Real Repentance 3

Matthew 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.

The repentance which precedes faith, consists chiefly of a sense of danger and a fear of punishment; but when we come to have a lively apprehension of pardoning love, and our adoption in Christ, it is a genuine filial sorrow for having offended God. (Thomas Adam, Private Thoughts on Religion, International Outreach)

The evangelism of the modern day does not realize or recognize that there are two kinds types of repentance taught in Scripture. There is the repentance that men have that they repent of, then there is the godly sorrow that brings a repentance that is not to be repented of (II Cor 7). We also know that Esau repented in an outward way and yet he sought repentance with tears and was still rejected. He was not granted true repentance. But modern evangelists, not recognizing the inward nature of true repentance, settle for the outward repentance as a sign that a person has prayed a prayer or will pray a prayer. Sadly, it appears that few even look for any kind of repentance at all.

Jonathan Edwards spoke of a legal repentance and an evangelical repentance. This is a vital distinction for those who wish to be physicians of sick souls or those who think they are converted when they are not. There is a turning from outward sin or having some distress over outward sin and yet it is not a godly sorrow and as such is not a real repentance because it is the outward man alone and the inward man remains unchanged. As the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the text above supposed, they had Abraham for their father and they were very religious. But as Jesus said later, they were like whitewashed tombs full of dead bones.

Despite all the negative things that have been said and should be said about outward repentance, this can still be an important part of the soul as Christ leads that soul to Himself. This is seen below in the answer to Westminster Shorter Catechism question 31, what is effectual calling?

A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

According to this question and answer, part of the effectual calling is when God’s Spirit convinces men of their sin and misery. It is at this point (and others) that modern evangelism falls far short. Men must know of their sin and misery before they can understand the true nature of what Christ has done in the Gospel. If men are not convinced of their sin and misery, they will not be convinced of Christ and His glory. During the time that men are being convinced of sin and misery, they will try to repent and they will have several efforts at a legal repentance. They will try to repent of outward sin and yet they will keep falling into it. Until the Spirit enables them to embrace Christ by His renewing work of regeneration, these people will continue to make efforts at legal repentance. It is vital, therefore, for men to understand that there is a repentance before faith and it is not a repentance that necessarily comes with conversion.

As with all religious men who have not been truly converted to Christ, they will make many efforts at achieving repentance, faith, and salvation in their own strength. When Christ awakens men to their danger of damnation, their first thought and first action is to try to escape that damnation by exerting themselves in their own strength and power. If the Spirit does not regenerate these religious men or they never see beyond what they can do in their own strength and power, they may (many do) put forth a great effort in the thing of religion. They can become pastors, elders, and missionaries and yet be in the service of self and pride rather than Christ and His grace. They can become scholars and professors at seminaries and yet have nothing but an outward repentance. The failure to understand that men will try to repent and actually have an external repentance without true faith and regeneration is a colossal deception by which many souls are deceived. True regeneration precedes true repentance.

2 Responses to “Real Repentance 3”

  1. Nick Says:

    It seems to me that “repentance” is a word that is not used much at all in our churches today. I have heard repentance defined as simply turning around and walking toward Jesus. I have also heard repentance defined as changing your mind about who Jesus is. The church either doesn’t talk about repentance or misdefines it to make it so easy that anyone can perform it at any time by making some kind of decision. The sad thing is that “pastors” really believe this nonsense and are teaching it to countless millions of people who are deluded into thinking they are really Christians when they are still children of the devil.

  2. Richard Smith Says:

    Absolutely. A false repentance is no repentance at all and apart from a true repentance there is no true faith. If there is no true repentance and faith, then the “pastors” who teach a false repentance and faith are also teaching a false gospel. As the old book title by Montgomery in the 1960’s (I think), “Damned Through the Church.” As John Gerstner said, people are going to hell by walking by a Reformed pulpit.

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