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The Marks of True Repentance

During my sermon “Unfailing Love for a Faithless People” (Hosea 14:1–9)—which Vinnie preached for me!—I noted that the path to restoring our relationship with God is through repentance and reliance on Christ.

Besides a brief glance at the Hebrew and Greek words, my comments on repentance were minimal. To dig deeper, I would like to consider the marks of genuine repentance by directing our attention to 2 Corinthians 7:10–11:

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 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” (ESV).

According to this text, genuine repentance consists of 1) earnestness, 2) eagerness to clear oneself, 3) indignation, 4) fear, 5) longing, 6) zeal, and 7) punishment (not a helpful translation—see below).

Let’s consider these seven marks together:

Earnestness – The word denotes an accurate perception of sin that eradicates indifference toward God. Since repentance is a gift of God (2 Tim. 2:25), it necessarily births “the strong, lively actings of love to Christ in the soul.”[1] As a result, genuine repentance manifests itself in obedience to God’s commands. Hence, Paul says in Romans 8:3–4 that “the righteous requirements of the law are met in those who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”

Eagerness to clear oneself – Genuine repentance moves us to identify the root cause of our sins so that we do not repeat them. Tracing our destructive behavior back to the lies that gave rise to their actions culminates in intelligent repentance. Such a practice—inconvenient and painful as it may be—mortifies sinful patterns and issues forth in new habits.

Indignation – Genuine repentance is accompanied by hatred toward sin. “Repentance is the vomit of the soul,” said Thomas Brooks (1608–1680).[2] Does the thought of sinning against God produce a gag-reflex in you? You have not repented if your sin does not bother you.

Fear – The fear of God follows repentance because one’s conscience has been awakened to his holiness, majesty, and splendor. Thus, the truly repentant person happily agrees with Calvin: “Even if there were no hell, it would still shudder at offending him alone” (Institutes 1. 2. 2).

Longing – Genuine repentance is marked by a longing to be restored to God and his people, the church. This is because conversion crushes apathy toward God: “Genuine conversion resembles a man that makes haste out of a city that is all in flames.”[3]

Zeal – Genuine repentance is marked by zeal to obey God.

Punishment – The word means “readiness to see justice done.” As an example, the truly repentant person says with Zacchaeus, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8). To elaborate: Genuine repentance seeks to make amends when possible.

Conclusion

My goal is not to make readers doubt their salvation. The question is not: How bad do I feel about my sin? The question is: Do I in some measure give evidence of this in my life? Is my life marked by trust-filled surrender to God as he offers himself to me in the gospel?

And so we pray: O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule my heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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[1] Jonathan Edwards, “I Know My Redeemer Lives,” in The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader, eds. Wilson H. Kimnach, Kenneth P. Minkema, & Douglas A. Sweeney (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 158–159.  

[2] Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices (1652; repr. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 63.

[3] Nathaniel Vincent, “Make Haste,” in Day by Day with the English Puritans, ed. Randall J. Pederson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004), 96.

Reading, Pondering, and Cherishing Scripture

I still remember the first time I read this sentence by J. I. Packer: “God’s purpose in revelation is to make friends with us.”[1] I marveled at the thought that the God of the universe wanted to be friends with me. Could it be true?

I now know that through the means of Holy Scripture God shares his life, light, and love with us. He communicates in order to commune with us. He reveals his character in order to elicit our trust. He announces the saving gospel of his Son to sweep us up into his reign of grace and fit us for the new heavens and earth: “The seals are broken, the stone rolled away from the door of the tomb, and that greatest of all mysteries brought to light—that Christ, God’s Son became man, that God is Three and One, that Christ suffered for us, and will reign forever.”[2]

Three exhortations follow:

We should read the Bible. The community of the redeemed should be a community of readers. But not any kind of reading will do. According to the classical Christian tradition, reading well requires learning a set of dispositions—studiousness, attentiveness, humility, modesty, docility, and patience. These virtues reinforce the truth that we receive God’s Word and sit under it as servants. We do not stand over it as interpretive Lords, nor do we sit beside it as God’s equals.[3] God is “absolute giver”; we are “absolute receivers.”[4]

Since God reveals himself not only to inform our minds but transform our lives, let’s prayerfully cultivate these virtues as God’s people, so that we might profit from our time sitting before his feet.

We should meditate on the Bible. I’ve noted in sermons that the Hebrew word for “meditate” means to “mutter, to speak in a low voice, to talk to oneself.”[5] Picture in your mind’s eye someone who whispers the truths of God’s Word under his or her breath throughout the day. Or picture a dog salivating over and chewing on his bone. That’s what we’re to do with God’s Word.

The best way for me to meditate on Scripture is to force myself to answer questions like the following:

Am I living in light of this? What difference does this make? Am I taking this seriously? If I believed and held to this, how would that change things? What does this teach me about God and his character? About human nature, character, and behavior? About church, or life in the people of God? What does this mean for my relationship with God? To myself? To this or that person or group? To this or that behavior or habit? To my friends, to the culture? Be concrete—is there something you must stop doing because of it? Is there something you should start doing? Why might God be showing this to you today? What is going on now in your life to which this would be relevant?[6]

We all prefer the secure confines of predictability and the armor of false peace, but the Bible urge us to open ourselves up to our Savior and taste the freedom of enslavement to Christ.

We should cherish the Bible. That God in his kindness shares a portion of his knowledge with creatures summons us to wonder, astonishment, trust, and gratitude.

I can do no better than conclude with Herman Bavinck (1854–1921), who shows us that God reveals himself to us in Scripture . . .

. . . to the end of re-creating the whole person after God’s image and likeness and thus to transform that person into a mirror of God’s attributes and perfections. Hence the object of revelation cannot only be to teach human beings, to illuminate their intellects (rationalism), or to prompt them to practice virtue (moralism), or to arouse religious sensations (mysticism). God’s aim in special revelation is both much deeper and reaches much farther. It is none other than to redeem human beings in their totality of body and soul with all their capacities and powers.[7]

And so we pray:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen (Thomas Cranmer’s Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent).

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[1] J. I. Packer, God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1990), 50, italics in original.

[2] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, trans. J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1957), 71.

[3] Scott R. Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 76.

[4] Charles P. Arand, “Luther on the Creed,” Lutheran Quarterly 20 (2006): 1–25.

[5] Gerald H. Wilson, Psalms: Volume 1, NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 96.

[6] Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Dutton, 2014), 148, 154, 158–159.

[7] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 346, emphasis mine.

Four Quotes for Your Friday

Enjoy!

“[B]y framing the abortion dispute as essentially a clash of raw interests between strangers—a person and a nonperson—Justice Blackmun [1908–1999] embraces the narrative of expressive individualism: a universe of lonely atomized wills each seeking their own self-invented destinies, encountering other wills as transactional collaborators or adversaries to be overcome. For Blackmun, the interests of the fetus do not even rise to the interests of a person, but rather a sub-personal being whose interests must necessarily give way when they conflict with those of a bona fide person. This clash of interests bears little relation to the reality of human procreation and pregnancy, in which the dramatis personae include a woman and her biological offspring literally joined in body, one inside the other, utterly dependent on the other, with lives integrated and intertwined to a degree like no other human relationship. They are, biologically speaking, mother and child. They are not homeowner and burglar, host and parasite, or violinist and unwilling conjoined kidney donor. This is not a dispute over private property. Moreover, there is no ‘unplugging’ to undo this relationship—modern methods of abortion involve the direct killing and removal of the fetus through highly invasive and violent means. Blackmun’s narrative of conflict is simplistic, foreign, and forgetful of the body.” – O. Carter Snead, What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020), 140.

“Those who are idle in the pursuit of righteousness count theological terminology as secondary” – Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, trans. David Anderson (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1980), 1. 2, p. 16.

Webster offers a theology of patience: “But patience is a divine effect because it is a divine property: God is the source of patience because he is patient in himself. Divine patience allows creatures time to enact their lives; in the face of creaturely rejection, it does not terminate the creature but continues to grant to the creature further opportunities and possibilities. This divine patience is not suffering but long-suffering, longanimity: not passive waiting upon creaturely purpose but the enduring exercise of government. . . . Its exemplary force is known supremely in the life of Christ in which it is embodied and commended. Cyprian, for example, looks at the entire course of the incarnation from heavenly descent through passion to exaltation as divine-human illustration and pattern of the excellence of patience. ‘[H]e maintained the patience of his Father in the constancy of his endurance’; and so, ‘let us walk by the example of Christ” – John Webster, God without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, Vol. 2, Virtue and Intellect (New York: T&T Clark, 2018), 179.

“There are fruits in God’s garden as well as in man’s which never ripen till they are bruised.” – Charles Spurgeon, “Beloved and Yet Afflicted.”

Four Quotes for Your Friday

Read, ponder, pray, enjoy!

“[W]hen was the last time you took a risk to obey Christ? When was the last time you diminished your future–socially, financially, professionally–for his sake? When was the last time your life looked obviously different from the life of someone who does not trust Jesus at all? If you never surprise an unbelieving friend by your sacrifices for Christ, it is probably because what you are living for is the same earthly payoff he is living for. But if you trust the Lord entirely, you will also trust him exhaustively, across the whole of life” – Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., Proverbs: Wisdom That Works, Preach the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 65. 

Yes! And amen to the following quote! – “Despite all of our fables and legends about the dangers therein [concerning pride] . . . we grow accustomed to thinking of self-exaltation, at least to some manageable degree, as a ‘normal’ part of leadership and drive. . . . Often even in Christian ministry the same tendencies are present and covered over in a pretense of humility. Self-promotion and egotism are rewarded because the more a Christian crows about his superior prayer life or his cutting-edge research or his ability to grow churches or movements, the more an audience tends to believe it. Genuine Christian humility often seems mousy or nonassertive by contrast. Sometimes the complaint ‘he lacks ambition’ can simply be translated as ‘he doesn’t worship himself, and he doesn’t expect us to either.’ When so many leaders are proud, it becomes very difficult for the Spirit-convicted psyche to discern, ‘Am I prideful, or am I leader?’” – Russell D. Moore, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 144.

“Closely allied with the tendency to see what you want in the complex patterns of objective reality is the tendency to be furious about whatever you imagine they reveal. Whether it involves the regulatory capital requirements for equity derivative trading platforms, the estimated reproduction rate of a respiratory virus, or the rate at which carbon molecules are being absorbed into the atmosphere, the default position of talk-show hosts and Twitterati with upward of 50,000 followers can be summed up as: ‘I don’t understand what’s going on, but I know it vindicates everything I’ve ever said, and I’m absolutely outraged about it’” – Gerard Baker, “In Our Hyperpartisan World, Everything’s an Inkblot,” Wall Street Journal (February 2, 2021): A17.

Herman Bavinck on the love of God: “[T]his love is not the essence of God in the sense that it is the center and core of God’s being and the other attributes are its modes, for all the attributes are equally God’s being. In him there is no higher or lower, no greater and smaller. Still, love is most certainly identical with his being. It is independent, eternal, and unchangeable, like God himself. It has its origin in him and also—by way of creatures, returns to him” – Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2, God and Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 216. 

Four Quotes for Your Friday

Even though I am on vacation, I wanted to share four more quotes with you. Praise God for the gift of good books and articles:

“The pro-Nicene theology that emerged in the fourth century as the consensus doctrine of God in the Christian church was not a result of the imposition of Greek metaphysical ideas onto the Bible, as if Aristotle was preferred over Moses, Isaiah, and Paul. Rather, on the crucial issue of divine transcendence, Aristotle was corrected on the basis of Moses, Isaiah, and Paul. . . . Moltmann’s project is built on a faulty foundation because he simplistically equates the use of Aristotelian concepts with the uncritical use of such concepts, as when he writes smugly, ‘Aristotle’s God cannot love’ (Crucified God, 222), as if no one from Athanasius to Aquinas had noticed the fact” – Craig A. Carter, Contemplating God with the Great Tradition: Recovering Trinitarian Classical Theism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021), 210, 210n11. 

“It is tempting to say that what you do with this time that you have is your own business. Briefly stated, however, the Christian position is that there’s no such thing as your own business”- Frederick Buechner, “X,” in Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner, ed. George Conner (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 203. 

“To pray in Christ’s name, is to pray with confidence in Christ’s merit” – Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer (1692; Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2020), 33.

“One of the grand myths of modernity has been that the operations of reason are a sphere from which God’s presence can be banished, where the mind is, as it were, safe from divine intrusion. To that myth, Christian theology is a standing rebuke. As holy reason at work, Christian theology can never escape from the sober realization that we talk in the terrifying presence of the God from whom we cannot flee (Ps. 139. 7). In Christian theology, the matter of our discourse is not someone absent, someone whom we have managed to exclude from our own intellectual self-presence and about whom we can talk away safely and undisturbed. We speak in God’s presence. When we begin to talk theologically about the holiness of God, we soon discover that the tables have been reversed; it is no longer we who summon God before our minds to make him a matter for clever discourse, but the opposite: the holy God shows himself and summons us before him to give account of our thinking. That summons—and not any constellation of cultural, intellectual or political conditions—is the determinative context of holy reason” – John Webster, Holiness (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 15.