Repenting Year In and Year Out

Did you have Christmas visitors who brought their dogs with them last weekend? I hear about family gatherings where there are up to seven dogs in the house when everyone is together. It can get pretty crazy and I hear people say they wish their relatives would train their dogs. Living in a one-bedroom apartment in a retirement community means that I don’t have many visitors at home. I do realize my dog’s inability to obey and the need to keep training him, but I am reluctant because it’s the last thing I feel like doing when I am alone at home. It’s easier to forget it, until I need him to obey me. Likewise, it’s natural for us also to get comfortable with our responses to God’s Word at an average level of obedience. Instead we ought to be aware of our need to continually examine our obedience to God, recognizing areas where we have become comfortable with resistance, rebelliousness, or partial obedience. Only by meditating on Jesus’s perfect righteousness and love can we see where we fall short, and yes, we are always falling short. But God, in his love and mercy, through his Spirit, provides forgiveness and works in us to change for the better. If we don’t admit our shortcomings and embrace his sanctification, we will live our entire lives unable to obey as fully as we should. James, cautions us to remember the teaching we have received and put it to use. He writes, ”…receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (1:21-25) We are blessed when we put God’s Word to work, including regular confession and the resulting repentance. This passage couldn’t be more appropriate to end our year of study on repentance since biblical “blessedness” is the topic for my 2022 devotions.

Doing After Hearing—Repenting After Confession

“If we heard a sermon every day of the week, and an angel from heaven were the preacher, yet, if we rested in hearing only, it would never bring us to heaven. Mere hearers are self-deceivers; and self-deceit will be found the worst deceit at last…Let the word of truth be carefully attended to, and it will set before us the corruption of our nature, the disorders of our hearts and lives; and it will tell us plainly what we are. Our sins are the spots the law discovers: Christ’s blood is the laver the gospel shows. But in vain do we hear God’s word, and look into the gospel glass, if we go away, and forget our spots, instead of washing them off; and forget our remedy, instead of applying to it.” (1) Confession is good, but repentance is better. It is a relief to have God forgiveness after a confession. But looking back and seeing that other sins are no longer present is even better. However, before we can expect to repent, with God’s help, by the Spirit’s power in us, we need to “…receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (1:21) “Hearing the word without action is self-deceptive, while hearing that results in doing the word is a blessing. Being doers of the word, and not hearers only is the only proper response to the Word of God (not only the gospel but the entirety of Scripture), allowing it to take root in one’s life.” (2) James exhorts God’s people to meekly receive and use God’s perfect, liberating Word by God’s power for perseverance and eternal blessedness. Likewise, we should continue to receive Scriptural commands with humility, remembering who we are in Christ, freed from condemnation and those who persevere, blessed by him.

Putting Conviction of Sin Into Action

James continues, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” (1:23-24) “When one sees imperfections (as when looking in a mirror), common sense says something should be done about it.” (3) It’s at simple as that—if I look in the mirror and see my hair out of place before going to a meeting, I am going to fix it. To confess of a sin and not ask God to help me repent is much worse than doing nothing about my messy hair. Working to cover my bald spots is natural for me as a woman at my age. But there will come a time when I won’t be able to hide them, like men who have to accept them. It’s good to be who and what we are, rather than try to cover up our insufficiencies or failures. After all, God sees everything about us, all the time. Confession should be a time when we see ourselves as God sees us. It’s only then that we can tell where we fall short and need his help to put the gospel to work. When we will continue to receive Scriptural commands with humility, remembering who we are in Christ, freed from condemnation and those who persevere, we are blessed by God with peace and joy. “God is after our heart and mind. He wants us to love Him with all our heart and with all our mind (Matthew 23:37)… It’s so familiar to hear about how much the Lord forgives sin, and perhaps that’s the ultimate expression of His safety (safety from His wrath), but rarely do we talk about this aspect of His character. There is safety in God…If God is bringing the sweet grace of conviction, He will provide the sweet grace of escape, forgiveness, and repentance.” (4)

The Blessing of Repentance 

“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (v. 25) In James, the law of liberty refers to the gospel, and of course, the ultimate blessing is eternal life in Christ that we start living at the moment of regeneration. The gift of salvation isn’t just for later, when we are on our deathbeds, but is to be lived now as the best possible life we can have with the indwelling Holy Spirit. As I considered this truth, I landed in Psalms 91:14-16. “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” “Long life is a blessing frequently promised to the righteous in the Old Testament, but the promise is not necessarily for a prolongation of days but rather for a complete or full life…These verses also make a point that has been developed several times already—the promises are for those who trust in or love God. Therefore, they are blessings that some believers miss out on, simply because they are always fretting and do not trust God as they should.” (5) “Faith lays hold upon the Lord Jesus with a firm and determined grasp…Christ Jesus never ceases to strengthen and sustain faith by the loving embrace and all-sufficient support of His eternal arms. Here, then, is established a living, sensible, and delightful union which casts forth streams of love, confidence, sympathy, complacency, and joy, whereof both the bride and bridegroom love to drink. When the soul can evidently perceive this oneness between itself and Christ, the pulse may be felt as beating for both, and the one blood as flowing through the veins of each. Then is the heart as near heaven as it can be on earth, and is prepared for the enjoyment of the most sublime and spiritual kind of fellowship.” (6) “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) I’ll keep training my dog, GG (God’s Gift), since his job is to bless others who enjoy his calmness, which increases daily. Hopefully, my spiritual growth will be as evident as his physical transformation. “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” (Proverbs 4:18) Happy New Year!

Related Scripture: Psalm 1; Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 8:21, 28; John 13:17; Romans 2:13; 1 Corinthians 15:2; Galatians 5:1, 13; James 2:12-20; 3:13; 1 Peter 2:16.

Notes

  1. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, James 1:22-25, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/james-1.html
  2. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, James 1:21-22, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  3. ESV Study Bible Notes, James 1:23–24, Ibid.
  4. Newbell, Trillia J., “Fear and Faith,” p. 31, Moody Publishers, Kindle Edition
  5. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series,” Psalms 91:14-16, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  6. Spurgeon, Charles, “Morning and Evening Devotions,” December 28 Morning, Barbour Books, 2018.

December 30, 2021

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