I have been reading A Quest for Godliness by J. I. Packer. In it, Packer lays out the faith of the Puritans and the way they conferred their beliefs to everyday living. The things that the Puritans believed were not only abstract, “out there somewhere” ideas. They were “on the ground”, in front of you, moment by moment beliefs. Sure, a part of their theology was seemingly abstract and was very high intellectually. But they didn’t stay there. Their high-level thought led to high-level application. One area I have been wrecked by reading on the Puritans is the area of personal holiness and repentance.
The Puritans have oft been charged as legalists, or, at least way too sensitive when it comes to sin. We might ask them today why they are so uptight. We may wonder why they are such fun-quenchers. But I believe that they would respond with joy. They would respond that holiness and repentance is joy for them. And I think we can learn a great deal from the Puritans on this note.
Embracing Jesus – From Sin to Savior
I heard repentance described once as turning from our sin to our Savior. Certainly, this is a simple (not easy) definition of repentance, but it is a great starting point. Often, when we call people to believe in Jesus for salvation, we only emphasize that they must confess their sin and then believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord, and they will be saved. I mean, doesn’t the bible teach this in 1 John 1:9, which says, “if we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (ESV)? Well, yes, this is true. I don’t deny this. But we must be careful that we are not calling men to “easy-believism”. What’s that? “Easy-believism” is simply telling someone that in order to be in heaven forever instead of hell, all they must do is say a simple prayer. Sometimes, if we are really pressed, we will say something like “and you really have to mean it. If you don’t mean it, it isn’t real.”
What is the difference? The difference is eternity. Not only does 1 John 1:9 call men to confess our sin, but it also tells us what happens when we truly come to Jesus for salvation: God will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. This happens in two parts: 1. We are declared righteous at the moment of conversion. We are clothed in the righteous perfection and holiness that is Jesus Christ. 2. We are called into a life of repentance and turning away from sin and forsaking our former selves and into a life embracing Jesus as better than our sin and into a life of pursuing holiness and righteousness in practice. The first part is positional cleansing – we have been cleansed and forgiven! The second part is practical cleansing – we continue to become clean and must continue to seek God’s forgiveness which will continue to make us more and more holy, that is, more and more into the image of Christ.
Can Someone be Saved and Not Repent?
No. But what I don’t mean to say is that repentance saves a man. God alone saves a man by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (see Ephesians 2:8-9). But what I am saying is that repentance is the fruit of faith which necessarily proceeds after trust is place in Jesus Christ. J. I. Packer, in A Quest for Godliness, says, “When faith has primed the pump of the human heart, repentance is the way of living that results.” In other words, what will happen to a man when his heart is fully given over to the Lord Jesus in faith? Repentance. The man will no longer want his sin, but will want his savior!
Packer continues, “your souls will never be drawn from sin, or driven into a course of repentance, until God becomes your dread.” What’s his point here? Isn’t God loving toward His own people? Yes. However, it is the wrath of the father which keeps a child from doing what he has been commanded not to do. Likewise, Packer’s point is that not only is the love of the Lord Jesus as Savior reason to repent, but so is the wrath of the Father reason to repent. Both God’s wrath and His love ought to keep a man in a habitual pattern of repentance – turning from his sin to his savior. It is a gracious thing to turn to the Savior out of love and devotion. It is a gracious thing, also, to turn to the Savior out of dread, knowing that God’s wrath burns hot against sin. Repentance, therefore, comes from both a loving and devoted heart to the Lord Jesus as well as from a dread of God’s red-hot wrath against sin.
The good news is that Jesus took the wrath of God for sin, so that, in the Lord Jesus, I am freed from the constant fear and dread of God’s wrath. I am not freed from the fear of God’s wrath if I am in sin, even if I think I am a believer. It is only when I am repenting into Jesus Christ’s bosom that I am completely freed from the fear of the wrath of the Father. Praise be to God!
In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus explains to the large crowds following Him that there is a steep cost to pay in following Him. In fact, that cost is a complete forsaking of one’s self and one’s rights and submitting to Christ and His commands. Jesus says it like this, “whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” When we are doing the task of sharing the gospel and making disciples, we need to not sugar coat what it means to come after Christ for salvation. We ought to lift high Jesus as Savior, but also lift high Jesus as Lord.
Sometimes we think that in doing so, people will be turned off to Christ. We think, “if they have to turn away from their sin, from what they love doing, then they will most certainly not turn to Christ.” I would respond to say that if we have won them to Jesus as Savior, but not to Jesus as Lord, we have not won them to Jesus period. And we ought to not look at repentance and obeying Jesus as Lord as a bad thing. John says in 1 John 5:3, “for this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (ESV).” Paul says this in Philippians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish (DUNG!), in order that I may gain Christ (ESV, emphasis my own).”
Will you embrace Jesus? Will you turn from your sin and embrace the Savior? His commands are not burdensome, but they are life-sustaining and joy-giving. Where does your joy come from? Repent and embrace Jesus Christ.