The Downward Slide

I remember it like it was yesterday. I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old and one of my neighbor’s parents built their kids a half-pipe right next to their house. I remember it being about 1,453 feet tall from my little 65lb frame. Maybe it wasn’t 1400+ ft. but it was probably close. It was big enough that I was too afraid to take the plunge once I ascended the mountainous structure. I just remember thinking, “This is way higher than what it looked from the ground.”

So, I did what every scared 10 year old boy would do in front of his friends…I pretended my bike was messed up and sent my trusty steed down the ramp without its hero. Which, of course, left me perched at the peak of Everest with a bruised ego and a new plan. I would take the downward slide on the back-side padding the Good Lord gave me…Can you imagine where that left me? Every inch I descended, toward what I thought would be glory, fame, and fortune on the sandlots of South Roxana, left me with small splintered reminders of my downward slide.

Iain Murray reminds us of the splinters that arose in Spurgeon’s day as the Church began to ask “What gains might be made by Christianity if the church was willing to adopt a less rigid and less uncritical attitude to the contents of Scripture…”[1]. Many of The Publicans readership is familiar with the Down-Grade controversy of Spurgeon’s day and the cry of the Prince of Preachers that stands as a prophetic voice, even still today. In the September 1887 issue of The Sword and the Trowel Spurgeon wrote:

“The house is being robbed, its very walls are being digged (sic) down, but the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth, and too much afraid of getting broken heads, to go downstairs to meet the burglars…Inspiration and speculation cannot long abide in peace. Compromise there can be none. We cannot hold the inspiration of the Word, and yet reject it; we cannot believe in the atonement and deny it; we cannot hold the doctrine of the fall and yet talk of the evolution of spiritual life from human nature; we cannot recognize the punishment of the impenitent and yet indulge the ‘lager hope’. One way or the other we must go. Decision is the virtue of the hour.”[2]

Those words could just as easily have been written on June 2, 2017. The phrase “Down-Grade Controversy” may have been coined for Spurgeon and his battle but the American Church faces its own downward slide today. The American Culture & Faith Institute’s most recent study reveals a terrifying reality of spiritual adultery in the American Church and the virtual abandonment of a biblical worldview (https://www.culturefaith.com/groundbreaking-survey-by-acfi-reveals-how-many-american-adults-have-a-biblical-worldview/). This downward slide has generational consequences. The spiritual adultery (James 4:4) of the greater American church has left our pews virtually empty of two to three generations. What’s even worse is that this is indicative of their relationship with God through Jesus Christ; empty, void, absent.

I am on the cusp of the Gen-X and Millennial generations having been born in 1979. Regardless of where a researcher places me, my generation slides down the half-pipe on our splinter-ridden rears to an abysmal 4-7% espousal of Christian Orthodoxy and a Biblical Worldview. Take those adulterous numbers and pass that down to the Mosaic’s (18 and under, children of Millenial & Gen-X) and you’ll find that 0.5% of our latest generation see the world through biblical lenses. Spurgeon was right, “the house has been robbed.” And it’s being robbed by the very fathers and husbands who God has tasked with spiritual leadership of their homes. Abidcation is the sin and apostasy is its fruit.

Thankfully, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ will ever ring true: “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against [my Church].”[3] Take heart, brothers & sisters, everything is not lost. The Lord Jesus himself assures us that the will of the Father is that he “should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”[4] With this confidence of assurance in Christ’s work, what then shall we do? Let us, as reformers, turn to the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient, Word of God to give us direction.

James 4:7-10—10 Realities of Repentance

Submit—Submission to God is to voluntarily place ourselves under his authoritative Word. As believers submit to God’s Word we will find that his commands are not burdensome[5] but a delight and our counselors[6]

Resist—Resistance is, as Kurt Richardson suggests, a defensive posture.[7] To actively resist the devil is to consciously secure a victory. Follow Christ’s model of resistance with God’s Word as your sword and faith as your shield.

Draw Near—Unlike the human heart, the heart of God is not repulsed by the wretchedness of man that approaches him in confession. Instead, as we actively draw near to the Throne of Grace, in repentance, the Father draws near to us as he runs toward us to welcome us home & clothes us with his ring & his robe.

Cleanse & Purify—These deliberate consecrating actions deliver the word picture to the mind of the Old Testament priests who would take intentional steps to remove the physical filth from their bodies that represented the spiritual filth of sin before they would approach God.

Wretch, Mourn, & Weep, Change from Laughter & Joy to Mourning & Weeping—A broken and contrite heart will not be despised by our Gracious God.[8] The Church needs a new relationship with sin; perhaps not a new but biblical one.

Humble—Until we are humbled, either in recognition of our sin or by God’s judgement, there will be no exaltation. For “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”[9]

May God find it in his gracious love to grant us a national, godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Without his grace, we, our children, and our children’s children will find that we have more than  plintered bottoms; our families will have an eternity separated from a loving and gracious God. Lord, let that not be found in my home.

Citations:

[1] Iain Murray: The Forgotten Spurgeon, The Banner of Truth Trust

[2] Ibid., pg 152

[3] Matthew 16:18 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[4] John 6:39 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[5] 1 John 5:2-4 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[6] Psalm 119:24 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[7] Kurt Richardson, New American Commentary. Vol 36, B & H Publishing

[8] Psalm 51:17 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[9] James 4:6 & Proverbs 3:34 ESV, Crossway, 2001

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Our Name Changing God

Johnny Cash’s famous hit, “A Boy Named Sue” pokes fun at the significance of names. Nobody wants a name that makes others laugh at them or that reminds people of a negative historical figure.

I recently preached a funeral for a deacon in our church with the middle name Adolf, a very popular name before World War II. Now no one names a child Adolf or Judas. This is why expectant mothers and fathers-to-be labor over the name of their progeny. When my wife and I were talking about names for our future children, I liked the name Clark for a boy, after my heroic great uncle, but my wife once babysat a Clark that forever secured in her mind the doctrine of total depravity. Likewise, my wife liked the name Autumn for a girl, but I knew an Autumn who would make you cringe whenever you saw her coming.

Names carry a sense of one’s identity. This is why we name children after godly relatives, heroes of the faith, or that remind us of characteristics we hold dear.

Why God Changes Our Names

Yet in Scripture, we encounter a God who changes the names of His people. Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul. When God renames people in Scripture, He is doing several things: He is asserting His sovereign authority over that person’s life, giving that individual a new mission to pursue, identifying a clean break from their former manner of life, and emphasizing a new character they will thereafter possess.

Abraham and Sarah were so renamed because they were to become the father and mother of all who believe. God gave Jacob the new name Israel because He had turned him from a “heal snatcher/cheater” into His blessed servant. Simon carries the idea of instability, while Peter means rock; a name change that identified a dramatic difference after Pentecost. Saul became Paul, a name meaning “small”, because the Lord had humbled His arrogant pride when He knocked him off his high horse on the road to Damascus.

Every Child of God Given A New Name

The resurrected Christ promises a new name for all God’s people in Revelation 2:17, when He states, “To the one who conquers I will give…a new name…that no one knows except the one who receives it.” While a person may go through the legal process of acquiring a new name, the Lord God gives each of His children something much more lasting and significant: an entirely new identity and life purpose. 

For the child of God, this new identity and purpose begins at conversion, where we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to God’s kingdom and adopted into the family of God. Paul describes the new identity of God’s children at conversion in these famous words found in 2 Cor. 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

How to Respond to Our New Names

If you are reading this and have never experienced this radical inward transformation known as regeneration or new birth, you must pray for God to make real to you your spiritually dead condition and show you the beauty of Christ’s person and work on the cross. If you are reading this and you have been born again and God has taken out the old heart of stone and replaced it with a new heart that loves His commands, you must rejoice and tremble. The rejoicing part may seem obvious, but we always need reminding of this. 

After the disciples returned from the mission Christ sent them on, they were rejoicing at the authority He had given them to cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead, but Jesus called them to another source of joy. In Luke 10:20, Jesus said, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In the very next verse, Jesus rejoices in the Spirit and dives into spontaneous prayer, praising God for revealing these things to the humble and withholding them from the prideful. 

Have you ever heard the expression that someone’s name was thrown in the mud? Because of our sin, we had dragged our own names through the mud. We have all lived in ways that ruined our name and our identity as God’s image-bearers. We have even blasphemed the holy name of God with our lives of selfishness, anger, bitterness, ingratitude, lust, hate, and gossip. Yet in His astounding grace, God has given us a new name through faith in Christ. At the cross, God poured out all His judgment on our sins on Jesus and by the Spirit has given a new and everlasting name to His redeemed people. Now we must rejoice always that the Gospel was received by us through the Spirit’s gift of faith and repentance. Yet our rejoicing must always involve trembling. It is possible to be connected to Christians and rich theological truths and yet fall away from Christ, proving we never knew genuine salvation. 

In such cases, Peter and Solomon are right when they say, “the dog returns to its own vomit, and the pig, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire” (2 Peter 2:22). The dog was still a dog and the pig still a pig. We must tremble before the Lord, not in a fearful state of uncertainty concerning our salvation, but in a prayerful dependency that acknowledges our desperate need for preserving grace. God has truly saved all who persevere and all who persevere do so by clinging desperately to the cross of Christ. You and I ought never to think that our conversion has secured for us the freedom to go back to wallowing in the mire.

Rejoice that God has given you a new name in Christ and tremble so that you live in a way that verifies this name change.

What is Repentance?

What is repentance? Generally speaking the word ‘repent’ in the Old Testament is ‘shuv’ in Hebrew meaning to turn or to return. ‘Repent’ or ‘repentance’ in the New Testament is ‘metanoia’ in Greek meaning a change, a reversal, or a reformation of the heart. In this movement within the heart there is a double turn. Turning from sin and turning toward Jesus in faith.

To aid us today I want to give you a paragraph of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Question 87 is as follows. “Question: what is repentance unto life? Answer: repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it to God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”

Taking our cues from this question 87, repentance is four things.

a) Repentance is a Saving Grace

Here again we see the difference between saving grace and common grace. Both the saving grace and common grace of God are gracious gifts of God which He bestows according to His purpose and will. Repentance isn’t among the blessings included in God’s common grace that He gives to all men. How do we know this, well, common sense, because all men do not repent, therefore repentance isn’t a common grace. Rather, repentance is a saving grace God grants only to the elect. Paul affirms this in 2 Tim. 2:25 when he states “God grants repentance which leads to a knowledge of the truth.” Luke also affirms this in Acts 11 where he writes of Peter explaining to a group of Jews how God had worked among the Gentiles. After describing this moment Luke tells us how Peter’s hearers respond in Acts 11:18, “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” In this light, we see what repentance is something granted by God, a gift, that, when coupled with faith, saves and leads a sinner to a knowledge of the truth.

b) Repentance is Having a True Sense of Sin

Questions 87 says, “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin…” and later it mentions that the sinner has “a grief and hatred for his sin.” This means repentance has a substantial element of sorrow to it. Paul makes a contrast on this point in 2 Cor. 7:9-10. “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Worldly grief or sorrow, like the sorrow of Esau (Hebrews 12:17), like the sorrow of Judas (Matthew 27:3-10), and like the sorrow of the Hebrews 6:4-8 person produces death and no hope.

In this false repentance there truly may be a grieving that’s taking place inside the soul but that grieving is more focused on the consequences of our sinful actions or the fear of punishment rather than the offense and grief we caused in God. On the other hand, godly grief or sorrow recognizes, embraces, and owns a true sense of our sin, of how wretched we are before the holy and just God, and how we’re under the penalty of sin and death for such sin. This kind of sorrow leads to a grief and hatred of our sin, an honest confession of our sin, and ironically brings soothing peace into the heart of a sinner.

c) Repentance is Having a True Sense of God’s Mercy in Christ

The catechism not only encourages us to have a true sense and hatred for our sin, it encourages us to have a true sense or “apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.” This is one of the truly remarkable and truly beautiful truths to behold. That God, who is holy and just, who hates both the sin and the sinner, would be so gracious and merciful toward sinners in Jesus Christ is simply stunning. We must know this as well as knowing our sin. This is one of the great ironies of the gospel: only those who know they don’t deserve it, receive it and repent. So within the heart of someone who is truly repentant, there will be both a robust hatred for sin as well as a soothing sense of God’s mercy. What do these two things within the heart lead to?

d) Repentance is turning from sin to Christ and obedience to Him

After describing the true sense of our sin and the true sense of God’s mercy in Christ to us, the catechism ends its definition of repentance by saying the sinner “turns from sin to God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.” Knowing our sin and knowing God’s mercy leads us to this double turn. Away from sin, towards Jesus in faith. This is a change in purpose, a change in direction, and a change in living. We do not turn towards better behavior or better actions. No, we turn away from sin and toward Jesus Christ and the evidence that we’ve done this will be seen in that our new endeavoring to obey Jesus. This is why repentance must come after regeneration. No one can turn from sin toward Jesus while remaining in our natural hostile state. God must change our nature and enables us to do so. And once He does so, everything changes about how we live

Taking all four of these things together, can you now see why the shorter catechism calls repentance, ‘repentance unto life?’ From repentance comes life, and life delighted full of pleasure in God.

e) Do We Still Repent After Conversion?

Everything I’ve said thus far deals with repentance at the moment of salvation, isn’t there a continuing element of repentance in the Christian life? Yes, there is. Because we are not made perfect at salvation we’ll struggle with sin all our days. When we sin we must repent. We must turn back again, or return to the gospel. Growth will come, but it will look more like the slow growth of an oak tree rather than the fast growth of a weed. And as we grow, we may have seasons of rebellion or coldness to God. As we grow it may even seem from the outside it that we have our stuff together, but we know the truth. On the inside, where we encounter the motives and intentions of the heart, the battle rages on. So what do we do when we sin after conversion? We remember the promise of 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So repentance and faith are the way we begin the Christian life, and repentance and faith are the way we live the Christian life. This is the entryway into the Christian life and the narrow way of the Christian life.

Repent! Turn or Burn?

phelpsWhen I think of the word “repent” I see what most of you see, I think.  That is, I see a mean-spirited man yelling at people for being sinner’s (while upholding his own perfection) while holding a large sign saying something like “God hates fags!”  Isn’t this what most of us see when we think it?  This natural bent we have is probably a normal reaction to such horrible street corner preachers, but it’s probably not just that.  You see when someone tells us to repent we automatically have an inward knee-jerk reaction to someone else telling us what to do.  We do what we do because we want to, and no one likes someone else getting all up in your face screaming at them to “change.”  But there is a problem with this knee-jerk reaction of ours, Jesus demands we repent.

Matthew 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'”

Jesus demands we repent?  Yes.  Plain and simple, Jesus is telling the world to change.  Does this bother you?  To the extent that it does, to that extent, you are rebellious to God and in need of a 180.  You see, that’s just what repentance is, a 180, an about turn, stopping to go in the direction you were going away from.  If the clock is wrong, don’t we change it?  If three people are heading in different directions and two of them realize they are going in the wrong direction, do we not think the smartest man is the one who turns around to go where he ought to rather than remaining on the errant course?  Jesus Christ came into the world, began preaching, and the very first thing He calls humanity to is an about turn, a 180, to repent.

You know what this means?  He must desire a different end for humanity than humanity has created itself.  And that’s just what it is, and what most people miss, I think, about repentance.  Jesus is not just calling us to stop and turn around by calling us repent.  He is calling us to go, to walk, to pursue, to chase down a new goal, a new desire, a new direction.  What is this direction?  2 Corinthians 7:10 tells us, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”  This new direction Jesus is demanding and calling the world to go in is a direction toward salvation and away from death.

Rather than thinking of a mean man holding the “God hates fags” sign when thinking of repentance, we ought to think of Jesus, lovingly calling us out of death into life.  Out of darkness and into light.  Out of sin and into holiness.  Out of ourselves and into Him.  He is God, He knows best what we need and if He becomes a man and walks among us teaching and preaching saying things like “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near” don’t you think we’d do well to listen?  Kinda seems arrogant not to do what Jesus call us to doesn’t it?

Whoever you are, wherever you are, Jesus is right now calling you repent and pursue a new direction with all of your heart.  Don’t be afraid, chase Him down, you’ll find Him.  And when you do, you’ll agree with Him that repentance is always a good thing.