Fifth of a series of extracts
I respond to the gospel with daily repentance and faith.
Read all about it
‘The Holy Spirit changes me through the gospel.’ That’s what we saw with Principle 4. So what about my role? This is one of the great, creative tensions of the Christian faith. We may err on the side of passivity: the Holy Spirit does it all and I do nothing — the ‘let go and let God’ approach. Or we may err on the side of activism: the Holy Spirit is functionally absent and we do everything — a ‘get on and forget God’ approach.
So is the answer a kind of balancing act in which the Holy Spirit and I are equal partners on a 50:50 basis? No, this is also a serious error. The gospel shows that God has given everything for our salvation and he asks for everything in return. The gospel is free, but it’s not cheap. So we’re not talking about a 50:50 arrangement, but a 100:100 one.
So what is our full and active involvement? Repentance and faith. This is how we first respond to the gospel and this is how we continue responding to the gospel.
Repentance is a change of mind or heart. We realise our way of thinking and living is wrong and this leads to a new way of thinking and living. Repentance is more than a mere recognition of wrong; it’s a recognition that always results in change. It’s a U-turn.
The Christian life is a life of repentance. Day after day and in so many ways I see that my thoughts, words and actions are unhelpful or just plain wrong. To continue would be foolish and sinful. The Holy Spirit has convicted me and there’s no option but to respond to him, by an active turning from the sin.
Let’s say Simon has problems with looking at pornography. Over the last 12 months, he’s aware that it’s become habitual. The Spirit convicts him of the sinfulness of his ‘pastime’ and Simon is filled with deep sorrow at what he’s been doing. If Simon then keeps visiting the offending sites, his response is mere remorse. Repentance involves Simon taking specific action to stop. It might involve moving the computer into the main room of the house or asking someone to monitor his internet activity. This isn’t the full picture, but it’s an important detail. It falls into the category of what the apostle Paul describes as ‘performing deeds appropriate to repentance’ (Acts 26.20, NASB).
Faith is the other side of the repentance coin. Repentance by itself is a work I do. It’s possible to be persuaded that a particular act is unhelpful and so stop doing it. But when the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, He does so in relation to Christ. He turns my heart to Christ. It’s in turning to Christ that I turn from my sin. Repentance recognises that, at its core, sin is a refusal to love Christ. Gospel repentance is not just turning from sin. It’s always turning to Christ because by faith we see him as the better option. Gospel repentance is believing repentance.
Let’s go back to Simon and his pornography. Suppose all Simon does is stop visiting dodgy sites on the internet. It’s a good response, but it’s not a sufficient response. A Spirit-enabled response that pleases God will involve Simon recognising that his viewing habits are the fruit of a heart that worships itself. Every time Simon goes into his study to surf, he is in effect saying: ‘This is my world and I’m god’. In this world of his own making, Simon rules and can do as he pleases. He has (or so he imagines) the authority to define the good life, which for him in this context is pleasure and gratification.
Repentance spots the sin beneath the sin. It sees that rather than being the lover of God and others that Simon was made to be, he has chosen to be a self-lover.
Faith is the Spirit-gifted means by which Simon grasps the truth of the gospel of grace. His heart is filled with love for God and others. His life demonstrates the Spirit’s work in the fruit it bears. The works of ‘immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry’ and so on (Galatians 5.19-20, NASB) are replaced by the fruit of ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control’ (vv.22-23).
Biblical background: read Acts 20.17-24.
Question for reflection
Why will remorse alone never lead to repentance and faith? Consider examples from the past week when your response to sin has been remorse rather than repentance. Spend some time praying that the Holy Spirit will help you to be active in turning from sin.
Gospel-centred Life is published at £3.00 by The Good Book Company: http://www.thegoodbook.co.uk