In our consideration this past Sunday morning of how John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus (Mark 1:2-5), we focused on the theme of repentance. It is a multifaceted theme:
A. Repentance is personal.
“If John the Baptist were preaching repentance in Syracuse today, how would God use him to call you away from sin?” This is a personal question at two levels. The word “you” gets at the issue of your “characteristic flesh.” In other words, as an individual, what are the particular temptations that tend to come at you? The word “today” in the question gets at the fact that the identity and nature of the sins of which we must repent can change over the course of our lives. Here’s Richard Lovelace on these two points:
The lifelong process of mortifying sin [that is, putting sin to death] involves a gradual detection process by which the particular forms in which sin expresses itself in our lives, our characteristic flesh, are uncovered to our view. Some of this discovery of sin occurs early in our Christian lives, but the subtlety of indwelling sin is such that many of its deeper roots remain under the surface of consciousness, where they will continue to distort our lives if they are not uncovered later.
B. The pace of repentance is directed by the Holy Spirit.
Lovelace laments the fact that some Christians have but a limited understanding and appreciation of the Bible’s teaching about sin and repentance. He challenges us to take repentance more seriously. He also balances this focus on human responsibility with a comment on God’s wise oversight of the process of growing in holiness:
The rate and depth at which progress in sanctification takes place is determined by the Holy Spirit, the resident counselor in every believer. The process cannot be rushed by overloading the conscience with the administration of the law. God will proceed at a rate and follow a course which are ideally suited to the individual, raising successive issues over the years and making a point of the need for growth in one area after another. He seldom shows us all of our needs at once; we would be overwhelmed at the sight.
C. Repentance is driven by motives that are God-ward.
The process of detecting and turning from sin must be neither self-oriented (“I’m going to make something better out of myself”) nor others-oriented (“I sure hope people will respect me now”). Instead — and here’s Lovelace again — the Scripture passages that call us away from our particular sins “…must be perceived as God’s will and accepted from the heart because of repentant submission to him.” We begin to take our sin more seriously when we see it as an offense to our Father, as an obstacle to what He is doing in our lives. Speaking in the terms of Mark chapter 1, we turn from sin as part of turning to Christ. We pray then, “Father, I am sorry for the sin that I see in myself because it is taking an authoritative place in my life, a place that I ought to be reserving for Christ.”
D. Repentance involves seeing, admitting, and trusting.
David Powlison breaks repentance down into three component parts:
- Wake up. Detect those sins that God is pointing out to you now, your blind eyes opening to things in yourself that you had not noticed before.
- Own up. Yes, there are complicating circumstances, but take responsibility for those sinful things that you do. “I am the one who does what I do.”
- Shift weight. Locate your center-of-gravity, not in yourself, but in God. Work through the entire transaction from beginning to end: confess the sin to God, ask him for his forgiveness, rely upon him for that forgiveness, and come full circle to the joy of the closeness of God.
E. And there are other facets.
Take a look at this post for the following: Repentance is both narrow and atmospheric. Repentance has to do with both God changing us, and us choosing to change. Scripture motivates us to change both by reminding us of what God has done in the past, and by showing us glimpses of the beautiful future perfection that his current work will yield.
Brothers and sisters, don’t let these things go in one ear and out the other. Let it be food for conversations with your Father. Set aside time for contemplation and prayer; it’s too important to neglect.
Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal. (Downers Grove: IVP) 1979. pp. 110-112.
David Powlison, Lectures: Dynamics of Biblical Change.