Repentance and the Conscience (3)
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin…” John 16.8
Our work, and God’s
As we have seen, repentance is a work of grace. It begins in our conscience, with the conviction that something isn’t right, that our life is not in line with God’s will, and that we need to take steps to amend our ways. We must repent of our sins to enter the salvation of the Lord, and we must repent to work out that salvation unto greater levels of fruitfulness.
But we are not sufficient in and of ourselves to accomplish this work.
Repentance is at all times a work of grace. It begins with God, is accomplished by God, and bears the fruit God intends. Repenting from sin is something we must do, but the grace repentance requires is a work of God, more specifically, of the Holy Spirit. We are commanded to repent, and to practice repentance from our sins every day of our lives. But we cannot do this apart from the work of God’s Spirit. Unless God brings us to conviction, guides us into His path, and empowers us for change, we will not repent.
Thus, we must be willing to repent, must seek the grace of God for repentance, and must learn to follow the Spirit’s leading as He guides and empowers us for repentance. How does this work?
The work of the Spirit
First, as we have said so many times in this series on the nature and nurture of the soul, we must present ourselves in the school of the Spirit, where He teaches us the Law of God (Ezek. 36.26, 27). Unless the Spirit opens our heart and mind to the truth of God’s Law, we’ll never appreciate or embrace the standards of holiness and justice God has declared for us. And without the Law in our heart and mind, the conscience will flounder in seeking a standard to right our souls before the Lord. The more we turn to the Law of God, meditating on it day by day (Ps. 1), the more we will know the Spirit using the Law to reveal some previously unacknowledged sin in our lives. For the Spirit to do His work of teaching us the Law of God, we must position ourselves before it regularly, making reading and meditating in the Law of God – and all His Word – an important part of our spiritual disciplines (Ps. 119.9-11).
Second, the Spirit, having shown us the Law of God, convicts us of any situations, sentiments, thoughts, or practices in our lives that are contrary to the holiness of the Law of God. We will know that we have been convicted of something when, like a defendant hearing the judge read the jury’s verdict, we are suddenly hot with shame, embarrassment, fear, and dread. We’ve been discovered. The facts of our rebellion are known, if only to God, and we are found wanting before Him. The feeling of conviction is unpleasant and unmistakable, and the Spirit of God has been given precisely to bring us to this point.
Immediately, however, the Spirit takes up another work in us. He begins to make us willing to do what God wants, to live as He desires, to make ourselves pleasing to Him Who loved us so much that He gave His Son for our redemption (Phil. 2.13). We cannot will ourselves to desire God’s way; only the Spirit can do that in us, and He will only do it when, having convicted us of our sins, He sees that, in the depths of our souls, we are grieving and ready to follow a different path, ready to be filled with Him and to know His transforming power at work in our soul.
Next, the Spirit of God enables us to declare our repentance to God. This involves, first, confessing our sin – agreeing, as it were, with the Spirit concerning what He has made known to us about our transgressions of God’s Law. With confession, then must come a declaration of repentance: “I repent of this sin, and I desire to follow a different path.” Confession and repentance are acts of obedient faith, wrought within us by the Spirit of God. As often as sin is discovered within us, confession and repentance are in order.
Finally, the Spirit points us in the way of righteousness, and reminds us of God’s power to discipline His children (Jn. 16.8-11). The Spirit directs our steps to the path of obedience, so that, turning from our sin, we return to the way of the Lord. And He reminds us that God our Father loves us so much, that He stands ready to bring us under discipline until we truly repent. Thus, we must not delay to turn back to the path of righteousness with haste.
Repentance unto life!
Without repentance, there is no saving faith; in a believer, where there is no repentance, there will be no growth in the good works that characterize true repentance. And without that growth – in holiness and good works – we may not expect to see the Lord, to know the righteousness, peace, and joy of His Kingdom, or to be a blessing to others as God intends.
Repentance is a work of grace, a work of God’s Spirit. We must make sure we understand repentance, accept and submit to the conditions in which repentance can occur, and seek the Spirit of God to fill us and to work within us that conviction, grief, hatred of sin, willingness to obey, and resolve to return that leadσ us through repentance into the fuller enjoyment of our walk with Jesus Christ.
Repentance is the starting-point and touchstone for faith – for faith that issues in salvation, and for faith that grows in salvation day by day. Seek the Spirit, and plead with Him to bring the grace of repentance more consistently and more powerfully into your life.
1. What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit (cf. Eph. 5.18-21)? How may we realize this filling?
2. What affections – feelings and attitudes – do you associate with conviction of sin? When you feel these, is it a sign you need to seek the filling of the Spirit (cf. Ps. 139.23, 24)?
3. Instead of the way of sin, what characteristics or attributes line the path the Spirit wants us to follow?
Next steps – Transformation: Meditate on Ephesians 3.20. In what ways should you expect the Spirit to do “exceedingly abundantly more” in your walk with the Lord?
T. M. Moore
All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.