Plethos Discipleship - Repentance
A few years ago we had a college student that had attended our church stop coming. For months I did not see this person and I wondered what had happened to them. Then one day I was walking on the college campus and I saw this student. We began to talk and I mentioned that I missed seeing them but that I hoped they had found a new church to attend. They had. I asked why they needed to leave and what drew them to this new church. The response was that they wanted to go somewhere where the Spirit of God was more evident.
To be honest, my heart was grieved. I wondered why this person felt that we did not have the Spirit working in our church. In some ways I was not all that unaware of the dynamics that were going on there. This person was attending a Charismatic and Pentecostal church and I knew what expressions she might have been drawn to since that was part of my past.
I went home and grieved over the conversation. Are we missing the Spirit’s work in our church? Are we in any way grieving the Spirit at our church? At the time we were going through the book of Philippians so I opened up my bible and began to read it from the beginning to the end. I circled every time that Paul mentioned the Holy Spirit and found that it was only a hand full of times. Yet, no one in their right mind would say that Paul was not honoring the Spirit by not speaking of Him more. Paul lived by the Spirit. He was totally dependent upon the Spirit in His life. Whether Paul were to mention the Spirit one time or a hundred we know that Paul was a Spirit led man.
Consider 2 Corinthians 6 where Paul commended himself to them by asking them to consider the attributes that were evident in his life. One of the things that he asked them to consider was the Holy Spirit. Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 6:6, “…by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love…”. How did Paul explain the fact that he could endure suffering and display great fruit as well? He needed the power of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and a life lived in Christ to accomplish all of this.
Again, consider what Paul says in Galatians 5:16-18, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Again, the only way to live this Christian life, or to be a Christian at all, is through the work of the Spirit.
Today, a friend of mine told me about his young grand-daughter who is seeking to live for the LORD. She is memorizing scripture and talking with he grandpa often about the faith. Lately she has talked about how hard this Christian life is. Trying to stand against the peer pressure of friends and culture can be exhausting. She is learning that she needs to be filled with the Spirit. She needs to continually say with the apostle John, “Greater is He who is in you than He that is in the world.”
I mention all of this because today’s topic reminds us just how necessary the Spirit is to the every day life of the Christian. The topic is repentance from dead works. To many would assume that repentance is as easy as just asking for forgiveness and then move on. Who needs the Spirit to do that? But any true biblical understanding of repentance is not seen in that way. Repentance is impossible without the Spirit.
Many years ago I sat in a room with a husband and wife who were struggling. In a moment of weakness the husband sinned and kissed another woman. The wife was hurting and felt betrayed. The husband wanted to move on and kept claiming that it really was not a big deal. The marriage never recovered. Repentance is not easy. The husband admitted to having kissed another woman but he failed to see that the Spirit needed to be present to help him deal with it in a godly manner. He did not want to think any more about it because to him repentance is easy. But is it? In some ways it is. It is easy only by means of the working of the Spirit. Repentance is impossible apart from the Spirit.
Thomas Watson wrote a little book entitled ‘The Doctrine of Repentance’. This little book shattered my view of repentance being a simple thing. It shattered my view that repentance is almost automatic and can be done in one easy step. In fact, he lists six characteristics of true repentance. They are,
We have to see our sin
We have to sorrow over our sin
We have to confess our sin
We have to have shame for sin
We have to hate our sin
We have to turn from our sin
Then he says, ‘If any one ingredient is left out, it loses its virtue.’ In view of these things can we really say that repentance is easy or that it can be done apart from the work of the Spirit? As I read this book I was so overwhelmed that I put it down and did not read it again for some time. I knew that God had worked repentance in me and that it seemed simple from my vantage point; but now I began to see that it is much harder than I thought. How am I to do this ‘repentance’ thing correctly?