Episode 46: Understanding Biblical Repentance

Peace to Live By Episode 46: Understanding Biblical Repentance - Daniel Litton
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       If we are going to follow God correctly in our lives, as Christians, then repentance from sin is going to be a big part of our lives. As we grow into becoming more and more like Christ, we are going to find new areas where sin is identified in our lives. At that point, we need to turn from it and go from there in living life without practicing that sin any longer. And then, of course, there are the daily struggles that we face with temptations to sin, and when we need to, we are going to have to repent and turn from our sin. So, repentance is an important part of the Christian life.

       Now, there was a time when we turned to God, accepting Jesus as Lord, and at that time we repented of our sin. We turned from living of our lives without God’s input. So, when each of us became a Christian, we had to turn from our sins—the things we were practicing in our lives, living out, which we identified as wrong behaviors, behaviors against God. Certainly, when a person becomes a Christian, accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, this turning from sin is a necessary thing that needs to be done in order to gain acceptance from God. That’s how Jesus becomes Lord in the person’s life.

       Therefore, there are then two kinds of repentance. There is the initial repentance that occurs when we first become a Christian, and then there is the ongoing, recurring repentance that occurs from time to time in the Christian’s life. Some of this is daily, and some of it comes as we identify new areas where we can eliminate sin from our lives. None of us are perfect right now, and we truly never will be perfect in this life. That is why the Christian life is one of constant growth, because as we go along we notice better ways to live, thus adopting a better way of living and eliminating sin in the process.

       So, today, let’s talk about these two types of repentance in the Christian’s life, and let’s take a closer look at each one of them to better understand them.

       The first type of repentance that we all experience occurs when we first became saved. Now, for those of us who can clearly identify a ‘date’ of which we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we can easily remember when we first realized that we were living lives separated from God, following the ways of this world, and we decided that we didn’t want to live like that anymore. Our eyes were opened, and we saw the Truth of the Bible, God’s truth, and that we needed to make change in our lives. I often say of my own testimony, “I saw reality for how it really is,” and I think that captures the difference between our old lives, steeped in this world’s system, and the new lives we find in Christ. So, we identify our sin, and then we turn from it, and seek to live our new life in Christ.

       Now, for some people, they don’t have a specific date that they can single out as to when they became a Christian. For them, it was more of a gradual process. There was a seed planted here, and then there, until as time passed by, they identified with Christ, that they wanted to and were following the Christian ways, the correct ways of all time. Sometimes this is just how God works in person’s life. We cannot, and should not, place God in a box and say that every Christian there is needs to have a specific date at which time the person accepted Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. That’s just not the way it is for everyone. The Bible doesn’t say a person has to have a specific date.

       If we go to the Old Testament, I think we can see a lot of examples where people became ‘saved,’ or righteous before God in his sight (as it was called back then), and these people did not perhaps even know they became saved. Let’s look at Abraham as a specific example. The Bible says that when Abraham believed the words that God had spoken to him, that that was what made Abraham to become righteous in God’s sight, to be saved. Now, Abraham probably didn’t even know that this act of believing God for what he said made him righteous before Him. If you would have asked Abraham when he became a believer in God, he probably wouldn’t have determined that time as the time God had established. And with David, it is probably the same way.

       In the New Testament, there seems to be a greater emphasis on an exact moment of conversion, but again, I do not believe that knowing when this moment occurred is even necessary for the Christian. Most often, if you look at the moments where Christ is witnessed, it is done in a public setting of which a speaker commands people to repent of their sin and accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for them. And because of this, there tends to be a notable moment where people accept the Gospel. Of course, there is an actual ‘moment’ in time when the salvation of each and every individual occurs, but sometimes people don’t know when that moment occurred.

       If we turn to John chapter 3, we can see from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ the fact that conversion, believing in him, is a one time process. In this passage, Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a person of nobility and wealth, has come to seek out Jesus about salvation, the question of how to be sure you’re going to Heaven when you die. It is recorded in verse 2 by Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, ESV). So, just as a natural, physical birth is a one-time process that occurs rather quickly, so it is with a spiritual birth into Christ.

       Nevertheless, after repenting of sin and turning to God, Jesus commands people to be baptized (that is, water baptism after they become saved, after they believe). This is an outward testimony of the transformation in Christ that has occurred. In Acts chapter 2, when the Apostle Peter gives his great sermon in Jerusalem before the Jews, he actually ‘commands’ the people to be baptized. We often make it an option, just like the Gospel, but Peter commanded it.

       Why don’t we go ahead and look at the passage. Acts 2:37, 38 state: “Now when they heard this [that is, Peter’s sermon] they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38, ESV). Notice how the people received the Holy Spirit after repenting, which shows the fact that conversion is in a moment. And then verse 41 says, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41, ESV), Hearing the Gospel then requires the listener to receive it, and after believing it, a person should be water baptized.

       And there are three things to note quickly about water baptism. First, infants should not be water baptized because water baptism occurs in the Bible after a person’s conversion to Christ, not when a person is physically born. And second, water baptism does not save a person, make the person guaranteed a ticked to Heaven. Rather, it is a symbolic act that represents that a person has already been saved, and it witnesses this salvation to the church and perhaps any unbelievers that are looking on. I’m not so sure I want to say there is nothing spiritual about water baptism because even Jesus’ baptism by John was definitely spiritual, with the Holy Spirit coming down and resting on him in the form of a dove and God the Father speaking to him from Heaven.

       Third, water baptism is not necessary for salvation, to go to Heaven. A good example of this is the fact that the thief on cross was not water baptized after he believed, yet Jesus said he would be with him that very day in Paradise. Another example comes to us in Mark chapter 16. Here Jesus says the following: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16, ESV). So, we see here that Jesus does not include water baptism in the second part of the verse, about being condemned. He just says whoever does not believe will be condemned, not whoever does not believe and is not water baptized will be condemned. Now, if a Christian decides not to get water baptized while knowing he or she should in this life, the person will still go to Heaven; however, there will be a loss of reward incurred in Heaven because the commandant of God was not fulfilled in the person’s life.

       Now, let’s look at our second area of discussion today, which is the second type of repentance we face in our daily lives. So, while we all have had an initial point of repentance from our sins and believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior, we all will sin on a daily basis and will need to repent from those sins as well. Jesus setup this foundation of daily repentance in the Lord’s Prayer. You’ll remember; he said, “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:11, 12, ESV). I went ahead and included the preceding verse there, “Give us this day our daily bread,” verse 11, because it shows that this prayer from our Lord is a “daily” prayer, a model for prayer that we should be following daily. This, then, in turn shows that repentance from sin is to occur daily.

       But why aren’t we just cleansed of the sin within our flesh, or why is it not just taken out of our flesh, when we become a Christian? I mean, after all, if we are “born again” like Jesus talked about, then why don’t we now have new flesh whereby we do not sin? These are good questions for us to consider. Indeed, we will have ‘new’ flesh, or new bodies, in the future, but God has chosen right now not to give us our new bodies at the moment of conversion.

       In Romans chapter 6, the Apostle Paul talks about our current relationship with sin. Turn over there, or tap there. He says the following, starting in verse 1: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-4, ESV).

       So, we clearly see here in these verses that we still have the ability to sin in our new spiritual status with God, our new creation. The idea here in what Paul is talking about is that we should not choose to sin, but we should choose not to sin. To be sure, we as Christians now have the ability to choose not to sin. We are not slaves to sin any longer, as Paul tells us if we move down to verse 18. He says, “and, having been set free from sin, [we] have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18, ESV). And again, in verse 20, what we use to be before becoming saved: “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness” (Romans 6:20, ESV).

       But anyway, back at the beginning of Romans chapter 6, Paul talked about how we were baptized into Christ when we were saved. What is he talking about here? Well, this is a baptism that occurs when we are united with Christ in his death, he having taken our place on the cross, and we are declared righteous before God. Paul is not talking about water baptism here, as some have mistakenly concluded. If he was, then anyone who is water baptized becomes saved. Look at the text carefully! If that were the case, all evangelists would need to focus on is water baptizing everyone so everyone could go to Heaven when they die. But he obviously isn’t talking about water baptism here.

       If we move over to Romans chapter 7, we can see how Paul continually struggled with the fact that sin was still part of his earthly body. Let’s consider a lengthy passage here, starting in verse 14 and going to verse 25. The following is stated:

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:14-25, ESV).

Now, it makes sense that we all face the struggle of temptations to sin everyday. For Paul said, “when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.”

       So, as we struggle and fail at times, we need to repent to the Lord of our failure. Sometimes we recognize when we sin, and sometimes we don’t realize where are committing sin until after we do whatever we were doing. We feel conviction from the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us as Christians. We should not based our actions on what we think or ‘feel’ is okay for us to do. We should base our actions on what the Word of God says and where the Holy Spirit is leading us. The Holy Spirit will convict us when we knowingly do wrong, and even when we unknowingly do wrong. Indeed, Jesus promised us in John 16: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak” (John 16:13, ESV).

       King David talked about the fact that we have sin in our flesh, things that we do wrong against God, that we don’t even know about and aren’t even aware of. He said in Psalm 19:13, “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression” (ESV). And again, he says in Psalm 139:23, 24 : “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (ESV). That should be the attitude of us all in that we want to be able to tell God to search our hearts and have God show us areas where we can make improvement.

       The good news to all of this discussion with identifying sin and repenting of it is that fact that when we do identify it, God will forgive us of it. Let’s consider a famous passage from the Apostle John. Go over to 1 John chapter 1, and let’s look at verses 6 through 10. John tells us, “If we say we have fellowship with him [that is, God] while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 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 1:6-10, ESV).

       We need to note several things from this foundational passage in 1 John. Note first (v. 6) that a person who is a Christian does not continue to sin deliberately on a daily basis. Certainly, all of the sins we commit should not be premeditated, and we should not be continuing to do something when we are aware in our minds that we are doing it and that it is sin. For a person who willingly continues to sin, who walks in darkness, John goes so far as to say the person isn’t even saved. Note secondly (v. 7) that an identifying mark of a Christian is that fact the person fellowships with other believers. That is, he loves his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Note thirdly (v. 8) a person who thinks he or she doesn’t sin anymore after becoming a Christian is surely deceived. Note fourthly (v. 9), again, that it should be the normal practice of a Christian to identify and repent of sins. And finally, fifthly, note (v. 10) that a person who thinks he or she has never sinned in life is indeed grossly deceived, and certainly isn’t a Christian.

       I also want to point out sometimes we identify sin in our lives, but we recognize have a stronghold on it. That is, Satan has gained a stronghold in our minds or actions and it can be rather difficult to break the bad habit. We have come realize the sin, but we can’t seem to stop doing whatever it is. There are several things necessary to combat this kind of sin. Number one, I would say you should definitely pray about it and ask for God’s help in the matter. Don’t be afraid to talk about the problem with God. He wants to help you overcome whatever it is, and he will help you. He is on your side. Number two, and really this is fundamental and key, we need to quote Bible verses to ourselves whenever the problem arises. God’s Word is what stops the power of sin in its track. Remember, it is sharper than any double-edged sword, and definitely has the power behind it that we need to combat our problem.

       Number three, I would say we need to stay positive and keep working at eliminating the incorrect thought or action from our lives. If we have a bad day, we need to start the next one fresh and with a new mind to keep on fighting. Recall the old British saying from years ago, “Keep clam and carry on.” We should “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” as Philippians 3:14 says (ESV). Sometimes it takes a long time to overcome a bad habit we’ve cultivated into our lives. It can take weeks, months, or even years with some problems. I’m not trying to discourage anyone, but I just want people to realize it takes time to combat and completely eliminate some issues. You can do it; all Christians can because they are new creations and have Jesus by their sides.

       In closing today, perhaps you've been listening to my discussion today―about repentance for the Christian, about how a Christian turns from sin at the very beginning of being saved. Perhaps that's something you would like to do today. Maybe you want to be free from all your sin—the things you’ve done in your life that you know are wrong, and that you know God wouldn’t approve of. Well, I have good news for you today. No matter who you are, no matter what your position in society is, I am here today to tell you that God is offering you His free gift of salvation that He offers to anyone who will trust in Him. God wants everyone to accept the truth, to accept reality, to believe in Jesus' death on the cross as a payment for their sins.

       If you're counting on good works to save you today―to get you to Heaven―you need to wake up to reality. You see, God doesn't save you based on your works. Even though God does want people to follow his correct ways and do good things, these behaviors cannot save us. You can spend your whole life trying to do things to get God's attention, or to make yourself feel good, but, in the end, it's not going to matter. All that matters, in reality, is whether or not a person is in right relationship with God. All that matters is whether you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. You cannot earn God's favor. That's not the way it works. You can have much, much more than that.

       Now, it may be today that you feel like there is no way that this God, whom I've been talking about, could accept you because of things you've done in your past. Maybe you have done things wrong over and over knowing they were wrong. Maybe you promised yourself you'd never do the same evil thing again only to find yourself falling right back into it. But the good news for you today is that above all of that, God can save anyone who comes to him and acknowledges Jesus' work on the cross on their behalf. You may feel like there is no way you will ever be out of the problem you are in—that your too deep in it. But I want to tell you today that nothing is impossible with God. You don't have to be free from your problem to accept Jesus today.

       So, if you believe that you would like to have a personal relationship with God today, and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, then follow my lead in this simple prayer:

God, I am a great sinner. But today I understand that Jesus died for my sins, and that you will forgive me of everything wrong that I have ever done because of what Jesus did. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead by your great power so that I might have a new life. So, I want to surrender my life to you now, and repent of my sins—all the sins I’ve done in my life. God, please start the transformation process, so that I become like you want me to be, so that I experience true life. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton