a poem by Taylor Mali.
It is the part of the Church to suffer rather than to strike, but it is an anvil that has worn out a good many hammers.
—John Brown, John Bunyan—His Life, Times and Work, 196, in reference to Buynan’s submission to the state.
Persecution is a weapon that kills both at the breech and at the muzzle, that, though it may strike and wound those against whom it is directed, it yet more certainly debases and degrades those who use it.
—John Brown, John Bunyan—His Life, Times and Work, 215, regarding the failure of religious suppression by force in Bunyan’s day.
adjective — [uh-sij-oo-uhs]
definition: constant in application or effort; working diligently at a task; showing great care and perseverance.
synonyms: diligent, meticulous, persevering, industrious, attentive
I must now say, that, after all my searching and reading, prayer and assiduous meditation have been my only resort, and by far the most useful means of light and assistance. By these have my thoughts been freed from many an entanglement.
John Owen, explaining how he finished his seven-volume commentary on Hebrews, quoted in Piper, Contending for Our All, 107.
A man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savory unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he has provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.
—John Owen, quoted in Contending for Our All, 111
[To the Puritans], communion with God was a great thing, to evangelicals today it is a comparatively small thing. The Puritans were concerned about communion with God in a way that we are not. The measure of our concern is the little that we say about it. When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology—but rarely of their daily experience with God.
—J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 215
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 “the Laodiceans were indifferent”) (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.
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.
Repentance recurs regularly in the Bible. In the New Testament, the Greek word translated repentance is metanoia (μετάνοια), which, in its most basic sense, means “a change of mind.” But as we examine its usage, I think we can see a more precise understanding of all that is involved in that change of mind. I want to point out three parts of this change of mind or, three ingredients of repentance, starting with the first today.
1. Repentance involves remorse over our sinful nature and sinful acts.
There would be no need for repentance if there were no authority, who held no standard, or if we were perfectly obedient to that standard. One of the reasons repentance is not a regular topic of conversation is because we have a relativistic (without one standard) and pluralistic (without one authority) mindset. Biblical repentance recognizes that God is the authority and that His Word is the law.
According to His Word, we are all guilty of disobeying His standard. The very first man God created broke the only rule he was given within the first few days of his existence. Since then, we are sinners by nature. We inherit a sinful nature from Adam. Even more, that nature inevitably causes us to act, and the more we act, the greater our slavery to sin. All of us have sinned. None of us, not even one, does good. We are all guilty.
Repentance begins with a humble, sorrowful acknowledgement of our condition and conduct. The acknowledgment is what we call confession.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
1 John is addressed to believers, which means that even after salvation, confession or acknowledgment of sin is an ongoing need. The fact is, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Confession is a part of repentance, not separate from it. I draw that conclusion because John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). In verse six, those who responded to his message were being baptized and “confessing their sins.” Confessing our sin, therefore, is part of repenting from our sin.
But as I said, it is to be a humble acknowledgment. Again, the “kingdom of heaven” was at stake in Matthew 3:2. Jesus preached the same message about the kingdom connected with personal repentance in Matthew 4:17. Then in Matthew 5:3, the kingdom of heaven is constituted by the “poor in spirit.” In other words, God’s people are spiritually humble people. These blessed ones also “mourn” (Matthew 5:4), presumably over their sin. A truly repentant person is broken over his sinful condition.
Grief, sorrow, and mourning are clearly connected by Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:8-10.
For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
The apostle had written to confront their sin. They responded with sorrow. The acknowledgement of sin, of having violated the standard and offending the Authority, is not an unaffected, cold assessment. It includes remorse, that is, deep regret for a wrong committed. Repentance involves heavy, broken-hearted sorrow. Job illustrated this attitude when, after God confronted him for four chapters, he exclaimed, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
But grief, in and of itself, does not equal repentance. There is a “worldly grief” that leads to death. It is possible to be sorry and not repent. It’s possible to feel bad, to have pangs of conscience due to sin, and still not be repenting. Augustine spent at least nine years previous to his conversion overwhelmed by sorrow, but not yet repenting from his sin.
For that matter, fear of hell does not equal repentance. Augustine asserted that, “A man who is afraid of sinning because of Hell-fire, is afraid, not of sinning, but of burning” (quoted in Brown, 372). Repentance involves godly grief, remorse over our sinful nature and acts. That isn’t all.