Real Repentance 19

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.

Is there any such thing as regeneration, or a change of nature, from sensuality to purity of heart, from flesh to spirit, from sin to holiness, from the world to God? So the Scripture says, and that nothing less is being Christian. (Thomas Adam, Private Thoughts on Religion)

The heart of the unregenerate sinner is set on self. The heart of the unregenerate sinner is controlled by pride and self-love. The heart of the unregenerate sinner will pursue pleasure in one thing or another, but it will seek pleasure. The heart of the unregenerate sinner will pursue honor (may be the pleasure sought) by doing things that get people to praise self. This may be in open sin or it may be in the pursuit of strict religion. But the unregenerate sinner wants the honor and praise of men and will go to extremes to obtain that.

The new heart is expressed well in Psalm 115: where the cry or prayer is “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory.” This is a true sign of a new heart when the cry of the heart is not for the glory to come to self, but instead for all glory be to God. It is true that an unregenerate heart can say those words, but the unregenerate heart cannot truly desire for itself to obtain no glory. The unregenerate heart may lie to itself and fight the desire it has to receive glory from its religious actions, but the desire will be there for honor and glory. The unregenerate heart does all for self and does all in a way where it will be admired by others or perhaps it will do things so that God will admire it (it thinks) or it will admire itself.

Jesus warned the disciples not to be like the Pharisees in Matthew 6 who did all their works of righteousness (in name) to be seen of men. They prayed to be seen by men. They gave alms to be seen of men. They fasted in order to be honored by men. In other words, they did their works of righteousness in order to be noticed by men and did not do them out of love for God. This is, of course, a way of pride and self-love and the desire of pride to be exalted and honored rather than God. It is using the things or ways that God has given us to seek Him as ways to seek self. It is using what God has given as means of His glory and using them for our own. It is spiritual idolatry and also spiritual adultery and theft.

All of this should teach us that real repentance is not easily done and in fact with men it is impossible. Real repentance is a work of God in the soul and He does it by grace alone. Regeneration is the work of the Spirit who does it by grace in the soul, so we should not expect that the fruit of real repentance is a work that is in the power of man to perform either. It takes a change of nature to be turned from sensuality to purity of heart. This change cannot be done by the power or will of man, but instead it takes a new heart that will turn the heart from self and the senses of self to love holiness and God.

Real repentance requires a turning from the flesh to spirit, but once again the flesh of man cannot turn the flesh of man to love spiritual things. The fleshly heart of man can only love what feeds the flesh of man and so a true repentance can only come from another power and that power is the Holy Spirit. The flesh of man in its great blindness and pride may deceive itself into thinking that it can turn from fleshly things, but it can only turn from the outward fleshly things. The heart itself must be turned or man will turn from outward fleshly things by the power of pride in the heart which is fleshly. Real repentance, then, must be a work of the Holy Spirit and cannot be the work of man himself.

Turning the heart from sin to holiness and from the world to God is also a Divine work instead of a human work. The nature of sin is to love self and do all for self, while the essence of holiness is to do all out of love for God. The nature of sin, on the other side of it, is to fall short of the glory of God which is to fail to glorify God in all that we do. Being turned from that to do all to the glory of God is of course a Divine work and not the work of the flesh or of man. Holiness is the work of the Holy Spirit and spiritual work is the work of the Holy Spirit. Being turned from worldly things to God is a Divine work in creating a new creation. That alone is real repentance.

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