This afternoon we come to witness the baptisms of those in whose hearts God has worked and we delight in that. But I was reminded this week from Acts 2:38 that there is an aspect of our conversion mentioned alongside baptism about which we are in constant need of reminder. You’ll recall that after Peter’s great sermon on Pentecost, his hearers were stricken in their hearts, sensing their desperate need to be saved and they asked Peter, “What must we do to be saved?” Peter’s responds without hesitation, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” There is much to be said about the relationship between baptism and salvation. As Baptists, we believe that a person can go to heaven without being baptized. The Bible as a whole does not require baptism for salvation, but the Bible does consistently teach that becoming a Christian involves not only a turning to Christ, but also a turning—in repentance from our sin. It is also true that repentance plays an indispensable role in our own spiritual health as believers.
Therefore, this afternoon as we are thinking about baptism, I want us to also think about this intensely important Biblical truth of repentance. We will focus on James 4:6-10, but in order to get a context, we must first read verses 1-5. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive , because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think the Scripture says without reason that the Spirit He caused to live in us envies intensely.”
James’ original audience was arguing about something--there was significant division in the church and many of the people weren’t getting along at all. James addresses this sin in the church in three phases. In the third and final phase, in verses 6-10 (to which we will now turn our attention), James tells us how are we to respond to sin--how we get out from under this terrible, idolatrous weight on our souls. James writes, “But he gives more grace. That is why the Scripture says: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laugher to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” The overarching truth James gives as to how to respond to this sin is this: God will give us grace to overcome our sins if we humbly submit ourselves before Him in repentance.
James in these verses lays out in detail the grace that God will give to a person in sin through repentance. It is not the will of God for his children to always be entangled with besetting sins. God’s will is that his children might walk in liberty. God has given us freedom from the law so that we might be free from the enslaving power of sin. Tragically, most of the body of Christ walks around with one, or maybe several ball and chains around their ankles--sins that regularly drag them down and put them into bondage. That is not God’s will for us. Paul says in Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” This does not mean that we will never sin, but we can be free from the controlling power of sin. Romans 6:14 says, “Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Yet, so many Christians are mastered by sin—it controls them. How do you get free from this controlling power of sin Christ liberated us from on the cross? The only biblical response to any sin and what will give us freedom from the reign of sin is repentance.
To be honest, there is a huge misunderstanding about the nature of true biblical repentance in the church today. Many people struggle with habitual sins that frustrate them for years for the simple reason that they haven’t repented biblically. James doesn’t use that word “repent” here. He simply says in verse seven, “submit yourselves, then to God” which is clearly a call to repentance--Submit to His will, not your own. James could have just as easily said, “here’s what you sinful people need to do, repent.” Instead, what the Holy Spirit leads James to do is to spell out what is involved in true repentance.
Before we put this process of repentance under a microscope, in verse six, James gives two necessary pre-conditions (things we either need to know or do before repentance can normally occur) The verse says, “But God gives more grace. That is why the Scripture says: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” If we don’t see these preconditions which James simply assumes, we will not understand the rest of what he says. Here they are and they are short. First, you cannot repent without grace. Before James says anything else he says, “But God gives more grace.” Repentance is not an act of the will alone; it is an act of God on the will which enables us to repent. Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:25, “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to knowledge of the truth,
Second, God’s grace in bringing repentance is conditioned upon humility. It may seem strange to speak of conditional grace, but its here and in many other places. “God gives grace to the humble.” In verse 10, he says basically the same thing, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” We’re going to talk about what that means in a bit, but we must see that God gives the grace needed for repentance to those who have humbled themselves. We must be willing to humble ourselves, that is—be completely honest and open with God and sometimes others about our sin. There must be an attitude change before there can be a behavioral change.
Now let’s look at the two major steps we must take to find repentance. The first step is: We must willfully resist Satan and his tempting power to sin. Right after making this broad call to repentance when he says, “Submit yourselves, then to God, James says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. He begins this process of repentance with a call to resist the Satan and his temptations to be selfish. Resisting Satan is simply saying “No” to him. It is saying, “I want to follow God’s will rather than my own selfish urges which you are exciting.” Chapter 1:14 says, “...each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” We have these evil desires within us that Satan seeks to exploit through temptation. Satan comes and lies to us about how wonderful it will be for us to satisfy these evil desires. We need to say NO to his lies and no to his temptations.
This tells us something crucial about getting free from the bondage of sin. That is, we have to WANT to be free worse than we want to sin. This seems like the most obvious truth in the world, but its amazing how many people fail to repent because of this issue right here. We must understand that it is possible for us to sin and feel genuine regret about it and still, in the midst of the regret want to commit the sin again more than we want to do the right thing. I may not want to sin very intensely, but if I want to (for instance) be selfish one smidgen more than I want to be selfless, I will be selfish every time. That’s the difference between remorse and repentance. You can feel remorse and be genuinely sad, but part of you still wants to commit that sin--be selfish again. When you genuinely repent, the part of you that wants to stop sinning is bigger than the part that wants to continue so that when Satan comes around, you can freely say to him, “NO--I don’t want to do that.” Pontius Pilate genuinely wanted to set Jesus free and that desire according to Luke was genuine. But Pilate sentenced Jesus to be murdered because although he wanted to set Jesus free, he wanted to avoid a riot and keep his standing with Caesar MORE than he wanted to set Jesus free. This is what it means to be “double minded.”
This is confusing to believers. They think, “I really WANT to be free from this.” But there is something about the sin that gives them pleasure or reward so, even though they want to stop it, there is a bigger part of them that, at the moment they sin, really wants to continue it. Part of humbling ourselves before God is to be blood honest with Him. “Lord, ultimately the reason I committed that sin was because I wanted to. I spit in your face, God because at that moment, that is exactly what I wanted to do.” The problem with saying that is that most of us have this built in spiritual, defense system in us that says, “I would never WANT to do that…I’m a good person.” That’s a lie we choose to believe because it protects us from the painful truth about ourselves and our desperately wicked hearts. That is, that we are rebels against God.
Some people believe this lie about their sin, I just couldn’t say no—It was impossible for me to resist the temptation—it was too strong for me.” If that’s true then God is cruel because He’s telling us to resist something that we cannot do and that is cruelty. We can resist. The issue is not whether we can, by God’s grace resist, the issue is whether we WANT to. And we can be so self deceived about that question. Unless we are willing to humble ourselves and admit that we sin because we WANT to sin, we will never be given the gift of repentance. God will not deliver someone from the power of sin if they aren’t dealing with the truth about it. In the life of the believer, Satan can tempt, but he has no authority to violate our wills. He cannot MAKE us do anything we do not want to do--he can simply lie to us and make something look better than it is and so entice us to sin. The first step toward repentance is to resist Satan and his tempting power to sin.
The second step toward repentance is: We must draw near to God. The first step deals with how we respond to our SIN, this second step tells us how we are to respond to the GOD we have sinned against. James says in verse 8, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” That’s a rather broad statement. How does a person come near to God in repentance? In the next few verses he tells us and he includes both actions--things we must DO and attitudes--how we must FEEL. He says, “Wash your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts, you double minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” The actions--things we do include in “washing your hands...and purifying your hearts.” The attitudes--what we are to feel include grieving, mourning and wailing and gloom. First let’s look at washing our hands and purifying our hearts.
James takes the phrase from Psalm 24. In verses 3-4 we read, “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” David says the one who can have intimate fellowship with God is the one with clean hands and a pure heart. James is saying if you want intimate fellowship with God after you have sinned, you have to clean your hands and purify your heart. The words “cleanse” and “purify” hearken back to the priests who had to make sure they were ceremonially clean before they ministered in the temple. It was something the priest did to himself--he was ACTIVE in the process. What this means is that we are to actively turn from our sin and turn to God in obedience. We are to do this inwardly with our heart and outwardly with our behaviors. First Peter 1:22 confirms this for us. “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth...love one another deeply.”
Genuine biblical repentance involves not only saying NO to the temptations, but saying YES to God. Let’s give an example of selfishness to illustrate how this works. Let’s say I look out the window and see that my neighbor has just bought a brand new car and it’s just the kind of car I have been wanting right down the color and option package. The problem is, I don’t need a new car and to buy a new car would be horrible stewardship of God’s money. How do I deal with the constant temptation to covet my neighbor’s new car? I will not only have to say NO to the temptation of Satan to buy a car I don’t need. I will ALSO have to actively pursue righteousness internally and externally. Internally, I will in my heart begin to thank God for the car He has given me--that’s inward--I will delight in what He HAS supplied. I will ask God to give me HIS attitude toward my car. Also, I will stop looking at the newspaper ads for a new car. That’s the outward part.
This is part of our fight against sin and this is essential for true repentance. If both of those things are not done, I will find myself frustrated by temptations to buy a new car even though I know it’s wrong. I will wonder why I keep coveting it if I know it’s not God’s will. The reason is because I haven’t biblically repented of covetousness. No repentance, no freedom from the sin.
That’s what we are to do, inwardly and outwardly in true repentance. Next James tells us what we are to feel if we are truly repentant and again, he pulls no punches. He says in verse nine, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” Notice, it’s important to say that BOTH the actions we have just discussed AND the attitudes we are going to discuss are necessary for biblical repentance in addition to resisting Satan. If you sin and get sad, but don’t inwardly and outwardly commit to obey, you have not repented. On the other hand, if you inwardly and outwardly commit to obey but you do not FEEL dreadful about your sin, you have not repented. That’s so important to know.
The words James uses to describe our feelings about our sin are powerful and graphic. “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change you laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” These are words used to describe what a person feels when a loved one dies. These are deep, wrenching feelings. Paul says these feelings are necessary for repentance in 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 he writes, “your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended. Godly sorrow brings repentance ... and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, [a desire to get and stay on track] what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, [you HATE that sin—it disgusts you] what alarm, what longing, what concern [your heart has been so softened to God]…” Paul says it is godly SORROW that produces all those things. That means by extension, if we DON’T feel badly, there will be no fruits of repentance. When we sin, James says it is God’s intention that we be sorrowful--that we “grieve, mourn and wail.” That is God’s intention for us. God wants me to be deeply grieved when I have sinned. It is the will of God that I feel miserable when I sin.
This sounds like foreign language to the church in
To many believers today, to “grieve, mourn and wail” over their sin would be a in some way to deny the grace of God. Not to James! Not to the prophet Joel. He says in 1:13, “Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar.” He says in 2:12-13, “Even now,” declares the Lord, “Return to me with all your heart--[how do we do that Joel, how do we repent?] with fasting and weeping and mourning.” What we should do for someone who is miserable over their sin is say, “I don’t want to interfere with what God may be doing in your life--I will pray that God uses your sorrow to help bring repentance.” That’s biblical!
Today, many of us process our sin like we do our banking--in the drive through lanes. We sin. And then in prayer, we pull up to God’s window, deposit our confession of sin, claim First John 1:9 and drive off on our merry way. Folks, when John says, “if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse of all unrighteousness” he assumes that confession includes biblical repentance. He’s not contradicting James. He is simply writing to an audience that already understood what repentance was. David says in his prayer of confession, “The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite heart. These, oh God you will not despise.” Some people claim to be Christians but have seldom if ever spent time before God weeping, wailing, and mourning over sin. This needs to be a regular part of our spiritual life because it’s necessary for repentance.
Some may ask, “How can I make myself sad if I’m not--am I supposed to manufacture tears from nothing.” The answer is, you can’t create emotions from nothing, but if you understand that this is necessary for repentance, you can take the time to allow God to work this into you. You say--how do you do that? Here are four biblical things you can do to put yourself in a place where God can give you the grace to mourn over your sin--where He will enable you to mourn. First, seek this brokenness as soon as possible after you sin. People sin and they say, “Sorry God” and they think, “I’ll talk more to you about this later.” Do it when the conviction of the Holy Spirit is fresh. The reason He convicts us to is to bring us to repentance. His conviction is not like a parking ticket-- “please attend to this within six days.” No, deal with it when the sting of His conviction is still fresh in your spirit.
Second, confess your sin as GOD perceives it, not as you perceive it. If you lust after a person sexually, don’t just say, “Forgive me for my lack of self control there God--that was wrong.” NO. That’s not how God sees it. Confess it by saying, “God, I just committed adultery with them in my heart and your word says adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God--God help me to gouge my eyes out--to do whatever it takes to not do that again--have mercy on me, oh God.” When you covet your neighbor’s car or farm implement or life situation don’t just tell God, “Forgive me for coveting—that’s wrong.” Allow the Bible to show you how God feels about it and you will say something like, “Lord, I confess that I have been coveting my neighbor’s car. Lord, when I do that, I am telling you that You have made a mistake in not giving me that car and that I know what I need more than you do. It also communicates that the treasure I have in you is not enough—I need some trinket from this world. God, that’s so foolish and so sinful. God, have mercy on me for being so ungrateful.” That’s not being melodramatic--it’s simply seeing the sin the way God sees it. When you quote what His word says about a sin it unleashes the power of His word to act on your soul. If you confess sin as HE sees it, it’s amazing how fast tears of repentance will come.
Third, make sure you are sorry about the sin for the RIGHT reason. This is the missing link for many people. I don’t know how many tears I have shed about sins I have committed and expressed real sorrow all to absolutely no avail. The reason was because the REASON for my sorrow over that sin was all wrong. So often, the reason we are sorry for our sins and even beg God to deliver us from them is NOT because they are so grievous to God and we are sorry that we have offended Him. Much of the time we are so worked up about our sin because we have failed. We have battled again and again with this sin and it keeps putting us on our back and we are sick of failing. Failing makes us feel bad about our selves and we don’t like it one bit. So we pray, “God, help me not to fail any more.” And God won’t lift a finger to give us the gift of repentance because HE WANTS us to know we are failures. It’s as we admit that we are failures that He can begin to deal with us. This is why so often it takes so long to get free from sin. We have to get to the point where we come to God and say, “Lord, I’m a failure and my failure is such a grievous thing to YOU—God, for YOUR namesake, set me free.” That’s a GOD-centered prayer and God will honor that. But he won’t set us free from sin to increase our self esteem. He will not liberate us when our motives are so self centered
The fourth thing we can do to facilitate repentance is: consider humbling yourself BODILY before God in prayer. Our souls and bodies are connected and what we do with one affects the other. A biblically appropriate physical response to sin is to prostrate yourself before God. Get on your face before Him. We are called in verse 10 to “humble ourselves.” As you humble yourself physically, it will effect how you feel about your sin. Prostrating ourselves before God will help us recognize in a powerful way who God is and who we are. We NEED that if we are to repent of our sin.
Fifth, WAIT on the Lord. Ask God to produce sorrow in you and wait for it. Again, it’s not the drive-in banking model of repentance; it’s the biblical model of repentance. We live in an instant society and we naturally expect God to deliver us from sin instantly, but often he wants us to wait on Him. It helps us to see just how badly we want to be free. At their meetings, the Puritans used to have a “sinner’s bench” where people who knew they were not right with God could sit after the sermon, waiting on God to bring them to brokenness. That is much more biblical than what most churches do today to encourage waiting on God which is…nothing.
Are there sins in your life that you have struggled with for years with no victory? The answer may very well be that you have never repented, biblically. Oh, you may have shed thousands of tears about it, but you aren’t free. I believe God wants you to be free--Jesus hung on a cross to make you free. If you are here this afternoon and you want to be free from the enslaving power of sin, you repent. Understand, it’s a gift of God—you can’t work it up, it’s the SPIRIT’S work in you. Humble yourself—cry out to God in complete honesty before Him. Confess it as HE SEES IT. If you are not visibly grieved by your sin, ask God to bring brokenness to you. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Make sure you are repenting for the right reason. Are you grieving because this sin hurts God, or because it hurts your self-esteem? Don’t try to protect yourself from being a failure. You ARE a failure—we are all so much worse than we think we are, but Jesus is far more loving than we think he is and he can make you more than a conqueror for His glory, not yours. Finally, spend some time waiting on God and see Him move in your life. May God give us grace to live lives marked by Biblical repentance.
Page last modified on 2/17/2008
(c) 2006 - All material is property of Duncan Ross and/or Mount of Olives Baptist Church, all commercial rights are reserved. Please feel free to use any of this material in your ministry.