The church in America today is largely fruitless and mired in sin. Twenty-some years ago, there broiled within evangelical circles a controversy over whether acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus was even necessary for salvation. That such a doctrine would be controversial demonstrates how apostate evangelical churches in the West at that time had become. Nowadays, the churches don’t even resemble Christ in the slightest.
Not only will this article support such a position regarding the Lordship of Jesus Christ, but will lay an even more fundamental base – that of the need for true repentance.
The false gospel which teaches that one only needs to trust in Jesus for salvation, without the need to trust in Him for everything, including deliverance from sin, produces only nominal Christians, so-called, which are still mired in their trespasses and sins. Not only is repentance not expected, but sin is excused. Counseling is substituted with its pathetic results. It is not surprising therefore that Internet pornography, fornication and adultery are rampant in the churches today. This pervasive problem has taken the church by utter surprise, and it is utterly powerless to check its spread. Are we going to continue to call for band-aid approaches such as counseling, filters, and other such measures when the gospel of Christ alone is both sufficient and necessary to halt such sin in its tracks?
False repentance can be easily recognized because it does not deliver from sin. The sinner who does not truly repent will still be held captive by his sin. No amount of counseling, self-control, accountability or such measures will deliver. Only Jesus Christ will truly deliver, and the promise for salvation from one’s sins is only to those who truly repent.
Now, what does false repentance look like? How can we recognize it? False repentance masquerades as true repentance, but it differs in one remarkable way – the sorrow of the sinner is not over his sin, but over the consequences of his sin.
Many are the drunks and fornicators who have deep genuine sorrow over the bondage of their sin and its consequences. They suffer in their sin, and they believe that they also long for a way out. They still love their sin however. They want not to be delivered from their sin, but from its consequences. God will not deliver from the consequences of sin however, for that which a man sows, that he will also reap. He will however forgive us our sin and freely deliver us from it when we truly repent.
The man who truly repents of his sin is not like the one who is merely sorry for its terrible effects. In contrast, he hates his sin. He finally sees it for the vile thing which it is. He sees his sin as God sees it. Michael Pearl puts it most eloquently:
To repent toward God is to prefer God and his righteousness above everything else. It is to desire his holiness in your life – to hate the sin that binds you. Make no mistake. The man that repents toward God is a desperate man, a man that longs for the holiness God will bring into his life. The man that repents toward God will experience restless nights and skipped meals in his search for God. A man that repents toward God will find no pleasure or peace in anything until he can rest in God alone. It will not do for you to walk down an aisle and pray a sinner’s prayer. It will not be sufficient for you to ask for prayer, or to confess your sins, or go to counseling. You must go directly to God through the Lord Jesus Christ with no hope and no confidence but the mercy and grace of God.
When we have done as Mr. Pearl suggests; when we desperately hate our sin; when we just as desperately want to turn to God, then we have truly repented.
Results of Repentance
When we have truly repented, we will experience the most remarkable change in ourselves. We will no longer be the slave of sin. Sin will no longer have dominion over us. Make no mistake. The change is both remarkable and certain. We will no longer struggle over whether to give in to temptation or not. Oh, temptation will most certainly come our way, but we will have victory over it. For we will have died in Christ, and sin will be powerless to hold us captive anymore.
Tests for Repentance
[pullquote float=right]When we come to see ourselves as a murderer, a thief, a fornicator and adulterer, and not only that, but the chiefest among them – that is when we have truly repented.[/pullquote]
I have identified three tests for true repentance from the gospels. There may be more, but these three I have found to be very effective. Until I repented recently of my sins, even though I considered myself a Christian, I failed all three.
Thinking of others as more sinful
In Luke 13:1-4 we read:
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? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
Also, Jesus echoes this same mindset so prevalent in men’s hearts in this parable (Luke 18:10-13):
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
When we think that other men are more sinful than we are or put another way, are greater sinners than we are, then we are not truly repentant. For example, if we think because we haven’t murdered anyone, don’t steal, don’t physically fornicate, then we aren’t really as truly sinful as those who do. Now I am not talking about the twisting of the mind we go through when we acknowledge that in God’s sight we are just as bad of a sinner since He is holy after all. No, that is not the same thing as seeing ourselves as just the same of a sinner.
When we come to see ourselves as a murderer, a thief, a fornicator and adulterer, and not only that, but the chiefest among them – that is when we have truly repented. Oh yes, I know that we all acknowledge that we murder in our heart, but we don’t really see that as bad as him who actually does murder. After all, everyone gets angry, and only those truly depraved actually commit the crime. Likewise, we all acknowledge that we lust after another woman in our heart every now and then, but that surely is not as bad as one who actually commits adultery or fornication in the flesh. Are these the thoughts of our heart? Murderer and adulterer – see your sin before God. You are more guilty than they, or at least that is how you should think. After all, they at least don’t hide their sin as you do – they aren’t any worse, but rather they are not as hypocritical. Are you any different? Are not your sins just kept secret or socially acceptable?
Make no mistake. The man who repents of his sin, will view himself as the chiefest of sinners. For when we see our heart as wicked as it truly is, then how can we conceive of any man being more vile than we?
Fruits of repentance – power over sin
In Luke 13:6-9, Jesus tells us another parable telling us the results of true repentance:
He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
You may want to play head games over your repentance, but Jesus makes it clear in this parable that He will not. He will accept nothing less than genuine fruit from professed repentance. What is this fruit? It is nothing less than power over sin.
Paul teaches us much the same in Rom. 6:1-2:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
The teaching is clear – when we have repented of our sins, we are dead to them. It is absurd that we should continue in them, just as it is absurd that a dead man still live and walk about.
Now I hear what you are saying – “I know all about the teaching on Romans 6-8, but it is all just a head game.” You think this way because you don’t experience the power over sin, because you haven’t yet repented of it. You must hate, loathe, despise and abhor sin. When you actually come to that state, it will be unthinkable to walk in it anymore. You will then be truly free.
How much you love God
In Luke 7:47, Jesus gives us another insight into the nature of repentance:
Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
This correlation between the amount of our love for God and how many sins we are forgiven provides for us another test for how genuine our repentance is. When Jesus made this observation, he was speaking to a Pharisee which did not think he had many sins needing forgiveness. In contrast, the women who wept at his feet obviously realized how many sins she had, and how great was God’s forgiveness. The point I want to make is that the implication was not that this women had more sins than the Pharisee, but that she only recognized more of her sins. It is she who saw herself as God sees her and sought his mercy and forgiveness, while the Pharisee, not seeing himself for the wretch that he was, so little need for God’s forgiveness.
It is a common snare when someone comes to Christ in a state that is acceptably good in our society, that he does not recognize what a horrid wretch that he is. The harlot, slave-trader, murder all see how awfully wretched they are. It is the wholesome, good members of society which have a harder time. Make no mistake however, what the former does openly, the latter does the same, only in secret. Until the latter see the wretchedness within, there can be no forgiveness, nor does the love for God come easily.
Repentance is the key to: salvation, faith in God, and power over sin. Without it, we are only a tare among wheat; powerless, fruitless and without forgiveness. You cannot compare yourself with others. Acceptability by other Christians means nothing to God. No amount of religious works and appearance require repentance, or impart acceptability to God. The fruit of repentance is unmistakable, even if no one around you demonstrate it. Their views and conduct are not God’s standard – His holiness is.
Power over sin is possible. To obtain, we must repent. We must repent is sackcloth and ashes. We must repent is anguish, heartache and tears, falling literally on our face before God, weeping and groaning over the utter vileness of our sin. Only then, will we experience the awesomeness of God’s power. Only then can we be filled with the Holy Spirit and walk in the fruit of holiness. Only then will we be free from sin’s power.
We won’t need more self-control. We won’t need Christian counseling. We won’t need accountability groups or any other crutch. We will have no desire to sin, because we will be dead to it and alive to God.
I can proclaim the truth of what I say by personal experience. After believing on Christ for 24 years, yet obviously backslidden and gripped in sin, I too have now repented of my sins. You can too.
NOTE: This article was originally written in 2004.