Six Marks of True Repentance


For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 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.
— 2 Corinthians 7:8–9 —

Repentance is a eminently biblical word and a necessary (if graciously-given) prerequisite for salvation (see Acts 5:31; 11:18). But often when some sheds tears over sin, it is difficult to know if this repentance in its biblical form, or a counterfeit sorrow for the bitterness of sin. Indeed, as Paul indicates in 2 Corinthians 7:8–9, there is a sorrow that leads to godliness, but as Pharaoh (Exodus 9:27; 10:16) and other false professors reveal, there is a sorrow for sin devoid of any spiritual grace.

For that matter, wise counselors, pastors, parents, and Christian encourager need to know the signs of genuine repentance. In short, because repentance means turning from sin; genuine repentance is seen in the abiding desire and effort to continually flee from sin by the power of the Spirit. As John the Baptist puts it, true believers “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

In this way, a simple principle for repentance is that time not tears is the mark of genuine repentance. But beyond time, what marks genuine, God-given repentance?

In answer to that question, Thomas Watson in his classic little book, The Doctrine of Repentance, suggests six things that accompany true repentance. In these six marks, which I summarize and expand below, Watson helps us see how sorrow for sin leads to abiding repentance. Continue reading

John Flavel on Decision-Making

Decision-making is an incumbent challenge for all Christians.  And too many make too much of the process–putting out a fleece, praying for a sign, and asking God for a personal revelation.  Unbiblical superstition is the result of this (pagan) activity, and a result Christian’s depend less on God’s Word and take less responsibility for their own decisions.  Hyper-spirituality and experiential Christianity devoid of biblical moorings is rampant today.
Yet, the way God leads his people continues to be the same as it always has been.  He leads through instruction, teaching, and the testimonies of his law and covenant (Psa 25).  Thus, as we pray for God to “lead, guide, and direct us,” we should open our eyes and peruse the words of Scripture in their biblical context.  For God has given us his Scriptures to be our guide.
In this vein, John Flavel, a Puritan, supplies five considerations for seeking God’s guidance.  They are very simple and Scripture-based and worth your consideration.
  1. Get the true fear of God upon your hearts; be really afraid of offending Him.
  2. Study the Word more, and the concerns and interests of the world less.
  3. Reduce what you know into practice, and you shall know what is your duty to practice.
  4. Pray for illumination and direction in the way that you should go.
  5. And this being done, follow Providence as far as it agrees with the Word, and no farther.[1]
Two resources for biblical decision-making are the short and pithy Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung–a book that I am still waiting to get back from someone who cannot decide what to do with it :-)
The other book is Gary Friesen’s weightier tome, Decision-Making and the Will of God.
If fear, procrastination, or uncertainty commonly mark your decisions, you should just go get one of these books and read it.  It will free you from much unnecessary mental anguish.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss

[1]John Flavel quoted in I.D.E. Thomas, A Golden Puritan Treasury, 132.

Sex tells…the Gospel !?

Everyone knows that sex sells, but not everyone is equally well informed that sex also tells.   Indeed, for covenant-keeping married couples, sex tells the story of the Triune God who, though different from us, desires to be united with us.   Amazingly, God has ordained that within the matrix of marriage, covenant partners are privy to the delicacies of God’s unconditional, everlasting, and all-consuming love.  By divine design, marital love is analogous to God’s love for his people, so that all those who participate in this blessed union of souls (i.e. monogamous, heterosexual marriage) find a flesh and blood illustation of  God’s lovingkindness and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The result is that within marriage, sex uniquely discloses an epic of God’s sacrificial love and covenantal faithfulness.  For instance, as a man honors his wife by delighting in her frailities and imperfections, he expresses the love of Christ; just as when a respectful wife gladly receives the off-balanced advances of her repentant husband, she reflects the obedient enthusiam of the Spirit-filled church.   In this is the mystery of Christ and the church, because after all, the passionate death of God’s son was enacted for the express purpose of purchasing of his beloved bride (John 3:16; Ephesians 5:33).   Consequently, Christian marriages that endeavor to show the love of God to one another in sexual intimacy, beam forth with radiance and bear witness to the cosmic reality of Christ and his church.   Though this is probably not the first thing young couples think about on their honeymoon, perhaps it should be.

Mark Dever makes this bold connection between human sexuality and divine glory in his essay on the Puritan’s view on sex.  Rather than subscribing to a dour, disenchanted view of sexuality and marriage, the biblically-saturated Puritans, delighted in sexuality for the purpose of glorifying God’s goodness and extolling his Good News.  We can learn much from the example of these heavenly-minded saints.  Dever writes:

We need to re-couple sex and the glory of God as part of our evangelism.  When we use another person for money or for a one-night stand, when we use pornography, we de-couple sex from its intended purpose.  Whenever we use other people to achieve our own gratification and ends, we idolize ourselves and out appetites.  However, God set up good sex as part of evangelism.  That does not mean we practice evangelistic dating, let alone evangelistic mating.  It means that the sexual intimacy of marriage helps our spouse to love God, it helps us understand how Christ loves the church, and it builds a marriage that is distinct from unfaithful and non-Christian marriages. 

[Richard] Baxter writes, “When Husband and Wife take pleasure in each other, it uniteth them in duty, it helpeth them with ease to do the work, and bear their burdens; and is not the least part of the comfort of the married state” (The Christian Directory, 522).  In short, sex within marriage helps display the Christian gospel by teaching us how to love and how we are loved by One who is different than Ourselves–by God himself  (Mark Dever, “Christian Hedonists or Religious Prudes?  The Puritans on Sex” in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ [Crossway: 2005], 264).

Sex as part of evangelism.”  When was the last time you heard that as a church growth strategy?  Certainly, all things that God created good have the potential to elicit praise and to point people to Christ.  Sex should no different.   Upheld in its dignified and holy place, sex ought to be a means by which Christ and his church are made known.   This is certainly true within marriage, and as Christians hold out a model of pure and lovely sexuality in a world that trashes the beauty of this creation, they offer to those who have ears to hear a message that points people to Christ.

It seems then that we can learn much from pure, holy, and protected sex within marriage.  Amazingly, we can even learn about the gospel!  And unlike the vulgar knowledge of sex gained in a high school locker room or the backseat of a car, this knowledge opens the eyes of our heart to see the lovingkindness of the creator of this marvelous gift.  Moreover, it demonstrates his love to us and charges us to make his grace and glory known by keeping our covenant commitments of marriage and to keep his precious gift of sexuality pure.  In this way the gospel is advanced and the love of the kingdom is made manifest.  May we learn from our Puritan heritage, and learn to delight in our spouses for the sake of our marriages and for the sake of the gospel.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Why Blog?

For today, let me pose a question that may take a few days to work out.  The question is: Why blog? 

Surely there are many reasons and motivations to avoid and guard against.  Snares like diffusing gossip, espousing puffed-up views of our own invention, promoting ones self  and their ministry for personal gain, unrighteous proclivities towards argumentation and disagreement, or simple intimidation to speak truth in person are a sampling of some negative reasons people (Christians) blog.  However, with such a broadband capability for delivering truth and testimony for Christ, such a medium also has limitless potetntial for doing good and proclaiming the gospel.  Edifying dialogue and inquiry, gospel conversation and explanation, Christocentric testimony, and Bible-saturated reflections on everyday life are all positive aspects.  To these we must hold fast. 

Today, in answering the question, “Why blog?” let me recommend the words of J. A. James, an eighteenth century puritan-esque preacher, and suggest that one good reason for blogging is the ever-needed communication of the gospel and the aim of converting sinners (albeit, only by the work of the Spirit).  His words chasten us and sharpen our focus on Jesus’ Great Commission.  Simultaneously, his words present a caution of thinking to highly of our blogs or of our clever turns of phrase.  May his words, uttered long before computers, Internet, and blogs, be constantly kept in mind as we hit the submit or publish button.

The thought of having done any thing to save souls from death gives [me] far more delight than he could have derived from having made the largest acquirements in learning and science, or from having gained a reputation for genius and taste. There is a time coming to every man when the knowledge of having been the instrument of plucking a single brand from the eternal burning, will yield him more real satisfaction than the certainty of having accomplished the loftiest objects of literary ambition(John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1993; Reprint: 1847], xvii).