Repentance In The War Against Worldliness

So much has changed because of the pandemic. We no longer linger in some places where we used to feel relaxed, comfortable, and safe. We have visited restaurants, stores, hair salons, and gyms, knowing that there is some risk involved. But, it has taken a year-long, continuing epidemic to change our viewpoints and habits. This is not surprising given our very human propensity to stick to the same routines and hold onto perspectives on ourselves and others. It usually takes something intensely dramatic, such as an illness, injury, or major life event, for us to see things differently. The most radical change we will ever experience is conversion from unbelief in Jesus Christ to Christianity. We used to look at the world with confusion, cynicism, or Pollyanna-like ideals, but now we see it for what it is…a strange, dangerous, godless place of temptations and seductions. Christians have this perspective on the world at large; the Bible consistently calls us to oppose Satan, the ruler of this world, and his schemes. We were once comfortable and content in the world with its pressures to conform to foolish fads, sinful lusts, and all kinds of distractions from reality. But now we are different. Christ has called us to live as pilgrims in this dark world, to witness for him. Viewing the world as alien and repenting of our conformity to it honors Jesus. 

From Similar to Peculiar

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:9-11) Three characteristics of our former life are mentioned: living in darkness, not God’s people, and without mercy. But then we were regenerated, defined by Berkhof as: “that act of God by which the principle of the new life is implanted in man, and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy…a radical change of the governing disposition of the soul, which, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, gives birth to a life that moves in a Godward direction.” (1) The change in our identity is as the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession results from being brought into God’s marvelous light, having received mercy. Now we identify ourselves as sojourners and exiles of the world, not permanent residents. The KJV Bible translation refers to believers as “a peculiar people.” We should appear strange, odd, weird, abnormal, and maybe even obsessed with Christ to the world. Instead of blending into darkness and godlessness, we stand out as being different. Since God has called us to live as pilgrims in this dark world, to witness for Christ, we must confess when we get pulled into the world’s values and priorities to turn toward God instead through repentance. 

How Does Repentance Look?

“We all recognize that the first act of repentance is only the beginning. We recognize that sins must be mortified. We recognize that there is the problem of indwelling sin in the life of the believer. But I suspect that we don’t often attach repentance to these things. In part, this may be because we do not have a sense of what repentance looks like when God is working repentance in us.Perhaps an illustration will help. Imagine repentance as a man walking in one direction who suddenly realizes that he is walking in the opposite direction from which he should be walking. He stops. He turns around. Then he begins walking in the new direction. It is a quick and simple process. He realizes. He stops. He turns…The process is the same for a man in a speed boat. He has to slow down, enter the turn, and come back. But the time and distance required to do so is much longer than what was required for the man walking]. Now imagine that the man is piloting a supertanker. It takes him miles to slow the ship down enough to even begin to make the turn. The turn itself is immense, taking him quite a distance from his intended course. Then again it also takes a large amount of time to get up to full speed in the new direction.Now apply the images to repentance. Some sins are small and easy. We stop and walk the other way…But some sins are enormous. We may not be aware that they really are sins. Or they may be so deeply ingrained in us that we are not willing, at first, to recognize them as sins. God works patiently with us, carefully slowing us down, as the captain does with the ship, so that He can bring us through the turn and into the new direction, where He can bring us up to full speed…God does not work repentance in us instantaneously, but over time. So the awareness of sin and the desire to change come gradually. God brings us, as it were, to a full stop slowly and carefully…The slips and falls have gotten fewer. But there seems to be little progress. We seem to be dead in the water. At that point, we are in the turn. Speed will pick up. Godliness will grow. But it will do so slowly, as God patiently works with us. So if you have prayed for repentance for some particular sin, and there has been no instantaneous change, keep praying. God has promised to work, and He will. And you will be glad in the end that He did it slowly and carefully.” (2) 

Fundamentally Different in Holiness

“If you are a Christian, you are being prepared in the beauty of holiness so that the purifying of your character is a primary task of this life. But you are already betrothed to Christ, your eternal destiny in his love having been made certain by his sacrifice for you. You are fundamentally different from everyone who is not a Christian, and your lifestyle is to reflect this difference in holy obedience.” (3) “God’s elect are a peculiar people, to whom he bears a peculiar love; God, who has chosen them into a spiritual kindred and relation, made them kings and priests, sanctified them by his Spirit, and redeemed them by his Son, as a peculiar people.” (4) Various translations of 1 Peter 2:11 names us sojourners, exiles, strangers, aliens, outcasts, and pilgrims—all convey the idea that we don’t fit into the culture. We’re not meant to conform, adjust, or reflect the values of the world. Like the Israelite exiles, we build homes, support the community, and do our work—being in the world but not of it (Jeremiah 29:28; Luke 9:24; John 8:23). 

Rejecting Ungodly Passions 

“We are citizens of heaven, and therefore we ought to live not according to the laws of this world, which is most corrupt, but of the heavenly city…The children of God live not according to the flesh, that is, according to that corrupt nature, but according to the Spirit.” (5) “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (v. 11) “As we grow in spiritual maturity, we see the depths of our sin and the deceitfulness of our hearts ever more distinctly. Yet we may have confidence that we will make progress in godliness because God has promised his Holy Spirit to be at work in our hearts, generating his fruits of righteousness and holiness. The work may not progress as fast as we would wish, but its progress is assured because God has promised it. We are not simply to sit back, to ‘let go and let God’; we are to strive with every fiber of our being toward the holiness for which God has designed us…God will work his righteousness in us on the day we stand before him. In the meantime, he will also use our awareness of our own sin to drive us again and again to the cross in thanksgiving for his long-suffering and grace with such unprofitable servants as ourselves. (6) “We are not permitted to look into God’s Book of Life before the final judgment, but we can identify the distinguishing character of those whose names are there. J. C. Ryle points out that, first, ‘they are all true penitents.’ Those destined for the new Jerusalem have felt the condemnation of their sins, have grieved before God for their guilt, and have hated the presence of sin in their lives.” (7)

The pandemic has turned our comforts into dangers. Through Christ, the Spirit of God also turns our view of the world from comfortable to dangerous. We must war against our conformity to it through repentance as pilgrims “in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).

Related Scripture: Job 1:6-13; 2:2-7; Matthew 4:10; 16:23; Mark 1:13; 4:15; Luke 22:3, 31; Acts 5:3; 26:18; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Timothy 5:15; Revelation 2:13, 24; 3:9.

Notes:

  1. Berkoff, L., Systematic Theology, “Regeneration and Effectual Calling,” pp. 468-9., Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1993. 
  2. Shaw, Benjamin, “An Illustration of Repentance,” Ligonier, January 20, 2021,  https://www.ligonier.org/blog/illustration-repentance/
  3. Phillips, Richard D., Revelation—Reformed Expository Commentary, Revelation 21:9-14, P & R Publishing, 2017.
  4. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Peter 2:9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1peter-2.html
  5. Geneva Study Bible, 1560 Edition, 1 Peter 2:5-14.
  6. Duguid, Iain M., “Esther and Ruth – Reformed Expository Commentary,” P & R Publishing, 2005
  7. Phillips, Ibid, Revelation 21:22-27.

March 25, 2021

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