Why Repentance is a Necessary Part of the Christian Life
This week in our catechism time we only have one question to look at, and this will be true for our next lesson as well. In this part of the SC we are in the midst of talking about what it means to believe in Jesus, and how we are to follow Him as His disciples. Not only that, but specifically how that hope goes about affecting every area of our lives. The writing out of the Ten Commandments and all the implications they touch on is meant to encourage us to consider the way we are living and walking in light on the glorious work of our Trinitarian salvation won unto us by the decree of the Father, the work of the Son, and the application of it all by the Holy Spirit. Jesus speaks more about the fruit born of redemption than just about any other topic.
Believers ought to have no problem understanding that when we confess Christ as our Lord and Savior that this is not a one-time event. At least, they shouldn’t. However, many cultural Christians have this idea that as long as they get baptized, sign a card, say the magic words “I believe in Jesus” that whatever they do after that is immaterial. They said it publicly, or at least intimated it by attendance at a church building for a while. Maybe even their name is still on the register as a member somewhere, that ought to be enough to get into Heaven. Right? Well, no. Our Redeemer is pretty clear that if there is no fruit which follows faith than there is no there, there. As the old saying goes you are no more a Christian by taking up space in a pew than you are a car by sitting in a garage. If there is anything that drives unbelievers away from considering the truth claims of the Christian religion its false confessors who deny its power. Why should they want to be a Believer if it apparently makes no change in the lives of the people they meet?
We need to understand that if you have truly placed your trust in the Son of the Living God than you’ve entered into a citizenship in a new kingdom which has with it new responsibilities, well not so much new as in never before seen, but in the sense of a fresh relationship to the person and work of God, especially in His commandments. No longer do they have the ability to kill you dead, and no longer do you desire to be saved by them. To expand on that a little we see this language of new meaning new to you in the Psalms for example when the Psalmist in Psalm 96 uses the term new song. He is not talking about a fresh composition, but through the redemptive mercy of Christ you look on the word of God with a fresh set of eyes, and your comprehension of it is updated to see it as a friend instead of an enemy. To be clear I am as much a devotee of Ebenezer Erskine as you’ll ever meet. There is no sense in what is being written here that we in any sense need to forsake sin before our coming to Christ. In fact the truth is the opposite. If we ever hope to be rid of the stain and power of sin, both inherited by Adam, and from the iniquities we added to our own account, then our being united to Christ by faith is our only hope in life and death. A new creature is going to have new habits, new loves, and new joys. What used to make him happy, now makes him sad, as the catechism makes abundantly clear.
The issue is of course how does that happen? We obviously don’t just wake up one day and decide to do that. It is understood that just as our justification is by the free grace of Jehovah so to is our sanctification. While there is a sense in which we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in being conformed to the image of Christ it is also true that even that assistance is only by the unmerited favor of God. Go back to Q. 35 and 36 of the WSC for more.
So what does all that have to do with our catechism question for today? I’ve taken so long to introduce that we’ll be done before we get to it. See the Q/A below:
Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavoring after, new obedience.
Okay. I think Q. 87 was worth waiting on. Whenever the catechism speaks of a saving grace it means that the subject under consideration is a fully orbed gift from above. The Lord in His love for you has not only given the means for sanctification, our being renewed in the image of Jesus, but He has granted to you the ammunition to keep killing sin like Rambo in a southeastern Asian triple-canopy jungle. Notice something else in the answer above. Why do we mortify the flesh? Because …out of a true sense of [our] sin, and the apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.
There was a time in life when I hated with a passion of a million suns open faced tomato sandwiches. Now, however, I’ve seen the light and enjoy some bread, plenty of Duke’s, and some creole seasoning sprinkled on a freshly cut mater. It just hits right on a warm summer day. Why did I start doing that? Part of it is if I was going to minister in the South I needed to learn to enjoy it, and at the end of the day nothing is better than Duke’s. What was once a “eat to be polite” has now become a blessing and a pleasure. The same is true for those rightly saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.
In closing, when Jesus graciously works in our hearts those things we used to despise we now love, and those things we used to like, we now do whatever we can to be rid of. That’s really what this question is getting to and what my long prelude was moving us to see. The language of grief and hatred are pointing to a revulsion, not just “this is icky”, for sin is not a odd-smelling item, but a rotting carcass the true believer runs from to the fresh, sweet savory glory of the good works to which we are called to live in by grace through faith.
Here’s a bit more:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church