Implications of Repentance.
By Pastor Richard Bacon
Copyright 2000 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

[From the introduction to v.9 #4-6: The second article, dealing with the implications of the Scripture doctrine of repentance, is an example of the Puritan style of preaching. In preaching through the book of Hebrews, the subject of repentance from dead works comes up in Hebrews 6:1. It is the purpose of this sermon beginning ... to draw the picture of a repentant sinner. Each of us has the responsibility to compare himself with that picture.]

[This is an edited transcript of the morning sermon at FPCR for November 27, 1999. The tragedy referenced is that of the collapse of the Aggie bonfire at Texas A&M University on November 18, 1999. Twelve students were killed. This sermon is part of the ongoing series on the book of Hebrews.]

We began last week looking at that portion of Hebrews 6:1 that speaks of the foundational doctrine of repentance from dead works. You may remember that we looked at that time at what dead works are, and then secondly, we looked at the beginnings of what it is to repent from dead works. We saw that repentance affects man’s judgment, his understanding, his will, his affections and his conversation (that is, his course of life and behavior). Because of that, we say that it affects therefore the whole man. It doesn’t affect simply some small portion of who we are. It is not a doctrine that we give a nodding agreement, and then place in our back pockets. Rather it is a doctrine that stays with us throughout our Christian life — if we are truly converted.

Now, later on in this same chapter, the author will suggest that there may be some who are reading his letter who are not converted. He tells how one is able to tell — when the rain of God’s word comes down upon the soil of your life, what comes out? What’s been planted? If God has planted the seed of his word then you are going to see fruit of the Spirit, thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold. If on the other hand, weeds and thistles and thorns — things associated with the curse — if they’ve been planted in your life, then when the word of God waters them, briars and brambles will come forth from your life.

There is an organization — I’m not inclined to call them more than that — called Promise Keepers. Let’s start off commending people for the name — much better that they should be promise keepers than promise breakers. There are already enough promise breakers. One of the things that makes the Promise Keepers so attractive is that they present Christianity as a sort of spiritual football game. They confuse the two things. They present Christianity as though it were a rah-rah sporting event that you can do one day a week and then go home and forget everything but the score. That is one thing that has made Promise Keepers as popular amongst men as it is. Men get to sit on benches and act silly for an hour. Then they call that “being manly.” I wish to take issue with that whole approach to Christianity. I put it to you, that until such time as we begin to hear the doctrine of repentance preached from the pulpits of this land, there will not be any such thing as “manly Christianity.” What we suffer from today is the feminization of the Church, and the feminization of the Church means this: we have turned Christian doctrine into a serving up of sentimental junk food. We have turned the steak of God’s word into the marshmallow creme of man. We have taken the pure meat of God’s Word and made it milky enough to appeal to the most worldly of individuals. Until such time as we hear the doctrine of repentance again proclaimed from the pulpits of this land, we will continue to be deluged by the easy believism of worldly Christianity. I realize that is an oxymoron. I know that there is no such thing as “worldly Christianity.” You cannot serve both God and mammon. You cannot be a friend of the world and a friend of God (James 4:4). And yet that is precisely what the Church wants today. I put it to you that if men want to be the men of the Church; if men really want to stand up on their hind legs and develop a backbone; that they need to learn the doctrine of repentance, and they need to teach it to their families.

I began to speak to you last week about the doctrine of repentance. No, you will not hear me standing in front of Texas Stadium or the Cotton Bowl, talking to a gang of men who are so carried away by their emotions that they can do nothing but clap and shout and stamp their feet. Repentance begins mentally, not emotionally. Do the emotions follow? Amen. The emotions follow if they are properly attuned to the Word of God. There is nothing bad about emotions; we have to remember however, that just as there is a proper relationship between men and women, so is there also a similar relationship between the understanding and the affections — the emotions. That is a relationship of submission. The emotions must submit to the understanding. When you have the understanding submitting to the emotions, I put it to you, you are going to end up every time with the feminization of Christianity — the feminization of the Church. To deny the emotions altogether, however, is to deny much of what a man is. Therefore we must not deny emotions, men, any more than we would deny our wives — we love our wives. And we ought to also love our emotions, as God has given them to us to move us.

This week there was a tragedy within half a days drive from here, down at College Station, at the campus of Texas A&M. They were building their bonfire, which some of you know, Aggies have been building for longer than any of us here have been alive. How many of you were reminded as you read about that tower, of Luke 13:1-5? I want us to not only look at the question asked by Christ but also at the answer that he gave; because the answer that he gave is a significant part of what we understand repentance to be. Repentance is not the cause of salvation, but it is the door through which God always brings us to salvation.

In Luke chapter 13, the first five verses:

There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?

Here’s what he’s asking. ‘Do you really think that they deserved this affliction more than anybody else? Do you suppose that God only allows such things to happen to the worst in society? This is also a question we ought to be asking ourselves as we consider the tragedy that took place at College Station. Jesus answers it for them: “Nay.” The short answer, ‘No, they weren’t the greatest sinners.’ But he said, “but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen,” — the death toll currently of the Texas A&M tragedy is ‘only’ twelve — “upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?” Do you suppose God only killed the twelve greatest sinners in Texas? Do you think that’s what happened? ‘No,’ Jesus, said, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Here’s what I want you to understand, because this is what Christ wants us to understand. Repentance is a life and death issue. We can understand children -- and that’s what they were, eighteen, nineteen, twenty-one year old children -- we can understand them falling from scaffolding, falling from logs that were stacked up fifty feet into the air, that is three to five stories into the air. We can understand how that brings death, and we can understand the tragedy of it all. It’s hard to for us to get our minds around it I grant you, but nevertheless, it is something that we can understand. We can react to that can we not? I hope even with tears in our eyes! But Jesus said that’s not the most important thing for you to be thinking about. The most important thing for you to be thinking about is that you are standing on a tower that is far more fragile than that tower in College Station. Yes, it was about to burst into flame. Had they climbed off, that tower would have burst into flame within a week; that was their intention. We too, as we go through our lives, must remember that apart from God’s grace, apart from the grace of repentance, we too are about to be cast into a fire that there is no quenching. The bonfire at College Station would eventually burn itself out; the fire into which some will be cast at the end of their days, there is no quenching.

So do you see how Jesus brings home for us in the affairs of life — tragic affairs of life, yes — that basic gospel duty: that first of all gospel duties, which is repentance from dead works. It is the sine qua non of Christianity. It is that grace without which there are no other gospel graces. It is the first gospel grace from which other gospel graces spring, because repentance always has with it the element of faith.

Last time we noted that repentance involves the whole man — the understanding, the will, the judgment, the affections, and our actions. This morning I want us to look at several implications arising from the fact that the whole man is affected in repentance. I want us to contrast what Paul calls a worldly sorrow, with true repentance, with that repentance that is the hallmark of life.

Here’s the doctrine: “The repentance of the Christian, which we shall refer to as true repentance, and the repentance of the hypocrite differ in essence though they may have several similarities in appearance.”

True repentance and worldly sorrow differ in essence, in their being, in what they are, even though outwardly they may look alike. So we have to pierce beyond the outward appearance. We have to look at what something is as the Bible defines it rather than simply looking at the outward appearance of it. Now, here’s the thing I need to warn each of you about before we ever begin: No one else can do this for his neighbor. Each of you must do it on his own, or her own. Not that I’m interested in being politically correct. But neither do I want you ladies to think because I’ve spoken about manly religion, that this somehow excludes you. Oh no, it doesn’t.

True repentance has these seven qualities. We’re going to look at what the Bible says about repentance; we’re not going to have a pep rally. That’s not what we’re here for; we’re not here to get stamp our feet, we’re not here to run to the front of the aisles; we’re not here to cry, although it wouldn’t hurt some of us to shed a few tears about our sins.

1. Repentance is free. It is voluntary. Nobody extorts it from you. Nobody stands over you with a club to beat you if you don’t repent. It’s not extorted by another. How many of you parents have had an experience with your children where you begin to call them to repentance for some deed that they’ve done, and finally after taking away of many layers of excuses and many layers perhaps even of lies, you finally are able to extract from them a confession of what they have done? That’s just the opposite of a free confession. True repentance is free in that it is voluntary. Have you ever been at the source of a spring fed creek or spring fed lake? The water comes gushing out. It may be a trickle, but you don’t have to pump it. But you’ve been on that farm where you have to pump, and pump, and pump, and finally some water comes out of the spigot. After it’s been primed; after the air has been evacuated from the pipes; then finally you get some water from the pump. The difference is this: one is free and voluntary; one comes forth of its own. The other has to be forced out from the wrong side. In true repentance our confession of sin gushes, as it were, from the heart that has been changed by God. We don’t have to have confession of sin extracted from us; it comes freely and voluntarily. And so we find some examples in Ezra (9:8-11).

And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage. For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem. And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken thy commandments, Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, etc.

You see, Ezra was rather moved by God’s mercy than by extortion. The confession — “we have forsaken Thy commandments” — flows freely. And so also Nehemiah in chapter nine, and Daniel in chapter nine, three important nines — Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9, Daniel 9, we find true repentant confession of sin. Job also in Job 40, cries out with free confession of his sin. David in Psalm 5. Paul in Acts 26 (9-11) confesses:

I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.

What was the question put to Paul? “Thou art permitted to speak for thyself.” And what did Paul tell him? What a sinner he was. It flowed forth freely, like that mountain spring. Agrippa didn’t have to pump Paul to find out what a sinner Paul was. Paul freely confessed his sin. Why? Because Paul was a repentant man. Because Paul knew the gravity of the sins that he had committed against the most high God. He confessed them, not out of pride, but out of shame. You see when there is freeness of mercy as in the case of Ezra, Ezra said, ‘you have been so merciful to us, oh Lord God, you have given us a place in your holy temple. You’ve given us the ability to rebuild the walls of your city, and who are we but a bunch of sinners?’ Free mercies beget free confession. And where there is no free confession: listen, mark it down in your daybook, if there is no free confession of sin, if there is no free repentance from sin, there’s no free mercy either.

So in Hosea 14:1-5

O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.

You see, where there’s free mercy, where God showers mercy upon us, there is also free confession of sin.

2. True repentance also contains a full confession of sin. We don’t harbor the little foxes, the little beloved sins, the little pet sins that we would hate to part with. Rather, those who are truly repentant have a full confession of sin as well as a free confession of sin. Nothing held back. (Lamentations 1:18-20a)

The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment: hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity. I called for my lovers, but they deceived me: my priests and mine elders gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve their souls. Behold, O Lord; for I am in distress: my bowels are troubled; mine heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled.

This is not a matter of God’s people confessing their one or two sins, but rather confessing a whole course of sin, leaving nothing out. And so in Leviticus 26:40ff., and 19:21, there is the necessity of a full confession of sin. If the Israelite would have his sins atoned, if he would have them covered on the day of atonement, if he would have that sacrifice actually be a sacrifice before the Lord, heart religion must accompany those Old Testament sacrifices. As that Israelite laid his hands upon the goat, how many of his sins could he hold back? Only the ones he didn’t want forgiven. Only hold back the sins you don’t want forgiven. Only cover the ones you don’t want to forsake, for they are the ones that God will not forgive. If we want our sins to be forgiven, then there must be a full confession of sins. Now, a word of warning here. We don’t know enough about God’s word, about God’s mind, to be able to tell what is every sin that we commit. As horrid as this sounds, we sin daily in thought, word, and deed. Many times we sin even from ignorance. The fact that it’s from ignorance makes it no less a sin. We must part with the sins that we know, we must confess the sins that we know, and we must ask God to reveal to us the ones we don’t, that we may also confess and forsake them.

In Judges 10:10: “And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, saying, We have sinned against thee, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim.” The children of Israel, because they confessed in such a way that their confession was not only a free confession but a full confession, God heard them. ‘Not only have we served the Baalim, we have forsaken our God.” There is a full confession.

So David in Psalm 51. Yes, he sinned against Bathsheba. Yes, he sinned against Uriah. But he was able to cry out ‘against thee and thee alone have I sinned,’ because the sin against God by its enormity was even greater than the murder he committed against Uriah. David also confessed not only the sins of his hands, but also the sins of his heart. ‘I didn’t slit Saul’s throat, but I had my knife within a foot of his throat. It was in my heart to do. Therefore I have sinned against the Lord.’

In 1 Samuel 12:19, “And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king.” The implication is not simply that they wanted to have a king; they wanted to have a king instead of the Lord God. The Lord God was the King of Israel. When they asked for a king like the other nations, they were not simply rejecting Samuel. God told Samuel, in fact, that they were rejecting the Lord God. They have added, they said, to all of their other sins, this. That is the heart of full confession, of full repentance, that “of all my other sins, I’ve sinned again.”

In Proverbs 30:20, see the denial of a non-repentant person. “Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.” ‘There’s nothing wrong with that; I don’t see anything wrong with it.’ ‘After all, I didn’t plunge a knife into my brother’s heart; therefore the fact that I have hated him, that I have lied about him, the fact that I have destroyed his reputation, that’s o.k.’ ‘I’ve done no wickedness.’ ‘I’ve kept the sixth commandment.’ And so the adulterous woman and the Pharisee, the legalist, are siblings, are brother and sister in this: they both deny that they’ve done any wrong. The adulterous woman in that she wipes off her mouth. ‘Where’s the evidence?’ The Pharisee in that he refuses to apply the law of God to anything but outward actions. The unrepentant person hides, he covers, he denies, but he doesn’t forsake.

Many, who for some reason are not ashamed to do sins, are nevertheless ashamed to confess them. ‘Oh, what would people think of me; how could I live it down, if I were to confess fully and freely my sins.’ What difference does that make? You weren’t ashamed to do them! Why then are you ashamed to confess them? If you know they’re so wicked that you should be ashamed to confess, don’t you know that you should have been ashamed to have done them?

Here’s another thing that we oftentimes do. We are willing to confess the larger sin, without confessing the little sins that led up to that larger sin. ‘Oh, I don’t know how I got there. I just woke up and there I was in the middle of a sin.’ No, that’s not what happened. There was attractiveness; there was an allurement. That sin got a hold on your heart somehow. Before it was in your hand, it was in your heart. You may have gone to that adulteress by degrees. But you went. The steps may have been baby steps; but they were steps in the wrong direction. Oh so quick are we to confess that large sin, or the sin in which we may have been caught, without ever confessing the sins that got us there.

We may remember that it has been a little over a year ago now, that the highest executive in our land finally, not freely, not fully, but nevertheless by a sort of legal “pumping,” finally confessed to an enormous sin in office. But never did he once confess to the sins that led him there. Never once did he acknowledge that he lied. Never did he say, “I encouraged others in their lies. I lusted in my heart. I created the very circumstances in my office by which that sin might take place. I ignored the counsel of my wife. I ignored the counsel of the wise men of the nation.” Was there full and free confession of sin? Was there full and free repentance? No, what we saw that day in August was the sorrow that works death.

3. True repentance is cordial. True repentance is from the heart. It’s genuine. It’s not lip-repentance. Remember Isaiah’s warning about the people in his day. ‘This people doth honor with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’ Now days we hear evangelicals talking about the difference between a head knowledge and a heart knowledge. That’s not the problem. The problem according to Isaiah and according to Christ, is between the heart and the lips. Lips confess things that simply aren’t going on inside. And so Hosea, talks about the calves of our lips. Many people are willing to give lip service, but they’re not willing to give the calves; they’re not willing to give the true repentance, the true cordial repentance toward God.

And so in Psalm 51 again,[1] (Psalm 51:12-13): “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.” Is the tongue involved? Yes, by all means. But God would have our hearts before he would our mouths. There is such a thing as the heart turning to God while the lips remain silent. But it does no good to turn to God with our lips while our hearts remain far from him. That’s hypocrisy. That is the difference between a hypocritical repentance — the sorrow that works death — and a true heart repentance.

You see, a cold, careless, perfunctory, formal, confession of sin, is an abomination. It is to take the name of God lightly, or “in vain.” It is simply adding sin to sin. Whatever our previous sins may have been, to bring forth a cold lifeless confession of sin before the Lord God is simply to add a sin against the third commandment to our many other sins. In Jeremiah 12:1-2. “Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root: they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit: thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins.”

You understand that ‘reins’ is simply an old word for kidneys. Just as the innermost part of our being, the spiritual man is characterized as our heart, as our mind, sometimes as our understanding; it is also sometimes characterized as our kidneys. And sometimes as our ‘gut.’ The word that is often translated from the Greek as compassion, comes from the same word from which we get the word viscera — gut, the belly, the gastronomical area of the body. And so we are to call upon God from our belly, from our heart, from our mind, from our kidneys, to call that is, from the inner man. From that part of us that is not simply lips. Lips and tongues are not so important to God as our hearts. God would have our hearts. And when he gives repentance, it’s cordial repentance, it’s heart repentance, it’s repentance that has learned to despise the sins from which it repents.

That’s why I put it to you — in fact others have said this to you as well — there is no such thing as a Christian having a beloved sin. If a man has a sin that he loves, he is not yet a Christian man. Oh he may have sins with which he struggles repeatedly — he may have sins in which he finds the flesh still has a strength that he didn’t take into consideration. There may be times when he is surprised by sin. But there are no sins that he loves. There are no sins that he conspires to have back. No, true repentance is cordial. It’s repentance from a heart that has learned to detest its sin.

4. True repentance is distinct, not confused. True repentance never has to ask what it did wrong. Now, again, a true confession will not know all the sins that a person has committed. We don’t know the Bible well enough yet to know all the sins that we have committed. And yet when we know our sins, it’s not just some vague feeling that ‘well, everybody’s a sinner so I must be one too.’ And let me also warn you, that people who repent that way will use that kind of repentance to manipulate you. ‘You know you’re a sinner so you might be wrong about this. You know you’re a sinner so you must have some guilt in this.’ Well, good, if I have guilt in this, tell me what it is, so I can repent. Because I can’t repent generally. There is no such thing as confused repentance. Repentance is always distinct, repentance always knows that it’s the commands of God, the will of God, the precepts of God, the judgments of God, that have been overthrown in his life. And that’s why he must repent. In fact, in that chapter of our confession which deals with repentance,[2] we are told specifically that we are not to rest in a general repentance, but that we are to repent from particular sins particularly. Now what that means is that we have to know our catechism, children! We have to know what the each commandment requires and what it forbids. We have to know what God requires and forbids in his commandments because sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God. And so repentance must be tied to our knowledge of God’s commandments. If it’s not, it’s a vague confused general repentance of ‘I feel bad about myself.’

Well, it may be good that you feel bad about yourself; yet it may not be good. If God placed you in a position and gave you the knowledge and wherewithal to rebuke someone his sins and then that person says, ‘you should feel bad about that.’ Don’t buy in! Don’t settle for some vague blame shifting. Romans 2:15 tells us specifically, that when unrepentant people are confronted with their sin, their first reaction is to accuse and excuse. ‘I don’t like the way you brought that up. I don’t like the way you said that.’ Listen, we do want to make the truth as winsome to people as we can. We do want to make the truth as attractive as we can. We do want to make repentance as salutary to people as we can. But at the end of the day, that’s not the issue. The issue is that we have raised an accusation of sin in a person’s life and they have not responded as a repentant person responds.

A true confession will not content itself with confession of sins in a lump. It wants distinct sins to be able to confess. Look again at Paul’s confession in Acts 26. Paul didn’t just say, ‘Well, you know I was kind of an anti-Christian for a while before I really sought the Lord …” or “I used to be a sinner too.” That’s not the way Paul confessed his sins. Acts 26:10-11.

Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.

He tells us where he sinned — “in Jerusalem” — and who he sinned against — “many of the saints.” ‘I didn’t just offend them, here’s how I did it.’ ‘I shut them up in prison.’ ‘I didn’t just ‘persecute them;’ here’s how I went about it — I shut them up in prison. I went to people who had greater authority than I did in order to involve them in my sin.’ ‘And when they were put to death, not only did I not raise a hand to stop it, I said, Amen.’ ‘I didn’t do it once. I didn’t do occasionally. I did it often.’ ‘In every synagogue, in every place I could find them, I went after them. I was furious; I was mad with power.’

Do you see that the confession of Paul’s sin was not some general, ‘yeah, I was a real jerk before I was a Christian. But now, don’t you know, you have to forgive me because God did. Don’t hold that against me.’ No rather, Paul’s desire was to show such a difference in his life that people were compelled to forgive him. ‘Oh, were these the ones I persecuted; then let me scour the empire for gifts to bring to them in their poverty and affliction.’

Was Paul a great sinner? He says because of his persecutions (1 Tim. 1:13) he was the greatest of sinners. But if he would be the greatest of sinners, then he would be the greatest of confessors — the greatest of repenters.

What did King Saul do? Saul held back a few sheep, a few oxen, but he covered his sin. When Samuel came and asked for a full and free and distinct confession of his sins, he said, ‘It wasn’t me so much as it was the people. And besides that, we did God’s will for the most part; it was just a few things we left undone.’

Compare that to David’s sin. David committed adultery. He committed murder! Then, look at David’s confession. Nathan said to him ‘thou art the man,’ and it broke David’s heart, because it was a regenerate, repentant heart. We then see in Psalm 51 and Psalm 32 David’s repentance, the confession of one forgiven his transgressions.

Was David a greater sinner than Saul? On that day he was. But if he would be a great sinner, then as a Christian he would be great confessor; he would be a great “repenter.” He would repent of his many sins, of his vile sins, of his odious sins, and he would learn to hate them.

5. True repentance confesses sins humbly and sorrowfully. How did the publican confess his sins (Luke 18)? Do not imagine the publican with his hands in his pockets, ‘Ah, I’m just a sinner too.’ His response was to smite his breast; not because the smiting of the breast is itself indicative of a forgiven person, but it was indicative of the fact that he was genuinely sorry. He was humbled for his sin. He didn’t dare look up to heaven, but rather looked down, and simply cried out ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ There was in him a spirit of mourning. Blessed are those who mourn, not because afflictions have overcome them in this life. No, the psalmist indicates there is a Christian virtue in remaining silent in affliction. But there is a sorrow, there is a spirit of mourning. And I know that not all of us have the same degree, level, or the touchstones of emotion. We differ in that just as we differ in our intellect and in our appearance. But if you at least cannot grieve over the fact that you cannot grieve, then there is no repentance. How callous must one be to say, ‘yep, that’s a sin all right. I shouldn’t have done that,’ with no humilty of heart, with no sorrow of spirit, with no crying out to God. David wept so over his sins that he said, ‘I can’t sleep in my bed — it’s full of water. I have wet my couch by my tears.’ I dare say few of us could have wet a cotton ball by now in our mourning over sin.

The Puritan Joseph Hall put it this way:

And if God spared not the angels, whom He placed in the highest heavens, but for their pride threw them down headlong to the nethermost hell, how much less shall He spare the proud dust and ashes of the sons of men, but shall cast them from the height of their earthly altitude to the bottom of that infernal dungeon! ‘Humility makes men angels, pride makes angels devils;’ as that father said, Oh let us be humbled by our repentance, that we may not be brought down to everlasting confusion. Let us be cast down upon our knees that we may not be cast down upon our faces. For God will make good His own Word, one way; ‘A man’s pride shall bring him low.’[4]

Now I didn’t say, “in our mourning over getting caught,” nor in “our mourning over the dire consequences of sin.” We must truly hate our sin because God hates it. The humbled sinner cries out, “I have done that which my Savior has forbidden, and how dare I do it with dry eyes?”

6. True repentance is always mixed with some measure of faith. It may be a weak faith; it may a faith that is not yet ready to tackle giants. But true repentance always, by definition, apprehends something of the mercy of God in Christ. If we are calling out to God because of our sins, but without putting our hearts at his mercy, then we are simply crying out in despair, and not in repentance. Here are some examples of people crying out in despair:

Pharoah certainly wanted to get rid of those frogs. He didn’t mind it being “tomorrow morning,” but he did want to get rid of the frogs. He wanted to get rid of the lice and flies and the river of blood. There was indeed some sorrow over the consequences of sin; but there was no apprehension of the mercy of God in it.

Let me give you yet another example of someone who sorrowed over what he had done, over the miserable sinner that he had made himself. Judas Iscariot cast himself down headlong and hanged himself. Of course he never repented for covetousness. He never repented for being in league with his master’s enemies. And when it came time for him to repent from having sold his Savior, repentance eluded him altogether. The reason he hanged himself was not because he was truly repentant, but because he had the worldly sorrow of the hypocrite. Yes, there are many who are sorrowful unto despair for their sins, yet never apprehend the mercy of God in Christ. They never cast themselves upon Christ for his mercies. ‘Oh, I’m going to do better,’ they say. ‘I can’t do better,’ they say, ‘why try at all.’ Some even say, ‘I can’t do better, why not just end it all.’

Worldly sorrow always works death; it never works life, because it doesn’t apprehend the mercy of God in Christ. Repentance must be mixed with some hope of pardon. And this is what we mean when we talk about waiting for God to show mercy. We don’t mean by waiting for God’s mercy that there are three, seven or ninety-nine steps to conversion. What we mean by waiting for God’s mercy, is thinking, “now that I hate my sin, now that God has given me some measure of the hatred I ought always to have had for my sin, now oh Lord show forth mercy by the bucket. Grant to me forgiveness and assurance of forgiveness now!”

7. True repentance is always joined with true reformation. Again, in Psalm 51:10, David cried out ‘because you have forgiven me I will teach sinners your ways.’ David would teach sinners not by opening a seminary, but by living the life God called him to live. Again in Proverbs 28:13. ‘Who so covers his sins shall be destroyed. But who so confesses and forsakes them shall be forgiven.’ The confession of the true penitent is always joined with a true turning. The wicked are double minded, even in their repentance. ‘Yes, I hate it, but, yes, I’m going to do it again.’ ‘Yes, I know God doesn’t like, but I just can’t help it.’ ‘After all Christians are forgiven, not perfect.’

If that is your attitude, then you don’t know the first thing yet about repentance. Repentance from dead works, joined with belief in God, is the first, the foundational principle, of the Christian life. It matters little how much you’re in church, or how much you read the Bible. If you have not done these things from a repentant heart, they are not the calves of your lips; but simply lip-service. It’s worthless. It’s without value. If your confession, if your repentance, is not full, free, distinct, humble, sorrowful, cordial, faithful, and accompanied by true reformation, then it’s not biblical repentance. It is that worldly sorrow that works death. I must call upon you, as Christ called upon his hearers in that day in Luke 13, “I tell you nay; except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.” Let us stand and call upon the Lord in prayer.


[1] Let me encourage you, if you want to learn what is repentance and what is the heart of a repentant man, to turn to Psalm 32, and 51, and 79, and learn to sing these psalms as they were written by people who had been turned by the Spirit of God from their sins.

[2] Westminster Confession of Faith XV:5.

[4] Joseph Hall in I.D.E. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Puritan Quotations.