I grew up in a small family consisting of just my parents and elder sister. Although my father was not a Christian, he enrolled me into a Christian school. Being in a Christian environment, you might think that I would know God; but I didn’t, until I was fourteen years old.
All the while, my father had consistently urged me to study hard so that I would have a bright future. So I did. But the more I did, the more frustrated I felt. I knew that there had to be more to live than just making as much money as you can.
One day, my best friend invited me to a Bible study that met before school. I agreed since I was always early in school. That day, the group was discussing about the meaning of “abundant life” (from John 10:10). I said nothing, I just listened…intently.
After the meeting, I privately told God, “If all that they (the group) said about abundantly life is true, I want it. If you will give it to me, I will follow you all the days of my life.”
Three months later, out of the blue, a question popped into my mind. I now know that it was the voice of the Holy Spirit. The question was: “Look back at the last three months. Has anything changed?”
Indeed, there had been changes. I was less frustrated; I had more joy; I was less angry and temperamental. I returned to the Bible study and ended up leading a group myself.
Its been over thirty years since I met the Lord Jesus, and I have not regretted a single day of it.
What about you?
If you had been listening attentively to my testimony, you would have heard about my life before I knew Christ, how I met Him, and what my life was like after that. What my testimony does not tell you, however, was how I was born again – the spiritual birth itself. Having an encounter with Christ, or meeting Him, is not the same thing as being born again. One does not become born again just by meeting the Lord Jesus. Nicodemus was a case in point. He came to the Lord in the cover of night and inquired about “eternal life”. In the conversation, Jesus said him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
How, then, can you be born again?
The normal Christian birth, according to David Pawson, consists of 4 separate events: Repentance from sins; Believe in God and Christ; (Water) Baptism; and Receiving the Holy Spirit. Put together, without exception, they are considered the normal Christian birth.
Christians, in general, are quite confused about this matter. Some have reversed the order: for example, putting believing in God and Christ before repenting from sin when the Bible clearly puts repentance before believing the good news, before turning to God and before baptism (see Matt 21:32 and Mark 1:15). Others have emphasized one (of the four events) over the others and considered it to be the sole criteria to be born again. To help those in this category to see the truth, I would urge them to think about the process of natural birth. At which point of the process is the child considered born? Is it when it is passing through the birth canal? Is it when it has completely emerged from the mother’s body? Or is it when its umbilical cord is cut? Or is it when it takes in its first breath and gives out a loud cry. Midwives will tell you that the child is said to be born when it has passed through all four stages.
Why am I telling you about the birth process? That’s because many of the spiritual problems that Christians (mature Christians included) are experiencing today, such as spiritual apathy, bondage to sin and spiritual oppression, and spiritual immaturity, can be traced back to their Christian birth. In other words, they have not been fully born again.
The first step in the process of becoming born again is repentance. I have said earlier that the Bible clearly puts repentance before believing the good news, turning to God (Acts 3:19), and baptism (Acts 2:28). But in our preaching of the gospel nowadays, we seem to have neglected to make it known to the sinner about this very pertinent point. In a hurry to “close the deal”, so to speak, we simply urge him/her to say The Sinner’s Prayer, accept Jesus in his/her life, and believe that Eternal Life is his/hers forever.
Without speaking of repentance, we are approving the former life and sins of the sinner. We are saying to him “You do not need to change anything about your life. You just need to believe in Jesus.” This, certainly, is not Scriptural. The fact that Jesus died to pay for the penalty of our sins is indication enough that the issue of sin is important to God. Sin has kept the sinner from God. How can he be reconciled with God unless his sins are removed? And how can they be removed unless they are confessed and forgiven?
Two Parts of Repentance
There are two parts to repentance. First, there is a turning away from sin and sinful ways. Then, secondly, there is a turning towards God. Often repentance is incomplete in that the sinner may have turned away form his sin or sinful ways but he has fallen short of turning towards God. He is still going his own way (Isa 53:6). What is worse than this is when there is no repentance at all. A sinner may have said the Sinner’s Prayer but never repented. He continues in this sin and merely attaches to himself, what I call, Christian ornament, like those found on a Christmas tree. A tree is a just a tree. But when Christmas ornaments are hung on it, you would immediately say “Its a Christmas tree!”. Likewise, when we see someone who does what a Christian typically does, we conclude that he is a Christian. But is he? Is he born again?
Repentance is usually incomplete when it is motivated by a guilty conscience. A guilty conscience may cause a person to confess his sins to God. But once the sin has confessed, the sense of guilt diminishes. What then will move him to repent of that sin he has just confessed to?
Without the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we would likely end up in a “witch hunt” – fanatically seeking out sins in our lives and confessing every one that we think is a sin but may not necessarily be. This reminds me to the times that we have conducted “house cleansing”. Usually, Christians would go around the house to identify objects that are occultic in nature: anything with a dragon on it, a horoscope, a talisman, etc. Some times, out of our zeal, we end up destroying antic furniture worth a lot of money.
Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, judgment and righteousness (John 16:8). He will first convict you of your sin. And if that’s not enough, he will also convict you of judgment – the just judgment that you deserve for your sin. This will move you to confess your sins to God. Finally, he will convict you of righteousness; that is, the need to walk right with God. This is repentance: turning away from sin and towards God.
What to Repent of?
What do we need to repent of? Basically, one needs to repent of every sin that he has committed. First and foremost, on the top of the list is idolatry if he has worshipped or put his trust in other gods apart from Jesus. Repentance of idolatry would require the destruction of all kinds of idols and objects associated with the worship of that idol that is in the possession of the person. In the Bible, whenever a good king of Israel ascends the throne, one of the first things he would do is to destroy the idols and altars that were used for the worship of other gods. This step is crucial. Anyone who is unwilling to destroy the idols and related things, it means that the idol still has a hold on his life and he is allowing it.
Apart from idolatry, there are other pertinent sins that the person would need to repent of. The one I am thinking of is adultery. I am thinking of this because it is becoming commonplace nowadays. With the advent of the Internet, adultery has entered not just our lives but our homes. Husbands that are “playing with fire” by visiting pornographic sites have committed adultery as defined by Jesus: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28 ESV). Jesus also says that anyone who divorces his spouse and marries another has committed adultery (see Matt 5:32).
When such a person is asked to repent of the sin of adultery, we are not judging them or requiring them to leave their current spouse. What we would like them to know is the reason God hates divorce and disapproves of remarriage. God hates divorce because it marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman that is only nullified by the death of one of them. Admittedly, God Himself did send Israel away – like a man would do to the woman betrothed to him – with a certificate of divorce because of her adulteries (see Jer 3:8). But, at end of it all, God still wooed Israel and took her back when she repented. God never “remarried”.
Justice is an area that is very close to God’s heart. That’s because He is a Just and Righteous God. All forms and acts of injustice, fraud and oppression will surely evoke His anger and wrath. To ensure that His people do not act unjustly but remember the poor amongst them, God has given them many commands and statues. In spite of this, His people has not kept all of them. But when they believed in Jesus, after being “cut to the heart” as a result of Peter’s preaching, one of the first things they did was to sell their possessions and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need (see Acts 2:45). This can only be the convicting work of the Holy Spirit that we talked about earlier.
Repentance unto Life
The kind of Repentance that is desirable, according to Paul, is the “repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). There are many who are exceedingly stirred and move when they hear a faithful gospel sermon. That is because there is an inner witness that tells him that it is the Word of God he is listening to. Some may tremble and weep, yet do not have the “repentance unto life”. Here is a story from the Bible that demonstrates this.
Paul was standing before Felix in chains, and as he preached of “righteousness, temperance, and of judgment to come,” it is written, “Felix trembled” (Acts 24:25 KJV). And yet, procrastinating Felix said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” How many have being to church, heard the Word preached, and was emotionally moved; yet they remain unchanged and unrepentant? How many have said as Agrippa said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28 KJV) but did not go beyond the ‘almost’.
In true Biblical repentance, there will be three things to occur as God does a work of grace upon the sinner’s heart:
1) Conviction — where sin is admitted. Man must see himself as a lost, ruined, guilty, desperately wicked sinner without hope or help, in danger of hell. In repentance, a lost sinner not only sees himself as a sinner, but he recognizes the fact that he has sinned against a righteous and holy God. The message that Paul preached was: “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). In repentance, there will be confession of sin to God (Psa. 32:5; 51:1-4).
2) Contrition — where sin is abhorred. When one sees himself as he appears before God, he is brought to a place where there is godly sorrow for his sin and hates it altogether.
“For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.” (Psa. 38:18);
“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of …” (2 Cor. 7:10).
To hate sin is to love God. In true repentance, there is not only the desire to escape the consequences of sin, but to be rid of sin itself as a thing displeasing to God.
3) Conversion — where sin is abandoned. Repentance involves the forsaking of sin:
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:7);
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
Repentance is not only a heart broken for sin, but also from sin. We must forsake what we would have God forgive. It should be stressed that it is not enough just to turn away from sin; one must also turn to God for salvation:
“… to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins … should repent and turn to God …” (Acts 26:18,20).
In true repentance, there is conviction, contrition, and conversion as one turns from his sin to Christ for salvation. Salvation is deliverance of a person from his sin, not merely from a sinful environment. Jesus Christ is the Saviour from not only the penalty and punishment of sin, but also the power of sin.
Spurgeon believes that “You may have repentance, but not sincere repentance.” And insincere repentance is as good (or bad) as no repentance at all. Ahab is a case in point.
A certain man named Ahab coveted the vineyard of his neighbor Naboth, who would not sell it for a price, nor make an exchange. He consulted with his wife Jezebel, who contrived to put Naboth to death, and thus secure the vineyard to the king. After Naboth was put to death, and Ahab had taken possession of the vineyard, the servant of the Lord met Ahab, and said to him, “Have you killed and also taken possession? Thus says the LORD: ‘In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.’” We read that Ahab was convicted in his spirit, and humbled himself; and the Lord said, “Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house” (1 Kings 21:29). Ahab was shown mercy but, in the next chapter, the Lord declared disaster against him (2 Kings 22:23). Subsequently, Ahab was killed in a battle in Ramoth-Gilead and the dogs licked up his blood according to the words spoken by the servant of the Lord (1 Kings 22:38).
Spurgeon also believes that, You…may humble yourselves before God for a time, and yet remain the slaves of your transgressions. “You are afraid of damnation,” he says, “but you are not afraid of sinning; you are afraid of hell, but you are not afraid of your iniquities; you are afraid of being cast into the pit, but not afraid to harden your hearts against his commands. It is not the soul’s state that troubles you, but hell. If hell were extinguished, your repentance would be extinguished; if the terrors awaiting you were withdrawn, you would sin with a higher hand than before, and your soul would be hardened, and would rebel against its sovereign.”
It is possible that you may confess your sins, and yet may not repent.You may approach God, and tell him you are a wretch indeed; you may enumerate a long list of your transgressions and of the sins that you have committed, without a sense of the heinousness of your guilt, without a spark of real hatred of your deeds. You may confess and acknowledge your transgressions, and yet have no abhorrence of sin; and if you do not in the strength of God resist sin, if you do not turn from it, this fancied repentance shall be but the guilding which displays the paint which decorates; it is not the grace which transforms into gold, which will stand the test of fire. You may even confess your faults, and yet have not repentance.
You may do some work meet for repentance, and yet you may be impenitent. Let me give you a proof of this in a fact authenticated by inspiration.
Judas betrayed his Master; and after having done so, an overwhelming sense of the enormous evil he had committed seized upon him. His guilt buried all hope of repentance, and in the misery of desperation, not the grief of true regret, he confessed his sin to the high priests, crying, “I have sinned, in that I have betrayed innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us, see thou to that.” Whereupon he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, to show that he could not bear to carry the price of guilt upon him; and left them there. He went out, and—was he saved? No. “He went out and hanged himself.” And even then the vengeance of God followed him: for when he had hanged himself he fell from the height where he was suspended, and was dashed to pieces; he was lost, and his soul perished. Yet see what this man did. He had sinned, he confessed his wrong, he returned the gold; still after all that, he was a castaway.
It is generally supposed, that repentance and faith are only the gate of religion; that they are necessary only at the beginning of our Christian course, when we are setting out in the way to the kingdom. And this may seem to be confirmed by the great Apostle, where, exhorting the Hebrew Christians to “go on to perfection,” he teaches them to leave these first “principles of the doctrine of Christ;” “not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God;” which must at least mean, that they should comparatively leave these, that at first took up all their thoughts, in order to “press forward toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” But repentance, Spurgeon believes, “is a continual life-long act.”
“It will grow continually. I believe a Christian on his death-bed will more bitterly repent than ever he did before. It is a thing to be done all your life long. Sinning and repenting—sinning and repenting, make up a Christian’s life.”
This is true because though sin no longer reigns in the life of a believer, it remains. And as long as sin remains in man, the Holy Spirit will keep on convicting them of sin (John 16:8).
Repentance is more than just feeling remorseful over one’s sin or wrongdoing. Repentance is more than just confessing one’s sin. True repentance cannot realistically be achieved in a short time. For this reason, I believe, God has ordained the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which really is a season of soul-searching for the Israelites to seek out and rid themselves of sin, to last for seven days. When put together with the Passover, the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is the 8th day – the number ‘8’ symbolizes a new beginning.
I wish that your repentance will be complete. So, in order for that to happen, it must be initiated and led by the Holy Spirit. Take a few minutes now and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you sins in your life that you have not repented of and need to do so now.