Repentance and the Conscience (4)
I thought about my ways,
And turned my feet to Your testimonies.
I made haste, and did not delay
To keep Your commandments. Psalm 119.59, 60
The need for repentance arises as the Holy Spirit works in the soul to convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16.8-11). He convicts us of sin by signaling that something is amiss, something in our life is not in line with the Law and Word of God. We become aware, by one means or another, that sin has dropped anchor in our soul and is preparing to go ashore. The Spirit does not want that to happen, so He will signal us in a way that alerts us to the need to take action.
At the same time, He convicts us of righteousness. Drawing from the Word of God, He will show us what ought to be in place in our lives rather than this sinful thought, affection, or act. He points us to that which is more in line with the character of Christ, so we not only send sin packing out to sea, but fill the berth in our soul with sin’s righteous opposite. Or, as the old monastics used to day, “Contraries are by contraries cured.”
Finally, and simultaneous to the above, the Spirit will convict us of judgment, reminding us, as the Word of God makes plain, that God takes us seriously, and that He wants us to walk the path of righteousness, learning Jesus and leaving sin in all its forms behind. So strongly does He desire this, that He is willing to bring unpleasant discipline into our lives to help restore us to a proper path (Heb. 12.3-11). If we’re mindful of this, we may be more inclined to seek the way of escape through temptation or to repent from whatever sin the Spirit has revealed to be harboring in us.
So when the Spirit convicts us of sin, of the need for repentance, we must know how to respond, where to turn, and what to do next.
Repentance, we recall, is an act of grace, in which the Spirit of God brings us to recognize, acknowledge, hate, grieve for, and turn away from our sins, and to walk the path of righteousness with Jesus more consistently.
Repentance can be painful. It may require us to seek forgiveness for some transgression. It should signal us to review how we got into this situation, so that we can avoid it in the future (Prov. 1.17). Repentance should involve a measure of sorrow for our sins, of grief and sadness for having rebelled against our Father, and of an urgency to get things back into proper order as soon as possible.
But it is precisely by these means that God moves us to seek resolution to this situation. When we are convicted of sin, we want relief, we want out from under the feeling of guilt or shame, we want to be back into the favor of the Lord and our neighbor as soon as we can. It would be a good idea, since evidently conviction is something God intends to visit upon us from time to time, that, when it comes, we know right away where to turn for relief. And since the Spirit convicts us at all levels from the Word of God, it stands to reason that the next steps for our repentance are going to come from that Word as well.
Where to turn
The psalmist knew where to turn: to the testimonies and commandments of God. Whenever he found that he had strayed into an unrighteous path, the solution was simple: find the good path again.
But what if you’re not familiar with the Law of God? Or if you barely know your way around the Scriptures? Then you’re either going to lurch around in panic until you somehow stumble back to the right path, or you’ll become hardened to the presence of sin, so that, over time, it won’t bother you quite as much.
We need to know the Word of God according to the mind of the Spirit, so that when He begins to convict us, we can follow Him into the balm of Scripture and find the redress and guidance we need.
Repentance issues in the good works that are appropriate to it, as both John the Baptist and the apostle Paul explained (Matt. 3.8; Acts 26.20). Those good works, the “fruit worthy of repentance” – as John referred to it – are all spelled out for us in the Word of God (2 Tim. 3.15-17). We have an easy-to-understand, readily-available Handbook for righteousness to guide us back into the ways of the Lord. But it will be of little use to us unless we know and can follow its teaching.
So before guilt, shame, and finger-pointing begin accusing you in your soul, and before your conscience becomes uneasy about the uneasy way sin has settled into your life, why not redouble your efforts to read, understand, and follow the directions for living in His Kingdom that God has provided? The more we read, study, and meditate on the Word of God – including the Law of God as part of our regimen of study – the readier we will be the next time conviction sets off the alarm in our soul.
The Spirit of God is writing the Law of God on the hearts of His people (Ezek. 36.26, 27). The conscience “reads” that Law both to affirm that we are walking the path of righteousness and to alert us when we stray from it (Rom. 2.14, 15). The deeper our roots go down into the Word of God, and the more we delight and take joy in reading, meditating, and studying Scripture, the better able we will be to keep sin from building a nest in our hair and weakening our soul.
1. How would you expect to know when the Spirit was convicting you of the need for repentance?
2. Suggest some ways to incorporate regular reading and meditation on God’s Law as part of your spiritual life (cf. Ps. 119.9-11; Rom. 7.7, 12).
3. How can Christians help one another to be more consistent in reading and studying the Word of God?
Next steps – Preparation: What will you do to bring more reading and meditation on God’s Law into your spiritual life?
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.