wise men change course.

A fool is convinced that he knows where he is going and that he’s right. He never asks for directions. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). The wise student has his ears open so that he can change his way if necessary.

I recently read an observation that Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, shared with another company.

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. (at 37signals)

He wasn’t saying that we ought to change our minds about everything all the time. Mr. Bezos does not want Amazon customers changing their minds about what online business they shop. As Christians, we do not question bedrock “Thus says the Lord” truths. Jesus is God. Salvation is through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone. Evangel Classical School exists because the evangel, the good news, is true for eternal life. We are not allowed to change our minds about it.

At the same time, Evangel Classical School also exists because many of us have changed our minds about many things.

For example, I’ve spent most of my life being wrong about the usefulness of fiction. I thought all fiction was bad or, at best, a distraction for younger or weaker minds. Now I think that bad fiction is bad and that good fiction is marrow for the bones. A man who isn’t reading good stories will have brittle bones.

I have also realized in the last few years that I was wrong about the worth of Christian schools. They seemed to me to be wastes of time, offering half-pint truth collection on gun-free campuses used by panicky parents trying to protect their kids from bad things “out there.” Students may not bring guns to school but they always bring their hearts. That means that they still bring enough bad things. I now believe that Christian schooling done faithfully is one of the best ways to equip battle-minded worshipers, which includes equipping them in Christ for killing sin in their souls.

Even in the last couple months I’ve changed my mind about whether students should learn printing or cursive first. I’ve done a 180 degree turn on the value of individual school desks. A maturing person not only recognizes how much he doesn’t know, but also how wrong he’s been. People who are right a lot don’t just fill their minds, they change their minds. A lot.

You may need to change your mind about comma placements and crayon color choices. Don’t question the addition answers, but don’t be a diva acting as if you know everything about how to go through your fact cards or the best system to store them. You will be tempted to act as if you know more than you do. That will not only be proud, it will make you a stupid student because you won’t be able to learn anything.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” In other words, sticking to your guns no matter what is a sure way of shooting yourself in the foot. May ECS be a place of big minds, minds that change as often as necessary for growth in true education.


The above exhortation was given at the ECS assembly earlier today.

Strength to Repent

The benediction in Romans 15:5-6 is one way of stating God’s aim for His people.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6, ESV)

Not only do we see God’s goal for us, but we also see how difficult it is for us to get there. In order to “live in harmony with one another,” in order to glorify God “with one voice,” God must grant it. We cannot do it in our own strength. We don’t have the endurance for Project One Voice, so the “God of endurance” must help. We’re likely to be discouraged by a gangly body part that rubs us the wrong way, so the “God of encouragement” must help. In fact, we won’t even want to be in this community choir unless God saves us by the gospel. He has to overcome our pride and selfishness all along the way in order to teach us to sing together.

We can’t do it on our own, and yet we must do it.

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7, ESV)

We must “welcome,” we must seek “not to please ourselves,” but “let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (verses 1 and 2). This is God’s goal for us in the gospel and our failure to do it is sin. You know who makes it hard? Me! I’m still in process of considering myself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus! So are you. But that’s no problem. That’s why we love the gospel.

We work against God when we will not endure the “failings of the weak.” We image some other Christ when we reject rather than receive one another. We’re not supposed to embrace others because they deserve it, but because we’ve been welcomed by Christ.

What God is after is what we fail at. What we fail at is what we should repent from. And what we repent from is what God helps us get after. The God of endurance and encouragement grants us strength, and that may start with granting us the strength to repent.

Sweet Repentance

A week from today I leave to preach a series of messages about The Religious Affections of Jonathan Edwards for the students of Foothill Bible Church, pastored by my friend Micah Lugg. A week after that, I’ll be preaching a series of messages about Repentance and seeing sin for what it is for the students of Faith Bible Church, pastored by my friend Mike Brown (whose wife is due with their second child the week before camp begins). I listened to this message while running earlier today and the following quote hit my preparation sweet spot.

Though [repentance] be a deep sorrow for sin that God requires as necessary to salvation, yet the very nature of it necessarily implies delight. Repentance of sin is a sorrow arising from the sight of God’s excellency and mercy, but the apprehension of excellency or mercy must necessarily and unavoidably beget pleasure in the mind of the beholder. ‘Tis impossible that anyone should see anything that appears to him excellent and not behold it with pleasure, and it’s impossible to be affected with the mercy and love of God, and his willingness to be merciful to us and love us, and not be affected with pleasure at the thoughts of [it]; but this is the very affection that begets true repentance. How much soever of a paradox it may seem, it is true that repentance is a sweet sorrow, so that the more of this sorrow, the more pleasure.

—Jonathan Edwards, “The Pleasantness of Religion,” quoted in A God Entranced Vision of All Things, 30.

Tapering Off in Sin

At the prayer meeting, not many people ask for prayer so that they might taper off in their adulteries, or their thefts, or all the lies they are spreading around town. But [bitterness, envy, anger, and pride] are respectable—we have a delicate way of acknowledging them without really dealing with them. And one of the reasons we get away with touching on them lightly is that the main problem is clearly … the other guy’s.

—Doug Wilson, Getting Your Eyes Off the Other Guy

Reorientation of Our Passions and Pleasures

Series | Repentance

Repentance involves remorse over our sinful nature and sinful acts. Repentance also involves renunciation of our self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. Now we come to the third ingredient.

3. Repentance involves reorientation of our passions and pleasures.

Maybe that sounds strange. Pleasure is probably not what first comes to mind when we hear the word repentance. But I think this is the part that’s missing most. This is the part that we misunderstand most, and the reason that our repentance is often so short-lived.

Too often we confine repentance to stopping or avoiding sin. Repentance is not less than a change of bad behavior, but it also must include a change of desires. Repentance keeps us from worldliness, not because our minds are changed about the definition of sin. True repentance keeps us from worldliness because our minds are changed about wanting sin. Note how Paul perceived “godly” grief in the Corinthians:

For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. (2 Corinthians 7:11)

Godly grief produces “earnestness” and “eagerness.” It produces “zeal” instead of lukewarmness (cf. Revelation 3). Repentance is a change of mind, that results in changed wants not merely changed ways. We stop denying that we’ve disobeyed His standard. We stop declaring that we have our own righteousness. And we start desiring God as our greatest pleasure!

So what is repentance? It is a change of mind that involves remorse over our sinful nature and acts, renunciation of our self-sufficiency and self-righteousness, and reorientation of our passions and pleasures. It is a turn toward joy.

Renunciation of Our Self-Sufficiency and Self-Righteousness

Series | Repentance

There are three ingredients to repentance. Previously we saw that repentance involves remorse over our sinful nature and sinful acts. When we repent, we humbly and sorrowfully confess our rebellious condition and disobedient conduct. There is more.

2. Repentance involves renunciation of our self-sufficiency and self-righteousness.

Repentance is not turning away from sin and bringing something of value to God. It is turning away from sin and coming to Him because we know we have nothing good to bring. We admit our inability to please Him, as well as our inability to desire Him. We give up attempting to offer our goodness or holiness to please or appease Him.

Denial of our sin is the first enemy of repentance, but the second enemy is dependence on our righteousness. Trying to earn salvation by doing good things may keep as many or more people away from God as those defying Him. He is not interested in what we have or what we can do. None of us meet His perfect standard, nor could we. When we repent, we not only sorrowfully acknowledge all the wrong we’ve done, we also give up claims to any good on our own.

That is the reason John the Baptist rejected the Pharisees and religious leaders when they met him at the Jordan River in Matthew 3. They thought they were bringing their own good to the table. John told them to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). The indictment against the Laodiceans disclosed ignorance of their true condition, and they were urged to repent from making such arrogant claims of prosperity.

Confessing sin, but claiming righteousness, kept the Jews from salvation.

For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:2-3)

Renunciation of self-righteousness is also the reason why belief is so closely connected with repentance. Repent and believe…what? Believe that Christ bore the penalty for our unrighteousness and that He provides His righteousness. Genuine repentance includes abandoning any reason for boasting in ourselves.