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Fruitful Repentance


Like so many other Christian words, ‘conviction’ has been spiritualized to the point where its meaning hardly registers with us at all.

So wonderful is repentance, that it is spoken of in Scripture as a God-granted gift (Acts 11:18) which always follows conviction. Like so many other Christian words, “conviction” has been spiritualized to the point where its meaning hardly registers with us at all. If someone is convicted of a crime, it means he or she has been caught, tried and pronounced guilty. We cannot repent of something we cannot openly admit we are doing, and we cannot repent of something we do not believe is wrong. Not until we have been caught, tried and pronounced guilty (in our own hearts and minds) can we repent.

Repentance says, “I did wrong.”

Repentance is not merely being sorry for getting caught, either. It is not merely confession. It is taking responsibility for our own actions and bearing the consequences of those actions. Repentance never makes excuses. It never blames or says things like, “The only reason I think that way is because of the way I was raised …” or “They made me …” Repentance never tries to make a case for self defense nor does it try to explain away its guilt.

When God convicts or corrects us, He always does so in hope. That is, instead of focusing on what we have not done or what we have not been that we should have, godly conviction points to what we can start doing and start becoming. Conviction is good news; it says, “Here is one more detail of death in your life which you can exchange, convert, or turn in for another installment of life.”

True repentance will always lead to increased spiritual inheritance.

This is why we should welcome conviction as the psalmist did: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).

If I am deathly ill, I want the doctor to be able to diagnose my problem and start me on the road to recovery. In the same way, I want the Lord to convict me by pointing out my sin. Since sin can be forgiven, there is a cure for it.

Our desire to end up well must always be greater than the desire to be told that nothing is wrong, and we must be more eager to be corrected than we are not to have been wrong. Otherwise, we will miss our opportunity to be forgiven and healed.

Repentance … is taking responsibility for our own actions and bearing the consequences of those actions.

Confession (acknowledgment) and repentance of sin are the provision for our growth and maturity. Those who think they no longer need both are called liars in 1 John 1, and Jesus has nothing to say to them.

False Conviction

As with the prodigal son, unless conviction takes place in the pigsty, we will not repent and go home. Many people who claim they have been convicted have not really become convinced of their guilt. Without conviction convincing us of our guilt, we will tend to avoid the real issue. For heartfelt, genuine conviction, we can be tempted to substitute false and easy conviction. We plea-bargain and admit to a lesser crime. Some of the more common pseudo conviction people confuse with genuine conviction are:

When people have sensitized hearts, sensitized ears, and sensitized eyes, God forgives them.

Poor Me“—This is said by people who want us to feel badly for them either because of the consequences they face as a result of their sin or because of how terribly difficult the situation was that pushed them into the sin. They bemoan their condition before and after sin and act like martyrs for whom we should feel sorry. The sin itself gets lost in the shuffle of self-pity.

True repentance is sorry only for the sin, and asks no sympathy for the sinner. God will grant mercy but not excuses or exceptions.

Whoops“—People who say this feel badly that they got caught. Rather than coming openly and freely to confess their sins, they make full disclosure and demonstrate sorrow only after they have been found out. Once the sins they have been hiding are exposed, they regret it but know they would continue to have done it if they hadn’t been caught. They are upset because they were not careful enough.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2005

About the Author: Daniel A. Brown, PhD, planted The Coastlands, a church near Santa Cruz, California, serving as Senior Pastor for 22 years. Daniel has authored four books and numerous articles, but he is best-known for the sorts of resources that help local church leaders excel in their spiritual assignment. For more about Daniel Brown, see his ministry resources website: CTW. Facebook. Twitter.

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