Real Repentance 15

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.

As God looks principally at the heart, so it is there he carries on his saving work. We may polish our outward man, but what shall we do by it, but to get the name of whited sepulchers. (Thomas Adam, Private Thoughts on Religion)

The outward things of Christianity are stressed and stressed (in many if not most places) and the inward things are given lip service at best. The appearance of things seems to be more important than the reality of them. In contrast with that, however, God is more concerned with the inward man. It is the heart of man where His eye is and that is where His principal work is. The heart of man is where man is either proud or humble. The heart of man is what is united to self or Christ. The heart of man is where motives and intents flow from. The heart of man is where love of self or love of God flow from. It is the heart of man that is either unregenerate or regenerate. As fallen people, however, we are quite satisfied with the appearances of things.

The outward things can be counted and defined. The outward things can be judged and improved in ways that can be seen. The flesh of man can work and work on the outward man and the flesh of man can be pleased with what the flesh polished up. The flesh of man can come up with stringent rules for morality and religion and be pleased with self and pride as it keeps those things. The flesh of man can be satisfied with stringent rules or lax rules as long as man is the one who makes the rules according to his fleshly desires. The liberal wants lax rules so as to be happy with self as a religious person and the conservative wants stringent rules in order to maintain a form of self-righteousness. True enough not all liberals and not all conservatives fit the above description, but it is simply setting out in general terms how all men can be pleased with rules as long as they are external.

The spirit of the Pharisees is alive and well in the modern day, though those same people might be hard on the Pharisees in word and in teaching. John the Baptist told the Pharisees and Sadducees to bear fruit in keeping with repentance, and no doubt many today think that they are bearing fruit in keeping with repentance. But they are looking at external fruit or at the things they don’t do. Some will stop some gross outward sin (at least for a time) and will give themselves to good works and to duties at the local church. They stop the outward sin out of self-love and by the strength of self and they do good works and the duties at the local church out of self-love and the strength of self. This is simply to say that their repentance was outward only and the heart was not changed.

Men and women can and do work and work hard on their physical bodies (exercise, cosmetics) in order to appear a certain way, but they can also work hard at appearances in terms of who they are. They can work hard at being nice and being helpful, but that is nothing but polishing the outward man. They can work hard at doing things at a local church, but that can be nothing but polishing the outward man. They can work hard at either not sinning in private or simply keeping it out of the public eye, but that is nothing but polishing the outward man. They can work hard at public speaking and at learning much of the Bible, but that can be nothing but a preaching polishing the outward man. Once again, all of that can be done and the person be nothing but a whitewashed tomb full of dead bones inside.

While the flesh works on the outward man and takes pride in its whitewashing activities, God works on the heart. Indeed the outward man must be controlled, but it must be controlled by the work of God in the heart and not by the pride of man. There is nothing that man can do apart from love for God that is acceptable to God, but the flesh of man changes love into being nice and doing outwardly good things. The repentance that is acceptable to God is the repentance that God works in the soul Himself. How religious people must be so careful not be satisfied with an outward turning from sin and then doing nice and religious things. How ministers must be careful not to preach in such a way as to preach little more than a reformation of the flesh followed by external works. The external things do not prove the internal things. The inward man must take the priority and men and women must be taught how depraved the heart is even in the midst of outwardly good things. Then we can talk about a real repentance.

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