Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Fruits of Repentance

Calvin lists out the fruits of repentance: "the duties of piety toward God, of charity toward men, and in the whole life, holiness and purity."  He writes about this, "the more earnestly any man measures his life by the standard of God's law, the surer are the signs of repentance that he shows."  To me, this gets back to the one of the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."  I believe that the more we strive to honor God with our lives, the more we can see God working all around us.  So in relating this to what Calvin wrote, the more we strive to live our lives by God's law, the more we demonstrate to God our repentance and I believe the more we will feel His forgiveness of our sins.  We must be careful not to concern ourselves with lots of outward appearances of repentance without truly focusing on what is in our hearts.  Calvin says, "men must cleanse away secret filth in order than an altar may be erected to God in the heart itself."  God is not asking us to build altars for sacrifices in order to have outward demonstrations of repentance.  He is much more pleased with a contrite heart that acknowledges our sinfulness and truly desires to turn toward Him.  When outward expressions of repentance are shown, we also must be careful not to exceed the gentleness that the church calls for in repentance.  Remember: God shows us grace, not because of anything we do to earn it but because of His lovingkindness. 

There are those who look at passages, especially from the prophet Joel, and believe that true repentance should require weeping and fasting.  Normally, this is not true.  For everyday sins, we should repent and ask for forgiveness from God.  It is when we are threatened by God with ruin and calamity that weeping and fasting are appropriate.  Calvin writes, "In like manner, the pastors of the church would not be doing ill today if, when they see ruin hanging over the necks of their people, they were to cry out to them to hasten to fasting and weeping; provided - and this is the principal point - they always urge with greater and more intent care and effort that 'they should rend their hearts and not their garments' [Joel 2:13]."  The whole verse of Joel 2:13 reads, "So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm."

The term "repentance" is often misapplied to an external profession.  Calvin writes, "For it is not so much a turning to God as a confession of guilt, together with a beseeching to God to avert punishment and accusation."  An external demonstration of repentance is not always required, but "to confess to God privately is a part of true repentance that cannot be omitted."  Calvin also uses the example of David that we should confess both our daily sins, but also "graver offenses ought to draw us further and recall to our minds those which seem long since buried."  David confessed everything from his adultery and murder, to the sins he committed of his youth.  Many believe this is why it is said why God was so pleased with David's heart - he always repented when he was confronted with his sin.

Repentance and the forgiveness of sins are constantly interrelated in the gospel.  Calvin takes the time to list a number of passages where the two are found together.  Also, the Kingdom of God is also often mentioned with repentance as we explored a day or two ago.  Calvin finally looks at the relationship between repentance and forgiveness.  He writes, "when God offers forgiveness of sins, he usually requires repentance of us in turn, implying that his mercy ought to be a cause for men to repent."  Recognize here that His mercy is the cause for us to repent.  Not that our repentance causes His mercy.  Later he goes on to write, "...this condition is not so laid down as if our repentance were the basis of our deserving pardon, but rather, because the Lord has determined to have pity on men to the end that they may repent, he indicates in what direction men should proceed if they wish to obtain grace."  One last thought, "For no one ever hates sin unless he has previously been seized with a love of righteousness."  The Spirit must be working in our hearts in order for us to come to a place where we hate sin.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.3.21-3.3.25

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