Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent…
In the last lesson we looked at convicting grace. People’s love for sin blinds them until God comes to open their eyes to the danger and depth of their sin. When the Holy Spirit shines his spotlight on their sin and reveals to them the future consequences of that sin, sin becomes less attractive to them in light of God’s holy wrath. They then begin looking for a way to escape from their sin and its consequences.
When the light of God shines on a sinner’s soul he becomes aware that he is altogether corrupt. He begins to regret not just what he has done but even who he is. Paul calls this condition “godly sorrow” and says that it is the natural precursor to repentance (2 Cor. 7:9-10).
Repentance is Negative
Repentance can be defined as a complete change in mindset towards sin in which a person turns away from and renounces it. Repentance is a very negative thing; it is leaving something behind. It is deciding that they are done with the devil, the world and the lusts of the flesh. They choose to deny themselves, no longer living for what they want, but for what God wants. They don’t just renounce their sins, but they even renounce their own claim to worthiness. They entirely reject the notion that they have something good within them that can save them or make them pleasing to God. In repentance they determine to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). They hate the sin they once loved and they reverence the God they once ignored.
The Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is a very good picture of repentance. The Israelites had lived in Egypt for generations. They had grown up with the customs of Egypt. They ate the food of Egypt, wore the clothes of Egypt and even worshipped God according to the customs of Egypt. For all practical purposes they were Egyptian. But they had to leave their Egyptian life behind them. They had to renounce the world they knew and head towards a life that they knew nothing about.
This is what sinners are commanded to do. Though they are children of the world in bondage to the devil, they are called to renounce the devil and his ways. They must leave behind the ways of thinking, talking and acting that they have always known. This is necessary step for them to take in order to be reconciled to God. Unless they forsake the devil and his ways, they can never embrace God and his ways. As Jesus says in Luke 14:33, “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.” In repentance they leave their old life behind them so they can receive a new life in God.
- Why do we say repentance is negative?
- What does a person leave behind when they repent?
- Is it hard for you to tell a person that they must be willing to leave everything to follow Jesus?
Repentance Is Not Automatic
The intended result of convicting grace is to bring people to repentance, but it is not the inevitable result (2 Cor. 7:9-11). God overwhelms people with a clear view of who they really are and the seriousness of what they have done. But this revelation should always be coupled with the very clear command: Repent or perish! (Luke 13:3) God prepares their heart for the receiving of this command, but he does not force their heart to obey it. He works in their heart in a way that makes obedience possible, but not inevitable.
People can choose to resist the Holy Spirit and disobey God’s command to repent. God in his generous kindness makes it very hard to resist, but he still requires that people come into the kingdom of God willingly (Rom. 2:4-5). Though the light of Holy Spirit conviction should lead to godly sorrow and godly sorrow to repentance, it does not always, or even usually do so. God has sovereignly chosen that people must choose! Apart from His grace they cannot choose, but with His grace they must choose.
Conviction & Repentance Illustrated in the Bible
Here are a few passages that describe a person being led to repentance through the conviction of the Holy Spirit:
Conviction & Confession
When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat. Selah
Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You took away the guilt of my sin. Selah
– In Psalm 32:3-4 we see the sinner under conviction. As long as God continues to convict him and he continues to resist his misery will remain. Someone in this condition should not be pitied, but challenged to stop resisting and submit to God.
– In Psalm 32:5 we see the rebel finally surrender to the force of the truth by agreeing with the Holy Spirit. A sinner must confess his sins in order to find his way out of them.
Change of Mind about Sin, Ourselves & God
For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me. Against You — You alone — I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight.
So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge.
Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.
– In Psalm 51:3 the person changes his mind about sin. He sees and confesses that sin is not a mistake, but an act of rebellion against a holy God.
– In Psalm 51:4 the sinner changes his mind about the justice of God. He sees and confesses that God would be righteous in condemning him to eternal punishment. At this point the glory of God is more important to the repentant sinner than his own self-preservation.
– In Psalm 51:5 the convicted individual changes his mind about himself and his character. He sees and acknowledges that not only has he sinned, but He is thoroughly sinful. He is no longer deluded about who he is, nor does he try to cover his shame with excuses or religious deeds.
Change of Direction
The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy.
– Proverbs 28:13 shows us that the person who confesses his sins, and changes his mind about sin, God and himself, will follow through with changes in his character, attitude and actions. He will bear the fruits of repentance.
- What do people change their thinking about when they repent?
- What else do they change besides their thinking?
How People Avoid Repentance
The heart of man has devised many ingenious, and fatal, ways to resist the conviction of the Holy Spirit. One of the common ways is simply to call God’s Spirit a liar. When the Holy Spirit shows the corruption of a person’s heart, they cannot help but see the truth. But many choose to have a bad memory at this point (James 1:22-24). God might make the sinfulness of their hearts very clear one day, but they wake up the next morning and tell themselves that their situation is not as bad as they first thought. This willfully bad memory saves them the embarrassment of facing up to their wickedness and rebellion, helps them shake off the unpleasant feelings of conviction and move on with their lives without making any radical changes.
Knowing this strategy, God in his great mercy, through “his goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering,” sometimes causes the season of conviction to linger day in and day out (Rom. 2:4). It is here that we see clearly the “hardness and impenitent heart” of mankind at work (Rom. 2:5). Many refuse to submit to the convincing power of the Holy Spirit. Instead they choose to stiffen their neck and strive against his truth and influence. They are determined that they will not relinquish control of their lives or change their view on their generally “good” character.
Some resist conviction by meditating on their position in society. “After all,” they reason, “if I am so well respected by the majority of people I know, I couldn’t be all that bad.” Or maybe they choose to “think positive.” They reason that it is psychologically harmful to have such “low self-esteem” so they begin to encourage themselves that they are sincerely trying their best to be a good person. “Besides,” they conclude, “no one is perfect, and it is unhealthy to feel bad about what I can’t change anyways.” With these lies and many others they settle into their stronghold, determined to hold out as long as necessary against the holy siege. God is gracious, but his “Spirit will not strive with man forever” (Gen. 6:3). For this reason God warns us, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 3:7-11).
If a person’s determination wears out during God’s persistent grace he might try to compromise with God. These souls calm their guilty consciences by making some changes in their lives. Sometimes these changes are quite significant. But in reality they are just attempting to strike a bargain with God. They, like the rich young ruler in Mark chapter 10, are willing to do some of what God says, or even most of what God says, but they are not willing to do everything that God says. But God will not be mocked, he demands absolute surrender.
Sometimes in spite of these deceitful attempts at bargaining with God, God in patience continues to put his finger on the idols in the sinner’s heart. At this point a good-willed, but ignorant, Christian might step in to “help.” Such Christians often tell the guilty soul to stop being so introspective. Instead the “helpful” Christian tells them to confess that they are saved and resist any condemning thoughts. They are told to believe that they are saved even though they have not fully renounced their rebellion. This practice has led countless souls into a false assurance of salvation. These are those who on Judgment Day will say, “Lord, Lord, we did many things in your name,” and the Lord will respond, “Away from me you who practice lawlessness” (Mat. 7:21-23).
We are called to be co-laborers with God, warning them to “flee that wrath that is to come” (Luke 3:7). Since we are well aware that it is a “fearful things to fall into the hands of the living God” we must be about the business of “persuading men” (Heb. 10:31, 2 Cor. 5:11).
We must find people that are living in their ease, unaware of their desperate plight, and warn them of the impending danger. We must “testify to the world that its works are evil” until God’s Spirit confirms our testimony by “convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment” (John 7:7, 16:8). We must ask the Lord to pour out his Spirit on us so that we will “receive power to be his witnesses” (Acts 1:8). We must warn people that “the wages of sin is death” and that all of their “righteousness is as filthy rags” (Rom. 3:23, Is. 64:6). We are called to “open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18).
Once their eyes are open to their danger, we must command them to repent. We must wisely and diligently remove every excuse and oppose every strategy that keeps them from obeying the command to repent. We are not called merely to share some information with them and then let them think it over at their convenience; we must do all we can to “compel them to come” into the kingdom of God (Luke 14:23). Like Peter on the day of Pentecost we must exhort them, with “many words,” saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40). We are “children of the light” and must “expose the works of darkness” that seek to keep them bound in their sin (Eph. 4:8-14).
This is our duty, to win souls! We go at it like it is a matter of life and death, which is what it is! We must search out every idol of their heart that keeps them from the repentance that leads to salvation. And when we find it we must urge them to tear it down and “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares” them (Heb. 12:1). We must do everything we possibly can to persuade them to repent so that we “might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
- Discuss the ways people resist conviction.
- How can we help lead people to repentance?
God’s Grace & Man’s Responsibility
“Therefore, house of Israel, I will judge each one of you according to his ways.” This is the declaration of the Lord God. “Repent and turn from all your transgressions, so they will not be a stumbling block that causes your punishment. Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death.” This is the declaration of the Lord God. “So repent and live!
I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances.
As co-laborers with God it is important to understand the ways of God and the ways of men. We must understand that no one can repent without God’s converting grace showing their willfully blinded hearts the way out of sin and persuading their stubborn hearts to forsake it. Nevertheless, we must understand the deceitfulness of men’s hearts. If we proclaim to them that without God they cannot truly repent, their sinful heart will take refuge in that truth. They will declare that they have not repented because they are “unable” to repent. They will excuse their disobedience and put the responsibility on God. We must not leave wicked men room for accusing God and excusing themselves. They are fully able to repent and fully responsible to do so. Their “inability” is purely a matter of unwillingness. So, when talking to God we should ask God to be merciful to them, but when talking to souls we must tell them that it is their responsibility to repent. When talking to God we are priests interceding for souls, when talking to men we are prophets declaring the commands of God.
- How can believing that God forces people to repent hinder effective evangelism?
- How can believing that people can repent without God’s enabling grace hinder effective evangelism?