Whatever That Means
Whatever That Means
Wed-4-Revival Reed DePace August 19, 2020
A Weekly Prayer Devotional Seeking God
to Pour Out His Spirit in Revival on Us[*]
A comment on a social media group I participate in brought into focus an increasingly common problem among those who profess faith in Christ. The sister was observing that her conversion began with a deep and serious grappling with her own sinfulness and sins. For her this was a deeply emotional thing, full of tears and confession.
The problem she was having was that in discussing this with her Christian friends, hardly any of them could relate to what she was talking about. Almost to a person they observed that their “coming to Jesus” was finding out Jesus loved them just the way they are; that he wasn’t going expect anything from them, but was going to do it all for them; that if they accepted him as their savior he would bless them with a happy life. Sure, they “repented” of their sins, but those were just words they said. They didn’t understand the words, nor did they see the need to do so. For them, conversion was just a process of saying the right things, in the right way, and then Jesus would act to save them (whatever that means).
But having any sort of deep interaction with one’s sinfulness, of experiencing some sort of ownership and confession of their sinful state and actual sins that was anything more than spouting not understood words? Sorry, nope, not a part of their coming to Jesus.
For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There's no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. (2Co 7:10 NLT)
As we pray about reaching our neighbors with the gospel, we will find many of them have a conversion story. Yet, like this sister, we may also find that many of these folks have no idea what repentance is, and how it is essential to conversion, and the ongoing Christian life. Let’s look at these topics.
A Magic Formula
Nominal Christians have been taught that a saving relationship with God is a matter of saying and doing the right things, not of believing in the Bible’s teaching on dying and then being born again. Thus, repentance is a word describing the magic formula they are to follow to get forgiveness for their sins. If a person says the right words the right way, so nominalism teaches, then God will respond with forgiveness and cleansing (whatever that means). But that’s not what repentance is.**
Repentance unto life is a saving grace, by which a sinner, being truly aware of his sinfulness, understands the mercy of God in Christ, grieves for and hates his sins, and turns from them to God, fully intending and striving for a new obedience.
Repentance that God gives is a deep seated conviction and agreement with God as to what you deserve for rebelling against him, and at the same time a looking to Christ for God’s reason to show you the mercy of forgiving you of your sinfulness and sins.
At that time the Lord, the LORD of Heaven's Armies, called you to weep and mourn. He told you to shave your heads in sorrow for your sins and to wear clothes of burlap to show your remorse. … Then you will remember your past sins and despise yourselves for all the detestable things you did. (Isa 22:12; Ezk 36:31)
That is why the LORD says, "Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don't tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead." Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. … I confess my sins; I am deeply sorry for what I have done. (Joe 2:12-13; Ps 38:18)
The Starting Point
No, this is not to say that a person must be an emotional wreck over their sins in order to be truly saved. People’s emotional reaction norms are wide-ranging, and so feeling a certain way is NOT a definitive measure of true conversion. Instead, what the Bible teaches is that Spirit-born conversion always begins with the Spirit convicting the person of their personal judgment, and then is followed with ownership and confession of sinfulness and sins:
And when [the Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God's righteousness, and of the coming judgment. … Peter's words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?!" Peter replied, "Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. (Jh 16:8; Act 2:37-38)
In other words, real conversion begins with biblical repentance; the starting point to being saved is repentance.
A Telling Absence
The lack of such repentance in the nominal Christian’s life is a critical flaw in their experience of Christ. This is not saying that such people are not saved; it is instead to say that we have no biblical way of saying they are saved. If true conversion begins with Spirit-born repentance (it does), and the Spirit always grows the fruits of Christ in a believer’s life (he does), then the lack of sorrow for sin, the absence of brokenhearted-ness for evil thoughts and wicked desires, let alone sinful words and acts, is a telling absence!
“Is such a person saved?” is not the question we should be asking. Instead, when a person does not give evidence of concern for sin and holiness, we should be asking them, “Do you know what it means to be heart-broken over your sin?” We should be urging on them the experience of the Philippian Jailer:
The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Ac 16:29-30)
True conversion begins with Spirit-born repentance. And the Spirit brings this wherever this gospel is proclaimed the way Jesus proclaimed it:
… Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God's gospel: "The time promised by God has come at last!" he announced. "The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!" (Mk 1:14-15)
Let us put repentance’s necessity back in its place, as the starting point for our gospeling. People will be saved, both those rejecting Jesus and those with a flawed hope in him. They will be freed from “whatever that means.”
Dear Lord, you give new life through the words of life. Forgive us for being unwilling to proclaim your whole gospel, beginning with the necessity of conviction and confession of sinfulness and sin. Lead us back to the gentle declaration of these hardest of truths. Use us to see our family/friends/neighbors/strangers truly and well saved!
Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. To Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.
[*] This weekly prayer devotional focuses our attention on some aspect of our need for the Holy Spirit to bring revival to our church. Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you (Ps 85:6)? For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams (Isa 44:3-4). Pick a 15 to 30-minute time-block in your schedule over the next week and use this devotional to focus your prayers. As you can, consider fasting from a meal and using that time to pray for revival in our church.
** Westminster Shorter Catechism questions and answer #87.