The Gospel Grace of Repentance Unto Life
Various Scripture Texts & WCF 15
July 15, 2018
This morning we are looking at the topic of repentance. Repentance unto life.
The Westminster Confession of Faith begins by stating that repentance is a gospel grace. This is huge. This means that repentance is actually a good thing. This means that repentance is actually a miracle. And this means that this good miracle is a gift to the sinner.
Do you remember the story of Jonah? The city of Nineveh was about to be destroyed by the Lord for their evil. But when Jonah preached judgment against them, the king and all the people turned from their evil way. They cried out to the Lord and repented of their sin. And for good measure, they even dressed up their animals and made them repent too, as if they could! What an amazing change of heart. Jonah should have been happy for the city of Nineveh. But he was not. He would, however, learn at the end that repentance is really a gospel grace.
Brothers and sisters, before you think of repentance as something that you do, think first of repentance as something that God gives. I doubt that the sinful woman with the alabaster jar or the criminal on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him or the Ninevites of Jonah’s day - I doubt that such people are boasting up in heaven right now about how the greatness of their repentance. Because repentance is really something that God gives. Repentance is a gospel grace. Repentance is ultimately a miraculous gift, something that God gives to you in your heart.
Speaking of heart, that brings us to the next important point on repentance. The Westminster Confession of Faith states that repentance happens in the heart. And it’s pretty serious stuff: seeing and sensing the danger of sin, seeing and sensing the filthiness and hatefulness of one’s sin, grieving for one’s sin, and hating one’s sin. The heart of repentance acknowledges the holiness of God. The heart of repentance is sensitive to the righteousness of God’s law.
This makes things interesting. We often equate repentance with a good cry, an anguished face, knees on the floor in a dark room with piano in the background and a pastor pacing on stage occasionally shouting into his microphone. We often think that repentance is for retreats and revivals. And we often turn repentance into an authentic oscar-worthy performance (without realizing the irony that the moment you try to be authentic, you’re just not).
But it gets even more interesting. We often over complicate repentance with strange motives. We might do it to get something back from God. “If I repent well tonight, maybe God will give me the girlfriend I’ve always wanted!” We might do it to be better than the person next to you. “Look at how much I cried! I should be president of the youth group, not him or her!” We might do it to feel God’s love for us and receive assurance of our salvation. “That prayer time of repentance was blessing time! I truly felt God’s love tonight!”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against crying. If I’m at a church thing and I see people crying supposedly in repentance, I might wonder why they are crying. I hope they are crying because of the danger of hell. I hope they are crying because of the filthiness of their disobedience - their gossip or lust or anger or worship of idols. I hope they are crying because they know they offended their Maker. I hope they are crying because they know they dishonored their King. I hope they aren’t crying because they know they broke a rule or a law. I hope that they are crying because they broke a relationship - because they broke someone’s heart. If so, I’ll be the first to offer a box of tissues.
Repentance happens in the heart. But it doesn’t stay in the heart. It comes out. A repentant person turns. He or she turns away from sin and turns toward God. A repentant person hates sin. A repentant person endeavors to walk with God in all the ways that he commands. In other words, repentance involves obedience, change, and war. You can do all the quiet time introspection and self-examination you want. If you don’t obey, that’s not repentance. You can do all the small group vulnerability and accountability you want. If you don’t change, that’s not repentance. You can cry all you want. If you don’t go to war against your sin, that’s not repentance.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “That’s just too much, how then can anyone repent?” If you’re thinking that, then please remember the first point of the Westminster Confession of Faith, that repentance is a gospel grace. The Holy Spirit works in the undeserving sinner’s heart the grace of seeing and sensing the wickedness of sin. The Holy Spirit works in the undeserving sinner’s heart the gift of obedience and change. The Holy Spirit works in the undeserving sinner’s heart the miracle of going to war against sin. The Holy Spirit works in the undeserving sinner’s heart the gospel of knowing that sin is personal. Repentance is a gospel grace.
But repentance is nothing if God himself does not turn. The miracle of the repentance or turn of Nineveh is outdone by the far greater miracle of the turn of God. When God saw Nineveh turn away from her evil, God turned away from his judgment against them. When Nineveh turned, the Lord turned as well. When Nineveh repented, the LORD relented. What an amazing change of heart, so to speak, with God. What a wonderful turn by God!
But here is the million dollar question for today. Why did God do it? Why did God relent? How could the Lord turn his judgment aside when Nineveh deserved it?
There is a funny Korean drama called “Let’s Eat 2.” It’s about a man named Dae Young and a woman named Soo Ji who fall in love. But at first they don’t like each other. In fact, Soo Ji held a deep grudge against Dae Young for breaking her heart in elementary school.
One evening, Soo Ji and Dae Young are at a Chinese restaurant with some friends. Dae Young, being the generous gentleman that he is, says that the meal is on him. Everyone is surprised and happy. But Soo Ji, being the clever cookie that she is, sees this as a good chance to take revenge on Dae Young. So she orders an insane amount of food: lobster, buldojang, kungpao beef, fried pork belly in soy sauce, spicy noodles, shark’s fin, orange chicken and tangsuyuk fried beef, and to top it all off, cold jellyfish salad. Everyone at the table is shocked. Dae Young stares at the table in awkward defeat. And Soo Ji just smiles.
At the end of the meal, Dae Young slowly walks up to the cash register of financial judgment and asks how much he has to pay. The host says, “It’s $670.” Everyone gasps, Dae Young’s face falls, and Soo Ji face is relishing her perfect moment of revenge.
But then, to the surprise of everyone, the host says, “Ah, but you don’t have to pay.” Everyone is like, “What?!?” Funny fast polka music starts to play. The host points to a sign at the door and says, “You are the 100th customer! We are having our 10 year anniversary promotion!” Everyone turns to look at the sign. Soo Ji’s face is like “No!”
Why do I share this story with you? I share it because there is no such thing as a free lunch. Nothing is really free. You see, to the delight of Dae Young, and to the disappointment of Soo Ji, that $670 meal was free. Dae Young didn’t have to pay one cent for that meal. It was free! But that meal wasn’t really free. Someone still has to pay for it. There is always someone who pays for it. In this case, it was not Dae Young who paid for the meal. It’s the restaurant who paid for it. It wasn’t really free.
The same kind of thing happened for Nineveh too. Nineveh didn’t have to pay for their sin against God with their lives. But their salvation from judgment was not really free. Someone still had to pay for their sin. Someone always has to pay.
Dae Young escaped the judgment of having to pay for the meal with his $670. Nineveh escaped the judgment of having to pay for their sin against God with their lives. Dae Young received good luck and was able to dodge the wrath of Soo Ji. Nineveh received grace and was able to escape the wrath and judgment of God. Who paid for Dae Young? The restaurant. Who saved Nineveh? Jesus Christ. Nineveh repented and believed in Jesus. And as a result, they didn’t have to pay for their sin against God with their own lives. Salvation is not free.
Brothers and sisters, do not forget that your salvation was not really free. You were redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. He endured the highest suffering and the greatest shame on your behalf. Let us never ever forget the seriousness of Christ’s person and work that saved us. Jesus paid it all. And if he paid it all, then all to him we owe.
Praise be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! He have given us the gospel grace of repentance unto life.
And if you are not yet a brother or a sister in Christ, then I invite you to repent of your sins and believe in Jesus. Listen to what the Lord says: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I welcome you to talk to someone here at Highland who can explain the gospel of Christianity to you. May you receive the gospel grace of repentance unto life. May there be great joy in heaven over you. May you be a lost sheep no more. May you be found by Christ our Good Shepherd.
I would like to close now with the final point of the Westminster Confession of Faith on repentance. If we have God’s wonderful gospel grace of repentance in Christ, then we ought to “allow” other brothers and sisters to have it too. It is often difficult for people to repent in church communities because forgiveness and mercy and grace is in short supply. But let us remember that God’s kindness leads us to repentance. Brothers and sisters, are we in danger of letting unresolved conflicts and shipwrecked relationships pile up in our lives because we have no kindness to give? Brothers and sisters, are we in danger of burning down bridges or holding grudges because we are selfish with the grace of God? Brothers and sisters, are we in danger of being ironic hypocrites who praise God for his mercy but refuse to show mercy to others? Brothers and sisters, are we in danger of wanting to make people pay for their wrongs? I hope not. Perhaps you don’t see much repentance these days because you don’t see much mercy these days. Let’s change that, starting with a repentance of our own.
Summary of Sermon
Repentance is a gospel grace. It is a miracle and a gift from God. It is not primarily something that we do for God. It is primarily something that God gives to us and does in us.
Repentance happens in the heart. It involves a seeing and a sensing of the danger and filthiness of sin. It involves a grieving for and a hating of one’s sin. It understands that sin is against God and his holiness and righteousness.
We might equate repentance with a good cry. And we might over-complicate repentance with strange motives. But if our repentance is accompanied with obedience, change and war, then that is good and right.
Praise the Lord that repentance is a gospel grace! His Spirit works in the hearts of undeserving sinners. And that is a miracle and a gift.
But repentance is nothing if God himself does not turn. When Nineveh repented, the Lord relented. How could this be? How can sinners receive forgiveness?
The answer is this: Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins. And that price was his suffering and his humiliation and his death. Our salvation is not free. We were redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus paid it all. All to him we owe. Praise be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! He have given us the gospel grace of repentance unto life.
If you are not yet a brother or a sister in Christ, then I invite you to repent of your sins and believe in Jesus.
If you are a brother or a sister in Christ already, then I invite you to share God’s gospel grace with others.
Questions for Discussion & Sharing
Repentance is not primarily something that we do for God. It is primarily something that God gives to us and does in us. How does this truth change the way that we understand our repentance and our salvation in Christ?
What does real repentance look like?
Our salvation is not really free. How does this statement change the way that you understand and appreciate your salvation in Christ? How might it change the way that you live for the Lord?
In what ways might a misunderstanding of the gospel grace of repentance profoundly affect how we handle the relationships that we have with others?