Real Repentance 21

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.

Till we know sin, and feel the burden of it in some degree, we shall be blind to every thing else, in Scripture, whether of nature or grace; we shall pray with great reserve, and never mean half of what we say. (Thomas Adam, Private Thoughts on Religion)

This statement by Adam is truly profound. While it is not a statement that is consistent with works, one can think of it that way as if a person can obtain knowledge of many things if he will just work hard enough to come to an understanding of his sin. It is better to think of this statement in terms of the state of the heart and how it views things. Using an illustration of Jonathan Edwards, a person can describe honey to us from a scientific standpoint. It can give us all the properties and how they work together. But a person that has tasted honey knows honey in one way more than the scientist ever can that has never tasted honey. We can also imagine a scientist that studies pain that has never had much pain, yet that person can describe pain, can give a lot of information about pain in one sense, but the person that has lived with a lot of pain for a long time knows more about pain than the scientist can ever find out in just studying it. The person that has lived with pain can also describe what the relief of pain is and how that pain has effects on the moods and on mental focus.

So a person that feels the burden of sin will know levels of sin that one that has never felt the burden of sin ever will. It is possible to know a lot about sin in terms of knowing it by the way of information, but the person that has tasted the conviction of sin brought by the Lord and has felt the burden of sin will know it much more than the person who only knows about it in terms of information. The person who has felt the pain, darkness, and guilt of sin has a distinct idea of what it means for the weight of the wrath of God to be upon him or her. The person who has felt the pain, darkness, and guilt of sin knows something of the fear of eternal damnation. The person who has felt the pain, darkness, and guilt of sin knows something of what it means to know that s/he is worthy of eternal damnation. The person who has felt the pain, darkness, and guilt of sin knows something of the power of sin over the soul. The person who has felt the pain, darkness, and guilt of sin knows something of what it means to be washed, cleansed, and set free by Christ.

The person who has felt the weight of sin upon him or her will understand far more of the nature of grace than those who only study it as a subject. Those who have felt the weight of sin and have grown in their understanding of sin will pray with far more understanding of need and will pray in the name of Christ alone without any illusion of self-righteousness. Unless the soul knows something of sin and therefore of grace, the prayers of that soul will have no true freedom and never desire what the words are asking for. This is a tremendous indictment on modern Christianity. We want people to understand things with the mind and yet we don’t seek them to have a deep conviction of sin and for them to have broken hearts. Yet without those things we will have pretenders who do not understand grace and cannot truly pray. When we don’t urge people and teach people to seek the Lord for a sense of their sin and of a deep conviction, we are not providing a foundation that can be built on.

This may sound weird to some and works oriented to others, but in reality conviction of sin is the work of the Spirit in the soul and is one way Christ teaches the soul. What we must understand is that Christ calls the burdened and heavy-laden to Himself (Matthew 11:25ff) and it is only the poor in spirit who are blessed (Matthew 5:3). Apart from poor souls coming to the point where sin is a burden to them, they will not truly come to Christ and come under His yoke. Apart from poor souls arriving at the point of being utterly and totally impoverished in spirit, they will not be broken from self-righteousness and look to Christ alone for righteousness. In one sense souls that do not come to a point of deep conviction of sin where they feel the burden for it are not ready for the inward work of the Spirit to work a real repentance in them and a real turning from self to one of utter dependence upon the Lord. Conviction of sin is a necessary starting point for real repentance and real repentance is necessary in the heart of sinners so that they will have the real Christ in a real way. Apart from feeling the power and guilt of our pride, how will we seek to be turned from pride to humility? Apart from humility, how will we receive grace

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