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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Godly Sorrow, Repentance, and Fruit

(We are continuing the series on how to identify true sorrow and repentance. If you haven’t already, you may want to read the first, second, and third parts of this series.)

Heart Change
With true repentance and faith, there is also a genuine change of heart. Because the heart is the vehicle of worship, any turning from a sin idol toward Christ will necessarily involve a turning of the heart. The person’s affections are transformed from loving sin to loving God and other people. This change of heart is manifested in the object of one’s sorrow. The repentant person has sorrow over his offense against God, while the unrepentant person has sorrow for himself. The outward turning from sin toward God is a reflection of the inward change of heart.

We find an example in the life of David. In Psalm 51, he makes no mention of the consequences of his sin, but is concerned only with reconciliation with God, as he prays in v10, Create in me a clean heart. Paul understood this change to be the object of his teaching in 1Tim 1:5: the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Joel 2:12-13a shows that it is this inward heart change that God desires rather than outward ritual: “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” And yet the unrepentant person, because there has been no turning to Christ in faith, has no true heart change in regard to his sin. His change will amount only to the outward rending of his garments. His worship will resemble that of Israel, of whom God said in Isa 29:13b, “[They] honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.”

It is important to note the since we cannot see the human heart, the only evidence we will have of a person's repentance will be the fruit of his life. It is only from a changed heart that obedience springs forth in the form of fruit in keeping with repentance.

Fruit in Keeping with Repentance
John the Baptist challenged the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matt 3:8 to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” It is impossible for a person to be truly repentant and not show any signs of fruit. In true repentance the Holy Spirit always effects change.

This fruit will be seen in both a negative and a positive change in behavior. The negative change comes in the form of the ceasing of the sinful activity of which the person repented. This is a function of putting off the sin, putting on Christ, and “making no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:14). A repentant person will be eager to engage in the radical amputation spoken of in Matt 5:29-30. He will desire to cut off all sources of temptation in his pursuit of Christ.

The positive change will come in the form of the cultivation of Christ-like attributes, as found in Gal 5:22-23: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These virtues will be the direct result of having put on Christ. A person who has truly repented of gluttony should manifest the fruit of self-control. A person who has truly repented of anger should manifest the fruit of patience and kindness. The presence or absence of such fruit will be the most telling indication of whether or not someone has experienced the godly sorrow that leads to repentance.

On the other hand, a person of worldly sorrow, because he has not yielded to Christ in faith and therefore experienced a genuine change of heart, will exhibit no such fruit. He will be relegated to his own man-made outward acts of false piety. This is the essence of penance, spoken of in Col 2:23, These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. Not only will there be no positive change in the form of Christ-like fruit, but there will be no negative change in the form of the permanent turning from sin. The person most likely will be hesitant to make significant changes in order to make no provision for the flesh. He will repeatedly fall back into the sin that precipitated his worldly form of sorrow.

The ability to recognize true sorrow and repentance is a vital thing for your own life. If you are dealing with a sin that you just can’t seem to overcome, reread this series of posts with that sin in mind. Could it be that you have never truly repented? The sorrow that you feel for your sin – is it sorrow over how you have offended our holy God or is it sorrow over the consequences? Have you turned away from the sin and toward Christ in faith? Or are you simply trying through your own flesh to stop sinning? Scripture has given us truths that will allow us to examine our own hearts. I encourage you to do so.

Recognizing true sorrow and repentance is also important in our efforts to help each other battle sin. Whether you are meeting with an accountability partner who is seeking help with a particular sin or you are engaged in a church discipline situation, using these truths, you will be able to assist those fellow believers in understanding the essence of repentance. May the Lord impress upon us the importance of dealing with our sin and returning to fellowship with Him.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Godly Sorrow, Repentance, and Faith

Not only will godly sorrow and true repentance be evidenced by the characteristics mentioned in 2 Cor 7:11 (as outlined in my previous two posts, here and here), they will always be accompanied by faith. Repentance can never exist by itself. This is true whether it is the initial repentance that takes place at salvation or the ongoing repentance that takes place in sanctification. There is always the turning from sin and toward Christ. Spurgeon once said that repentance is “the twin sister to faith.” This is clearly the case as 2 Cor 7:10 says that godly sorrow produces a repentance without regret, “leading to salvation.” Salvation is by faith (Eph 2:8), so if repentance leads to salvation, then repentance must be accompanied by faith.

In Matt 11:28-29b, Jesus says, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me…” There cannot merely be the unloading of one’s sin burden in repentance. The sinner must also take up the yoke of Christ by faith, which includes being subject to Him and obedient to Him. Commenting on this passage, John MacArthur observes in The Gospel According to Jesus, “The invitation applies only to those who know they are at the end of their own resources, people desperate to turn from self and sin to the Savior.” This makes perfect sense in light of biblical teaching on the subject of heart worship. Rom 1:23 teaches that when man rejected God, he did so to turn to idolatry. The heart of man was designed to worship and it must worship something. If it is not worshiping Christ, it will worship idols of sin.

This concept is shown in the life of the nation of Israel in Jer 2:13: "For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” The sinful rejection of God always involves two components. First, it consists of the turning away from Him, and second, the turning toward sin. Repentance and faith can be viewed as the reverse. Godly sorrow leads first to the turning from sin, and second to the turning toward Christ in faith.

That is why we frequently find in the New Testament the two-pronged method of dealing with sin, commonly referred to as “putting off and putting on.” Rom 13:12-14 shows this pattern: “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Put off sin, put on Christ. Similar passages can be found in Eph 4:22-24, Col 3:8-11, and 2 Tim 2:22.

This faith that accompanies repentance trusts in Christ for the power and grace to overcome sin. Eph 3:20 speaks of the power of God that works within us. This does not mean that one should sit back and wait for God to expend all of the effort required for sanctification. Rather, he should take to heart Paul’s words in Phil 2:12b-13: “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Conversely, with worldly sorrow and penance there is no such faith. This kind of person has not despaired of his own strength. He feels no sorrow for having offended God, but rather feels sorrow for having suffered the consequences. Because there is no faith, the sinner can only try in his flesh to deal with his sin. We find this very thing in the life of Judas Iscariot in Matt 27:3-5. He felt genuine sorrow over his betrayal of Christ, but it was not godly sorrow that turns to Christ in faith. Instead, Judas attempted to deal with his sin in his own strength by hanging himself, the ultimate act of penance.

The unrepentant man attempts to turn from his sin without turning to Christ in faith. But his penance does not work because it is founded upon self-trust. Col 2:19 speaks of this kind of individual. In his “fleshly mind” he does not “hold fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” Because he is not attached to Christ the head, there is no spiritual growth. Therefore, not only will the unrepentant person show no progress in defeating his sin, he will show little affection and striving after Christ.

Godly sorrow that leads to repentance is always accompanied by faith in Christ. Next time, we’ll look at another essential element of godly sorrow: heart change.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Godly Sorrow That Leads to Repentance - Pt 2

Last week I started a short blog series on the differences between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow: how to know if repentance is genuine or if it is a cheap counterfeit – penance. 2 Cor 7:8-11 are a key text for this topic. V11 outlines seven characteristics produced by godly sorrow that can be used to determine whether or not our own sorrow over our sin is true godly sorrow or self-centered worldly sorrow. We covered the first three last time, so we’ll look at the other four today.

Fourth, godly sorrow produces fear. Rather than the natural worldly fear of man, the sorrow that leads to repentance is accompanied by the fear of God. This is a reverence for both God’s holiness and His wrath against sin, which serves as a deterrent for returning to one’s sin. Proverbs 16:6b says, By the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil. Someone characterized by this kind of sorrow will not dare presume upon the grace of God, but will walk with a healthy dread of the wrath of God as well as a reverence for His holiness.

Fifth, godly sorrow produces longing. When the sinner truly understands his offense against the Lord, his heart longs for reconciliation. This is a wholesale pursuit of repair of one’s relationship with God and Christ. We see this in the life of the apostle Peter. In Matt 26:75, Peter is shown to be gripped with sorrow over his denial of Christ. That sorrow proved to be godly sorrow in John 21:7, when Peter, while fishing with John, learns that Jesus is at the shore, and casts himself into the sea to swim to the Savior. The godly sorrow that leads to repentance draws one with longing to the Lord.

Sixth, godly sorrow produces zeal. This is defined as “intense positive interest in something.” In other contexts, the word is translated “jealousy.” 2 Cor 11:2 speaks of Paul’s “godly jealousy” for the church at Corinth since he betrothed her as a bride to Christ. So there is a sense of zealous ownership to this word. The person of godly sorrow has a passion for God as the One to whom the sinner belongs. The person is captivated by his desire for the Lord.

Seventh, godly sorrow produces avenging of wrong. This speaks of a person’s desire to root out any vestiges of sin in his own life. Having been grieved by his sin against God and indignant on God’s behalf, the sinner goes on the offensive against other sin in his life so as to better serve and glorify the Lord. It is important that this not be confused with attempting to punish oneself in order to earn favor with God. That is penance. Rather this is simply the desire to glorify God by abhorring and killing one’s own sin.

Paul concludes v11 by writing, In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. In other words, by these signs of godly sorrow the Corinthians showed their repentance to be genuine. They were forgiven of their sin. When we look at these products of godly sorrow together, we can see how it is that godly sorrow leads to repentance. Each of the seven products speaks of love for God and hatred for sin. Without explicitly stating it, Paul has hinted at a biblical definition of repentance, that is, turning away from sin and toward God.

Worldly sorrow, on the other hand, rather than being centered on the glory of God and leading to repentance, leads to death. If it is godly sorrow that produces the characteristics in v11, then worldly sorrow must be devoid of these characteristics. The old sinful man is still thriving. There is no diligence in pursuing righteousness, no vindication of guilt, no indignation on God’s behalf, no fear of God and deterrent from sin, no longing for Christ, no zeal for His glory, or hatred for sin. The absence of all of these things points to an absence of repentance and an absence of salvation, which means death. This sorrow then is not a sorrow for sin committed against God, a grieving for an offense to His holiness. Rather it is a self-centered sorrow, a sorrow that comes from being caught. It is concerned more with the consequences of sin than with the glory of God.

I encourage you to take this passage to heart and examine yourself. Are there any areas of sin in your life which you cannot seem to overcome? Is it possible that the sorrow you have felt over this sin is worldly sorrow rather than godly sorrow?

Next time we’ll look at another difference between true repentance and penance: faith.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


The Resolved Conference, hosted by Grace Community Church, began last night. Click here to register and you can watch it live online.

Here is the schedule:

Friday, June 12
4pm - Registration
8pm - Session 1, Rick Holland

Saturday, June 13
11am - Session 2, Steve Lawson
5pm - Session 3, C.J. Mahaney
6pm - Session 4, Enfield Concert

Sunday, June 14
11am - Session 5, Steve Lawson
5pm - Session 6, John MacArthur
7pm - Session 7, John Piper

Monday, June 15
9am - Session 8, Rick Holland
11am - Session 9, John MacArthur
5pm - Session 10, C.J. Mahaney
7pm - Session 11, John Piper

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Godly Sorrow that Leads to Repentance

If someone is sorry for his sin, does that mean that he has repented of his sin? Some may be tempted to believe that they have repented as long as they have shown some form of sorrow. However, 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 teaches that there are two kinds of sorrow: godly sorrow that produces repentance, and worldly sorrow that produces death. It follows then that sorrow itself is not the earmark of true repentance. There is sorrow that leads to repentance, and there is sorrow that leads to the man-made counterfeit, penance.

2 Cor 7:10-11 provides perhaps the clearest biblical teaching on the issue of sorrow over sin:
10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.

Jay Adams, commenting on this passage in his book, More Than Redemption, rightly notes that what we find here is not the same kind of sorrow in two different intensities, “rather it is between two kinds of sorrows – both painful experiences that differ in source and result.” Indeed, Paul describes the source of the one as (literally) “according to God,” and the other as “of the world.” This information alone will not help us to differentiate between the two in our own lives. It is necessary also to know the result of both kinds of sorrow.

V11 gives a list of seven things produced by godly sorrow, all of which are God-centered in nature. Paul seeks not only show the effects of this sorrow but also to use them as proof of the Corinthians’ repentance. First, in addition to repentance, godly sorrow produces earnestness. This is an “diligent commitment in discharge of an obligation.” It is the picture of diligence in working against the problem of sin in one’s life. A believer who has true godly sorrow will be one who engages in the hard word of sanctification, showing eagerness to change and follow hard after Christ.

Second, godly sorrow produces vindication. This is a desire to rid oneself of the stigma attached to sin. There is such a longing to get away from sin, its effects on the sinner, and offense against God, that the person wants to be seen as repentant in the eyes of those around him. The motive is not pride, but a desire to glorify God. A person with true godly sorrow is willing to do anything in his power to show those against whom he has sinned that he has repented.

Third, godly sorrow produces indignation. This is indignation at one’s own sin and its offense against a holy God. We see this in David’s cry in Ps 51:4, Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge. This is where we begin to see that godly sorrow is a sorrow over how the sinner has offended God. He has a God-given love for the glory of God and recognizes how his sin has denied God’s rightful place of preeminence in his life. It creates not only a grief for the sin, but an indignation on behalf of God. This would indicate that the person with godly sorrow will show far greater care for God’s reputation than for his own.

Next time, we’ll look at the final four products of godly sorrow. Until then, examine your own heart for the characteristics we’ve just looked at. Does your heart show evidence of godly sorrow or worldly sorrow?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Abortion Doctors, Depravity, and the Cross

I’m sure many of you have heard of the late-term abortion doctor who was murdered on Sunday. The Bible is clear that it is against God’s moral law to take revenge on our enemies (Rom 12:19). Instead of seeking to kill abortion doctors, we should be earnestly praying that God would grant them repentance and faith in Christ.

To me, the most striking thing about this story was not that the doctor was killed in church. Nor was it that the doctor had survived other attempts on his life. Nor was it the security measures taken by the man to preserve his own life as he made a killing killing the unborn. Rather it has been the moral outrage spewed forth from abortion proponents over the taking of an “innocent” life. Some of the quotes I’ve read over the past couple of days have reminded me that I live in a culture that has been given over to a depraved mind.

In the futility of their minds, abortion proponents are blind to the irony of their outrage. Try to wrap your mind around this quote from Dr. Suzanne T. Poppema, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health: "Violence and murder will never end the need for abortion." In other words, violence and murder will never end the need for violence and murder.

Or try this one from Nancy Keenan, president of abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America: "Dr. Tiller's murder will send a chill down the spines of the brave and courageous providers and other professionals who are part of reproductive-health centers that serve women across this country.” Such comments characterize Tiller as a selfless hero fighting on behalf of women.

No outrage for the untold numbers who died at Tiller’s hands.

Further indication of our society’s moral bankruptcy is the announcement by US Attorney General Eric Holder that the US Marshalls have been tasked with protecting other such high profile abortion providers. Meanwhile, there will be no such protection for the unborn.

We live in a nation that protects the guilty and abandons the innocent. On second thought, “abandons” is not the right picture. Our nation – our government – condones, champions, facilitates, and funds the mass murder of children.

It reminds me of the book of Judges. There are a couple of lines that are used repeatedly in the book. It says that “Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1). For the first 13 chapters of the book, the author describes the depravity of Israel in terms of God’s holiness. They did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. It seems to that point, Israel at least had some consciousness of God.

But the last two editorial comments on the moral state of Israel are different: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6, 21:25). There are two things that are very scary about this transition. First, God is no longer mentioned as the standard. And second, everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Rampant idolatry was right in their eyes (Judges 17). Homosexual sex was right in their eyes (19:22). Abandonment of the weak was right (19:24). Gang rape was right (19:25). Murder was right in their eyes (19:26-28). These things were right and good to them. That is how far they had strayed from God.

But there was hope for Israel. The book of Judges points to man’s need for a Savior. And we know that a Savior came.

There is a temptation when reading such things in the Bible or seeing such things in our own culture to see only hopelessness and darkness. But such things are intended to be the black backdrop against which the glory of Christ may shine brightly. He came to seek and save the lost, and the most hardened abortion proponent poses no challenge for His grace.

It is right to look at the moral decline in our culture and be disturbed and saddened by it. But let’s then turn the corner and be reminded of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, by whose power we have been saved. We are not called to be fainthearted, but to love the lost, live the cross, and speak the truth no matter how our culture receives us.

We may believe that these are terrible times, and in some ways that is true, but these are the days in which God has sovereignly placed us. Let’s pray for a Christ-centered perspective that looks on our nation and sees a field ripe for the harvest with unparalleled opportunities to speak the Name.