Real Repentance 17

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.

I should consider the Ethiopian’s skin and the leopard’s spots more than I do, that I may pray more feelingly, and cast myself wholly upon divine power. (Thomas Adam, Private Thoughts on Religion)

Jeremiah 13:23 “Can the Ethiopian change his skin Or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good Who are accustomed to doing evil.

The impossibility of changing our own heart and doing truly good works is set forth in the Scripture and by Adam by these two illustrations. Can a person change the color of his or her skin by simply deciding to do so? Can a leopard change its spots and become one color just because it decides to do so? Clearly, the answer to both is no. Without question neither the Ethiopian nor the leopard can change the skin by a simple choice or an act of the will. But the weight of the point in Jeremiah seems to have been lost at most points and times. Since the skin cannot be changed by a mere choice, can something that comes from the heart be changed without the heart being changed by God? Those whose hearts are used to doing evil and the heart itself is evil, can that person change that heart any easier than the Ethiopian his skin and the leopard its spots? No, it not easier but instead it is harder.

The doing of good is far harder than the natural man realizes, even if the natural man is very religious. It is not only hard to do good works, it is impossible to do good works (truly good) apart from Christ working that in a person. As the Scripture says, “apart from Me you can do nothing.” This is to say that apart from Christ we can do nothing good or nothing spiritual. Now it is possible to do outwardly good things and yet since they are coming from a bad heart they have bad intentions and motives. That means that while the act is good in appearance it is not truly good. Those who are accustomed to do evil have hearts that are hardened and even their outward works may have little appearance of good.

An example of this could be the Chicago gangster of the early to the middle of the 1900’s. He was a man who could order or carry out the killings of people, perhaps several at a time, and yet he was a man known to help the poor and to be quite generous in giving. What this points out is that the man was the same man with the same heart in all that he did. All the outward good he did came from the same heart that did a lot of evil. Another way of looking at this would be from the viewpoint of God as set out in Scripture. Nothing that the man did was from love for God, but instead was moved and motivated by love for self. Even though the man did a lot of outward good, his heart had no love for God and so he could be moved to do outward good and evil from the same heart. Only a heart that has been granted repentance in regeneration can in fact do a good deed out of love for God.

We come face to face with the nature of true repentance when we look at things like this. Man fell from God in the fall and as such all he does is from self and out of self. Man’s heart is full of pride and self-love and all he does is from that heart, regardless of whether it is outwardly good or not. The heart is where the motives and intents of the outward good and outward evil come from, so all actions are evil that come from an evil heart. True repentance, then, cannot be limited to the outward actions or forced inward thoughts. True repentance must flow from a repentant heart or a heart that has been regenerated to where Christ is the life of that heart and the love of God can flow from it rather than love of self.

True repentance is radical, that is, it is the deepest part of man. Real repentance is when the very heart itself is changed and the heart is now inclined toward God rather than self-love. Though God does not completely deliver man from the power of sin in this life, by grace He is working in that heart and it will have an inclination toward Him. This is why His people persevere in this life. The Ethiopian does not need to change his skin, but he does need a new heart. But no human being can change his heart and this is why the heart must be turned from self-reliance and self-power to living on the power of God in grace. Real repentance is what God alone can do which is why salvation is by grace alone. Real repentance, however, while beyond the power of man to actually do, is not

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