… Repentance is some other thing than what vain men conceive. True repentance is a thorough change both of the mind and life. Repentance for sin is nothing worth without repentance from sin.
We stated in our earlier post about this device that Brooks notes three characteristics of true repentance.
- It includes the act of changing and converting from one thing to another, from darkness to light.
- It envelops the whole person as the subject of its action – first the transformed heart, and then the ensuing changed life.
- These inward and outward changes are on God’s terms; repentance is “unto God,” for Him and by Him and through Him.
I want to elaborate on the seven marks of true biblical repentance Brooks names that result from this changed heart and prove our changed lives.
As we examine the fruits of the transformation God works in us, we should find encouragement as we see these results in our lives. We should also ask God to produce them in us if we do not, and then walk in obedience toward those ends.
1. Fall out of love with your favorite sin
“God, I give you all of my life. I hand over everything to you. Except …”
Compartmentalization is not uncommon for a new convert. Despite the gospels’ admonishment to “count the cost” as we bring ourselves to the cross of Christ, it’s all too easy to cling to sins too dear to part with.
Please don’t take this to mean you must repent perfectly to be saved. If that were true, we would all be lost, for we sin a little even in our repentance. Turning from sin is a daily action. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our transgressions” as surely as he taught us to ask God for daily bread.
We benefit in regular repentance as we gradually mature in Christ. As we grow, as we hide God’s Word in our hearts, we come to see more of our lives that require change. Our grip on “darling” sins loosens. Those things we used to think we needed become worthless in light of God’s grace.
A change of taste
I started drinking coffee in 1999 after our second son was born. Sleeplessness was a chronic problem. Coffee had always smelled good to me, but I had never been interested in trying it. Then a coworker saw me nodding off at my desk one day and offered to buy me a latte.
That was the beginning of a love affair with one of God’s greatest common graces. As a novice, I tried different brands until settling on a favorite. Over the years I moved on to new flavors, exploring regional coffees, single-origin beans, and even unique one-farm specialty coffees.
Years later I tried that old brand I had enjoyed as a novice. It was terrible. I could barely stomach it. Motel coffee was the closest comparison.
What happened? I outgrew my former tastes. My palate matured. I discovered something far greater. I no longer desired what was inferior.
As God sanctifies you in Christ, this is what should and will happen to your desires for your favorite sins.
Stories of others’ radical salvation experiences may discourage you. Don’t let them. You are on your own walk of maturity toward becoming a complete man or woman of God.
2. Repent positively
True repentance moves beyond a ceasing of doing what is wrong, toward doing what is right. It replaces giving into sins with being given over to goodness. It is pursuing right actions with the same zeal with which we once pursued our lusts.
“At least I’m not an axe murderer.” This cliché becomes more absurd when we consider that murder by any other instrument isn’t any less sinful. But it highlights our tendency to compare our sins to those of others. Even in prisons there is a hierarchy of the condemned according to their crimes.
But again we must return to the order of repentance – the changed heart, then the changed life. It is not enough to simply do good. As Jesus taught in His sermon on the mount, don’t the pagans and tax collectors love those who love them?
The good works of the unrepentant are bad fruit because the trees that bear them are corrupt. Only the miracle of God’s mercy can transform a bad tree into a good one. And then good trees produce good, acceptable fruit.
Good fruit from a good tree is the good gift we bring in God’s name to bless our neighbors and demonstrate His ultimate goodness.
3. See sin’s true nature
You can read about cancer, or watch a video explaining what it does to a person. Or, you can have cancer and feel the pain yourself, experience radiation burns, emaciate from chemotherapy, lose your hair, but perhaps survive.
Look at every evil in the world. Cry over every injustice. Shake your head at the senselessness of violence. Sigh in resignation because of poverty, race riots, and terrorism. It is all sin, every bit of it. Sin is the underlying power that leads to it all.
And it all starts in your heart and mine. Sin is not an outside force, an “other” or a “they.” Sin is a desire, a lust, a hatred. It is a feeling that leads to a thought that creates a motive that moves us to act. And with each sinful act you and I move closer to death, and so does the world we live in.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:13-15, ESV).
What happens when we agree with scripture about sin? We …
- Grow in true repentance
- Worry less about circumstances outside us
- Understand more deeply that our greatest enemy is our own sinful hearts
- Rely less on our own strength to overcome sin and look more to Christ as our remedy
4. Feel sin’s effects
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter (2 Corinthians 7:10-11, ESV).
Godly sorrow is not unmotivated emotion. It is not just feeling sorry, but feelings of deep remorse that lead to repentance.
As you better understand the true nature of sin, godly sorrow is a normal consequence.
Ultimately, contrition is the knowledge that we have offended a holy God with our sins, and that we must deal with them with the seriousness and gravity they deserve.
5. Know your true self
Self loathing is not a desirable trait or pursuit today. At the same time, where have decades of self-aggrandization and idolization gotten us?
Entertainers build empires on the message: believe in yourself. Educators tell us we can be anything we want to be. Advertisers convince us we always deserve the best. And the most successful parents are the ones who instill in their children adequate doses of positive self-image and worth.
This is a difficult societal narrative to speak against or even question. But there are social psychologists such as Jennifer Crocker who have written about the personal and cultural costs of striving toward high self-esteem.
Don’t confuse “loathing yourself” for your sin, as Thomas Brooks puts it, with self-neglect, self-abuse, or self-destruction. Those are unhealthy attitudes and behaviors. They violate the fact that God did create us in his image, and that we should thus care for ourselves. The apostle Paul even assumes self-care is a normal human trait.
To the contrary, self loathing over sin is showing self-love by protecting ourselves from sin’s further destruction. It is a reasonable distrust of ourselves because of our history of succumbing to sin. It is a sober and calculated posture of defense against illogical self-love to the exclusion of all else.
6. Embrace shame
New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote of America’s apparent shift from a guilt culture to a shame culture. Guilt is what we feel on the inside because of sin. Shame is what our culture heaps upon us for sin.
In a society that has relativized morality to the degree ours has, guilt is a remnant of outmoded moral objectivity. Shame is a much more effective tool to pressure conformity to new norms. So we tend to see shame as negative, belittling, and degrading.
But it doesn’t have to be. Shame can be a healthy emotion as long as we remember there is a loving, forgiving God on the other side of it.
Shame is an appropriate emotion to feel when we understand the gravity of our sinfulness. However, remaining in shame is not healthy. The lasting emotion we should experience in light of our sin is peacefulness. This is because Jesus has covered our shamefulness with His righteousness, bringing us peace with God.
7. Deny self
Brooks uses the phrase “holy revenge” to describe the Christian’s posture against his former, sin-ruled self. There is likely no better way to describe it. Repentance must include self-denial of the most belligerent form.
We do not wage war against flesh and blood, as Paul wrote to the Ephesian churches. Our enemies are not carnal. They are spiritual. It is not enough to turn away from sin. We must turn against it. Our lives in Christ must be marked by an active daily campaign against the habits, tendencies, and indulgences that accompanied our pursuit of sin.
These battles will not end until we die physically or Christ returns. But we wage war from a position of victory because Jesus has already, ultimately, defeated death and sin on our behalf.
We hope this elaboration on Thomas Brooks’ seven points will help you as you strive to be more Christlike each day and less influenced by the sin that marked your past. While perfect holiness is not attainable in this life, we believe this daily struggle is worth the effort and sacrifice. You will gain small victories each day as you continually repent, look to Christ, and increasingly reflect his character and nature.