Real Repentance 4

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)

We have looked at the repentance which precedes faith in the last couple of posts, but there is also a repentance that comes with faith. While the repentance that precedes faith “consists chiefly of a sense of danger and a fear of punishment” and involves fleeing from sin because of the danger, real repentance occurs in the inward man and happens because of love and a true sorrow (filial) for sin as against God. This is a profound statement by Thomas Adam. It really gets at the issue between a legal or outward repentance and a true or real repentance.

Instead of men repenting from outward things in an outward way from self-love, true repentance is when men repent of outward and inward things from a love for God. Instead of men repenting of outward things in an outward way from a fear of punishment, real repentance is when men repent of outward and inward things from a love for God and a sorrow for offending God. Outward repentance is from self-love and real repentance is from love for God. Outward repentance, being from love of self, can be repented of when love for self changes its perspective. Real repentance, being from love for God, cannot be repented of since it is God who works in the soul to persevere. There is a profound difference between the two.

Men who have a fierce self-love and a strong self-will can become very religious and externally moral and be quite deceived from their external repentance and morality. But they have not repented from their chief sin which is an unbelieving heart that loves self and does all for self in reality. These men can become ministers and professors at colleges and seminaries, but that does not mean that they have really repented and have Christ. The Pharisees had a strong pride and a strong self-love and they had a strong external form of holiness, but they did not have a real repentance and a real faith in Christ. A man that has a fierce self-love and a strong self-will is really a person that loves self and lives for self, which is to say that all of that man’s religion is idolatry and is from unbelief.

We are given many examples of men who believed (they say) and have had great transformations in their moral lives, but later on they fell away. These are given as illustrations or examples of men who have lost their salvation, of men who are now professing atheists, and of why religion does not work. They are simply illustrations and examples of men who were satisfied or deceived with an external repentance instead of seeking the Lord for a real repentance. These men are classic examples of why we must make the distinctions between outward repentance and real repentance clear to the people. When we take the first sign of repentance as a sign of salvation, we are setting ourselves and others up for a great deception.

It is interesting that professing churches that want to be careful about those they let into membership (which is a noble and good goal) set out standards, but usually those standards are for an outward repentance. Let us also remember that an outward repentance that is only from self-love also has an accompanying deception. Since Scripture tells us that people love those who love themselves, the deceived person that thinks that s/he has repented will think that s/he loves God and will tell many of their love for God. But that love for God is not the true love from God but instead is only fueled by self-love. When the fuel of self-love runs out because they think God fails them, that person will spin off to another way to love self.

Real repentance is fueled by love for God and that love only comes from God. So true love never fails, though indeed it can wax and wane according to the sovereign hand of God. Real repentance is to repent of self-love, so the turns from God that self-love will work are avoided to some degree. A real repentance is also the work of God so a real repenter is one that continues to repent as grace and love are worked into the soul by God. Real repentance means that Christ is now the life of the soul and that the soul lives by grace. Real repentance now has real faith which means that the soul receives and lives by grace whereas false faith lives by trust in self and love for self. The difference is simply profound, yet in the modern day this difference appears to be lost and so many who repent of external things only are truly lost. This is one reasons why the modern professing Church is so much like the world, and that is because without real repentance it is the world.

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