Spiritual Discipline Series
This year, Expository Files will features 12 articles on Spiritual Disciplines For Every Christian. Our writers will convey to us from the Bible, the simple disciplines that need our attention, to please God and be effective, disciplined people.
By “spiritual discipline” we mean those things God has given us to do. When done consistently, we not only glorify God and serve others well, we build discipline and long-term strength into our lives.
Genuine Repentance after Conversion
Think back to shortly before you obeyed the gospel. What was going through your mind? Among your many concerns was a sense of brokenness due to your sin, as well as a recognition of your dependency on God. These types of thoughts propelled you to submit to the Gospel call. It is both a need for forgiveness and a desire for a new life that should be at the center of every new disciple’s mind. This is the reason repentance is a necessary step in the conversion process. We must want more than just forgiveness; we must want a new life. This book encourages disciples to develop spiritual disciplines that aid in the development of this new life. A spiritual discipline is an action that over time will help one develop a holy character reflecting the person of Christ. The disciplines discussed in this book are necessary for us to maintain our faith and growth. Without these disciplines, our faith will become marginalized in our life, and our souls will be endangered. Repentance is a necessary discipline that will help us maintain our faith and developed a holiness of character that will glorify God.
As a response to John the Baptist’s call to repentance, the crowd asked him “what shall we do” (Luke 3:10). This question indicated a desire to make a change, due to the approaching kingdom of God that John had proclaimed. John gave practical instructions to the crowd that would show them how, at an early stage, they could demonstrate their repentance (Luke 3:10-14). In making these changes, they would be preparing themselves for the kingdom of God and expressing their desire to submit to the coming King. The fruit that John taught them to bear (Luke 3:8) describes an initial repentance that everyone must demonstrate before coming to the Lord. John spoke plainly of these immediate, apparent changes each group needed to make. John did not tell them all they needed to know and do. Instead, he gave them a clearly defined place to start. This would only be the initial fruit of repentance, not the complete sum. If their repentance was a genuine, sincere acknowledgment of the coming King, there would be more to learn about the will of this King. All the good they needed to do and all the evil they needed to turn from was not explained at this time, nor could it be explained to such a crowd on this one occasion.
Today, when one turns to the Lord, there will be immediate changes he understands need to be made (Acts 19:17-20). These changes are all part of an overall goal of becoming like Jesus (Luke 6:40). We, as obedient children, are called to be holy as He is holy, in all our manner and conduct (1 Peter 1:14-16). The charge to “be holy” as God “is holy” is a tall order, indeed. It is a far reaching goal that a humble and honest disciple will recognize just how far he falls short of God’s holy character. Like Isaiah, we feel a sense of ruin as we behold God’s holiness compared to our sinful beings (Isaiah 6:5). Thankfully, God has provided grace that reaches down to us, lifts us up and makes us holy despite all of our failures and shortcomings. “What can wash away my sin? Nothing by the blood of Jesus!” (Revelation 1:5-6, Hebrews 10:10). If all we had were our efforts, then we would still be scrubbing and would never achieve any level of holiness before God (Jeremiah 2:22). Thankfully, by the blood of Jesus offered by the mercy of God, we can become a part of a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9-10). Yet, as Christians, if we are faithful, we must understand holiness as the goal of our conduct (1 Peter 1:15). Our lives are to be characterized by a pursuit of holiness. Holiness is not just a description of what God has done in removing our transgressions. It is something we pursue (Hebrews 12:14). In fact, if we are not pursuing it, we will “not see the Lord”. What Paul writes to the brethren at Thessalonica demonstrates this well (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). God had called them for the purpose of sanctification (4:7). Paul describes them as walking and pleasing God (4:1), however, he would also instruct them to “excel still more”. Holiness or sanctification would simultaneously describe them and describe what they needed to pursue. Holiness describes the Christian as well as the Christian’s pursuit.
The pursuit of holiness demands Christians keep a heart of genuine repentance throughout their lives. Without repentance the holiness we are called to develop is impossible. As we approach our Lord, we do so as incomplete creatures. We do not see ourselves as finished products, but are laboring until Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19). As we run the race set before us, we not only lay aside every sin, but also anything that might encumber our ability to run (Hebrews 12:1-2). At times we may leave our first love (Revelation 2:4-5) and find ourselves in need of repentance to develop the zeal and passion in serving our Lord again. Sometimes our minds might be taken captive by false teaching and wrong thinking (Revelation 2:14-16) and we will need to repent and give our minds back to the Lord. If our reputation as a zealous worker of Christ is false, we need to repent and renew our diligent service to the Lord (Revelation 3:1-3). If we become so much like the world God cannot determine any substantive difference in our character compared to those outside of Christ (Revelation 3:15-19), we must repent. We must keep a tender heart before our mighty God and not become indifferent pursuing holiness. When we obeyed the gospel, we put to death the old man who lived day by day without concern for pleasing the King. Now we are concerned about neglecting God’s will for us. If there is something our King expects us to be doing, we repent and start doing it. We are now concerned about sin, so when we find through deeper study or self evaluation something contrary to God’s will, we stop doing it. When there is an encumbrance choking out the word in our life, we remove it. We are to show all of these signs of repentance, because we want to be holy as God is holy.
We can become holy as God is holy, because God provides the mercy and grace necessary to grant us forgiveness through Jesus Christ. God has sent His holy Spirit to convict men of their sin and teach them about righteousness (John 16:8). We have access to the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), and those instructions provide the information necessary to live a holy life. Our job is simple. We provide a heart that is not only willing to repent, but desires to repent in order to conform to the Holy character of God. As we yield in subjection to God, He washes us clean and “establishes our hearts, without blame in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 3:13). He sanctifies our soul, body and spirit, entirely and without blame (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The question comes down to this: Do we want what God wants for our lives? If we do, we will develop a heart that longs to repent. This heart begins at conversion, and if it is genuine, will become an ever-present part of our character.
By Nathan E. Quinn From Expository Files 23.9; September 2016