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Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
May 3, 2021 2:00 am


Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

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Could you please turn with me in your Bibles to Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. We'll be looking tonight at verses 9 through 11 of chapter 7. 2 Corinthians 7 verses 9 through 11. I want to read the context of this, so we'll begin reading at verse 2.

2 Corinthians 7 beginning at verse 2. Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one. We have corrupted no one.

We have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together. I am acting with great boldness toward you. I have great pride in you. I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn, fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 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. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment.

At every point, you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. Let's pray together. Lord Jesus, your call to us is a call to repent and believe. Your word tells us that repentance is a gift from God. So by your word tonight, give us understanding of what it means to be truly repentant. Grant us grace to live in genuine repentance. We pray in your precious name.

Amen. It has been said that believers need to preach the Gospels themselves. We need to hear the good news on a daily basis. But we who hold to the Orthodox teaching of the Church know that every true believer is eternally secure in Christ.

He will lose none of those the Father has given him. He will raise us up on that day. So why should we need to hear the Gospel every day? We need to hear the Gospel because, as the hymn says, we are prone to wander.

Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Our tendency is to stray from the hope that we have in Christ.

And why is that? It may be that we are giving in to some sin, yielding to temptation. I think more often the problem in our wandering from the path is that we go astray through some pattern of religiosity, some Christianity that we have made ourselves. For those of us in the Reformed tradition, we may wander into a focus on doctrine and theology. We are careful with regard to theology and our knowledge of Scripture, and we should be. But there are inherent dangers.

Knowledge puffs up. If we are not careful, we can easily become prideful in our doctrine. We can drift away and get into the trap of putting our confidence in our theology and our knowledge more than in the Gospel itself. For others, their Christianity is focused more on feeling and emotion and personal experience. And our relationship with God should be deeply felt, full of heartwarming emotion.

But there is a danger there also. When the feelings fail, we tend to lose sight of the Gospel. We bend to know the rise of fear in our heart, and our doubts begin to confuse us, and we are tossed about and set adrift by the winds and the waves of daily life. For many, the focus is neither on doctrine nor on personal experience, but on performance, always striving to do right.

Of course, the danger here is twofold. We either fail to meet our own self-imposed standard, or we proudly proclaim that we have achieved some measure of righteousness, more often than not comparing ourselves to someone that we judge to be inferior to us in morality. When we inevitably fall and come below that standard that we have set, we either blame someone else or some circumstance that is out of our control, or we try to reform and try to make ourselves better. We are going to pray more. We are going to read the Bible more.

We are going to witness more. And again, we stray from the true Gospel by trying to do our best work rather than trusting in the finished work of Christ. So we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves to preach it every day, all day. We need to hear the call to return to Christ alone. He is the truth which fills sound doctrine.

He is the peace that calms wild emotions. He is the fulfillment of all righteousness in whom the work is finished and the end of the law for those who put their trust in Him and who through His merit stand justified before a holy judge. Not only is the Gospel a call to return to Christ alone, it is also a call to put our trust in the Word of God alone, to rest in His promises, to rest in full assurance upon what God has said. For example, Jesus said that He came from heaven to do the will of the Father. And He said that will is that He should lose none of those that the Father had given Him. But He raised them up on the last day so that they will all have eternal life. Again in His prayer in John 17 He says to the Father, I kept them in Your name which You have given Me.

I have guarded them and not one of them has been lost. Paul assures us that the good work that God has begun in us He will complete. And Peter talks about the fact that our salvation is imperishable.

It is kept for us in heaven. Those of us who by God's power are being guarded through faith for salvation. So we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves because we wander, we stray from the path. Just as the Gospel is the power of God for salvation it is also the power of God that preserves and keeps and holds us up in the difficulties of life. It is the Gospel that crushes our pride and our own knowledge and religious abilities that delivers us from the shifting sands of our emotions, that reminds us that the best performance we have is just as filthy rags in God's sight. So we need to hear the Gospel every day to be reminded that we are saved by grace alone and it is not our own doing.

It is God's work, a gift from Him. And that's good news. But there is another aspect of the Gospel that we might at first glance receive as bad news. This was pointed out this morning that the Gospel is really two-fold in its required response. We hear it from Jesus on lips in the first chapter of Mark's Gospel when he says, Repent and believe.

Time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel. Belief goes hand in hand with repentance. There is no belief, no faith without repentance.

Just as faith is a gift from God by grace, so also is repentance a gift granted by God's grace. Jesus was not alone in this call to repentance. It is found throughout the entire New Testament, beginning even with the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, when he preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus' first word of proclamation, as we mentioned, was repent. The disciples, when they were sent out, proclaimed that people should repent. On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood and preached the Gospel, and many were cut to the heart by the Gospel.

They said, What must we do? And Peter said, Repent. God's kindness, Paul says in Romans, is meant to lead us to repentance. Hebrews talks about repentance as foundational, elementary to the Gospel. And in the Revelation, Jesus speaks to the churches, and in five of the seven churches He says, Repent. We need to believe the Gospel, and we need to repent. Before we go further, let me call your attention to some general observations with regard to the need for repentance. First of all, the need for repentance is universal. It applies to everyone.

We hear the declaration of our Lord Himself in Luke 13, as was mentioned this morning. He says, Unless you repent, you shall all perish. It's a universal requirement. Paul, when he was speaking to the men in Athens, said that God commands all men everywhere to repent. No one is exempt.

This is a universal need. Secondly, the recognition of sin is necessary for repentance. On one occasion, Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, and He said, Those who are sick are the ones who need the physician, not the well. He said, I didn't come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. We never come to repentance until the Spirit of God convicts us and points to us the fact that we are sinners. We have wronged a holy God.

Unless we know there's something wrong, we won't seek a cure. There has to be a recognition of sin before there can be repentance. We began looking this morning at Psalm 51. In verse 3 of that prayer, David says, I acknowledge my transgressions. My sin is ever before me. Repentance is a universal requirement, and recognizing sin is necessary for repentance. But also, we need to realize that repentance is not just a single one-time act, once and done. Repentance is something that is an ongoing and continual attitude of the heart.

Richard Owen Roberts, the pastor mentioned his book this morning, one of his statements is this. He says, it's not enough to say, I repented. We must be able to say, I am repentant.

It's a continuing heart attitude. The call of the gospel in the words of Jesus is, repent and believe. And just as our faith, our belief, must be constant, so must our repentance be. The need for repentance is universal. The recognition of sin is necessary for repentance.

And repentance must be an ongoing continual attitude of the heart. So we come then to the matter of repentance itself. Just what is true repentance?

Do we really understand this essential facet of the gospel? How do we know if our repentance is genuine? Let me begin by sharing some misconceptions or misunderstandings with regard to repentance. Some things that are not true repentance. Sorrow is not repentance. It is true that repentance often is accompanied by great sorrow, weeping, and brokenness.

But the two are not equal. And there can be deep sorrow without any genuine repentance. The letter to the Hebrews points us to the example of Esau, realizing the consequence of his despising his birthright, found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. The apostle Paul wrote in the passage we read to the Corinthians, godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation, and worldly grief produces death. You see, the problem with worldly sorrow is that it is self-centered.

Motivated by selfishness and driven by it's all about me. We are sorry we got caught. Sorry we have to suffer the consequences of our sin. On the other hand, true repentance is driven by a love for God, concern for his holiness and his name. The truly repentant person turns from his sin without being caught.

He realizes how greatly he has offended the Lord, and he knows what an affront he has been to a holy God. Sorrow does not equal repentance. Another misconception about repentance arises from the practice of the Roman Catholic Church sacrament called penance.

This is something that is practiced in the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches. It includes confession and repentance. The priest when he hears confession then imposes penance.

He may give you a certain number of repetitions of the Ave Maria, the Hail Mary, or the Our Fathers. The problem is that penance can be performed in a rote fashion without any real sense of true repentance. The truth is that I can stack up every attempt at righteousness for the rest of my life and all I would have in God's sight is a pile of filthy rags.

Penance is not repentance. But you know that approach is not limited to those churches that have formalized it in a sacrament. We as evangelicals sometimes practice something similar. We try to assuage God's wrath by what we do, by change of behavior. We fall into some sin and then we turn over a new leaf.

We start anew. We try harder to faithfully do the things we should. As if we could regain God's favor by something that we do. It doesn't work that way does it? Penance is not repentance and neither is changing our behavior.

Change in the externals does not equal a changed heart. Another trap we fall into is the idea that we can be repentant and defensive at the same time. It started in the Garden of Eden didn't it? It wasn't me. It was that woman you gave me.

No, it was the serpent. I'd love to point to some reason why we did what we did. God years ago showed me that tendency in my own life early in our marriage. God used Libby to make me realize that I always had an explanation.

There was always a reason why I did things I shouldn't do or said things I shouldn't say. True repentance means I take full responsibility for my sin. No excuses, no finger pointing, no trying to shift blame.

It's personal responsibility. Another tact we have is we like to do selective repentance. We're comfortable with admitting what Jerry Bridges calls respectable sins.

But we don't like to take the time for the Spirit to drive down to the root underneath. You see the problem is that failing one point, James says we're guilty of all of it. And true repentance is not selective. All sin is included. You see our problem is not so much what we do.

Our problem is what we are. I sin because I'm a sinner. I lie because I'm a liar. I rage against my brother because I'm a murderer. I belittle others because I'm a selfish, self-centered sinner.

My circumstances didn't make me do it. I sin because I'm a sinner. And before we turn in our text to consideration of what true repentance really is, let's consider one final misunderstanding. Some wrongly think that repentance eliminates all the consequences of sin.

They're surprised when they have to suffer the result of what they did. You see, true repentance does free us from the wrath of God that was poured out on His Son in our place. But it doesn't mean that all the consequences in this life will be removed. Just because a drunk driver repents doesn't restore the life of the child he ran over. A convicted felon doesn't get a get-out-of-jail-free card just because he repents. The repentance of a gossip doesn't restore the reputation of the one you slandered. There are consequences when we sin, and repentance doesn't necessarily remove them and eliminate them. In fact, true repentance often involves restitution.

We'll say more about that later on. So what then is true repentance? How can we know that we've received this gift from God, that it's genuine? We have read the passage already from Paul's letter to the Corinthians. And we found there that he in his commendation of the Corinthians notes that this is for believers. This letter is not to unbelievers.

It's to the Church. It's to the believers in Corinth and Achaia, but also to us. And we who have put our trust in Christ alone for our eternal salvation, we've turned from dead works to faith in God through Jesus Christ, we need to know and to live true repentance every day. Paul begins by expressing his joy over the fact that the Corinthians were grieved into repenting. He tells them that their grief was a godly grief, not a worldly grief. Not all sorrow leads to repentance.

We have a perfect biblical illustration of this in the two of Jesus' disciples. Peter denied his Lord three times. And when the rooster crowed, he went out and wept bitterly. And his repentance was genuine. He returned to the Lord and he was restored just as the Lord said he would be. Judas, in contrast, was guilty of being a traitor to his Lord. He also had a change of mind, but it was not genuine repentance. It was repentance of the world that leads to death, not to salvation.

And Judas went out and hanged himself. And Paul commends the Corinthian church for their godly sorrow because it led to true repentance. And in verse 11, as we read, he gives seven characteristics of the truly repentant, by which we can test our own repentance. I approach this with some trepidation because my son informed me a few weeks back that his homiletics professor told him you never preach lists.

But if the text is a list, you've got to deal with the list. So we're going to look at these words that Paul uses to describe what true, genuine repentance is all about. And by them, we can then examine our own heart and make sure that we are rightly responding to the gospel with true, genuine repentance.

The first word he uses is that of earnestness. How earnest are we regarding repentance? The word Paul uses here speaks of diligence and eagerness. We should be diligent in our repentance, eager to repent. We need to be careful that we don't rush through repentance. I think sometimes we treat the matter far too lightly. We rush through a confession of sin without allowing the Spirit of God to drive us into the depths of the sin.

We want to rush over the surface of the outward behaviors and not get down to the root problem. For example, we're okay with admitting that we're not as faithful in our stewardship as we ought to be sometimes. But we don't want to talk about the fact that the root is greed and covetousness. It's amazing when you look through lists of sins in the New Testament how many times that business of covetousness is listed along with things like murder and adultery and fornication. But we categorize sins, don't we?

We have some that are just little things. But we're not okay with the Spirit of God driving us down into the root causes. Paul connects coveting with lust.

He said, I didn't know lust until the law said, thou shalt not covet. We sometimes excuse our anger. We say, I go ahead and say it. I get it off my chest.

It's over with and done with. We don't recognize the fact that many times that anger is just the fruit of a root of bitterness. We hold against God and against others. So are we serious, earnest in this matter of repentance? Would you be willing to take the time of the Spirit of God to reveal the root of your sin in your heart, the root that produces the ugly fruit? A truly repentant person is diligent, earnest, and eager to be absolutely right with the Lord. This overarching characteristic of eagerness and diligence then is followed by those six other words that fill out our understanding of what true repentance looks like. Paul there in verse 11 says, see, look, behold, what an earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves.

The Greek word there in the Greek text where it's translated but also, it's actually repeated six times. Paul says, not just this overall diligence and earnestness, but also this, but also this, but also this. It's like he's just pressing on to show them all the fruits that accompany their genuine repentance.

Not just earnestness, but also eagerness to clear yourselves. The truly repentant are deeply concerned for God's glory, for His name, for His reputation, and they're eager to clear themselves not for self-justification, but in an attempt to make sure that there is absolutely nothing in their life that brings reproach on the Lord. When someone accuses us of sin, is our repentance so complete that we stand firm knowing that we are clear before God? There is no sin which we still hold on to.

The next test that Paul gives us is this word indignation. The idea here is one that we are a person who has this kind of indignation is filled with a hatred for sin. At any point when sin is manifest, it grieves the heart of this person. The truly repentant person is so opposed to sin that it causes sorrow whenever he sees sin in himself or in others.

There's an awareness of God's holiness and His glory that any sin causes grief. We can always tell how genuine our repentance is by our reaction to sin in our life. Do I really loathe every sin? Is there an immediate indignation in my heart when sin appears in me? Or do I tolerate some sins and let them remain?

Do I recognize that sin of any kind has no place in the life of a believer? Our immediate reaction should be to run to the Father and plead for His mercy and for His grace to cleanse the Temple and fill it with His glory. You know if you tolerate clutter and disorder in your home, pretty soon you won't even notice when something new is added to the mess. And over time it gets to the point where vermin can move in and take up residence and you won't even notice.

But if the home is swept and clean and in order, the slightest disruption is immediately seen. And that's how it ought to be in our spiritual life. We should be practicing such continual repentance before God that the first step off the path is immediately recognized and we are filled with indignation and anger toward sin.

It also means that we welcome reproof and instruction. We are eager to clear ourselves of every sin. And many times we are not aware until God uses a brother or sister to point it out, show us those blind spots, those places where we are unaware of our need of repentance. So does our repentance produce that kind of indignation, anger toward sin, so that we are immediately reacting against it, not just passing it off as a little problem, a mistake? Next word Paul gives us is the word fear.

Not sure when I first saw that, you know, what does that mean? It doesn't spell out fear of what. But one thing that I think is true is that true repentance produces a fear of the deceitfulness of sin. When our repentance is deep and thorough, we realize how insidious, how crafty sin is. We come to know that without great care and diligence, sin will creep in and take up residence and multiply. That's why in the letter to the Hebrews we are told that we should exhort one another every day, lest any be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

We need to hear the Gospel call to repent every day. We need true repentance that produces fear of sin's power to deceive, to kill, and to destroy. Have you ever given attention to the way sin progresses, the way our heart becomes hardened, more and more hardened and tolerating things that before we did not? If you allow one sin it becomes two, and quickly it becomes four.

And pretty soon there is such a hardness of heart, such a seared conscience that nothing really moves you. You remember the first chapter of Romans where Paul gives us that spiral downward. It begins with a simple failure to honor God or give thanks.

And then pretty soon that becomes the foolishness of idolatry. And then it's on to sexual perversion and total depravity of mind. And then he lists some 20 expressions that we get involved in even without a fear of the consequence of death. And he says of these things, he said, Those who practice these things recognize that God's judgment is that those who commit these things are guilty of death.

And yet they not only do them but have pleasure in those who do them. So we need to be very careful that we are not caught up in this spiral downward. We need to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day so that we are not deceived by sin. By the way, those 20-some sins that he lists there, we think, well, that's the bottom of the barrel. Well, you know what's included in the bottom of the barrel?

Things like gossip and boasting and being disobedient to parents. Back to the text we find the word longing. We all have longings, desires, things that move us to pursue the things that we long for. Some of our longings are God-given. We have desires for food and for water, longing for love and acceptance. Jesus talked about our legitimate needs in the Sermon on the Mount and He said you have these needs, but you're not to be anxious because the Father already knows what your needs are before you even ask Him. The command is seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The truly repentant person has right priorities.

He puts the kingdom of God and His righteousness ahead of everything else. We need to ask ourselves what do I long for? How fervent is my longing for the things of God? I love King James translation.

It's what I grew up with and it's kind of ingrained in me, but I love their translation of this word here. They call it vehement desire. What is it that I vehemently desire in my life? How much time and energy do I give to Christ's kingdom every day? When life comes to a halt, when circumstances pull you up short, what longing fills your heart? Do you seek God in those moments? Does His kingdom and righteousness occupy your mind? A little over a year ago, all of us were kind of jerked up, weren't we?

When all of a sudden this COVID thing hit and suddenly businesses were closed, jobs were lost, we had to stay home and start wearing masks and all kinds of crazy things went on. You know, I suspect that many of us spend a lot more time in our minds and hearts railing against authority than we did seeking God's kingdom and His righteousness. How many of us took that extra time being forced to stay at home to deepen our relationships within the home with our spouse and our children? How did we use that time to dig into the Word of God and to seek God's face and say, God, what are you doing?

What am I supposed to learn in all this? So true repentance produces a longing for God above everything else. We need to be gripped by a fervent longing, a vehement desire for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, a kind of fervor that characterizes truly repentant people. In fact, the very next word Paul uses here is this word zeal. We all know what it's like to be around someone who has just come to know the Lord and been saved out of the depravity and just the dramatic sin and hold of sin on their life and they're so excited. They want to do everything to serve the Lord and to tell others about Him. This is a very strong word, this word zeal. Think about how the early church had this zeal for the Lord, how they gathered with other believers on a daily basis and they served each other even to the point of selling their possessions and their lands to meet the needs, how they faced persecution, would not turn away from proclaiming the gospel.

They turned the world upside down. The truth is too many of us have kind of bought into the idea that zeal and fervor for Christ is just extremism and fanaticism. We don't want to be ridiculed and ostracized and so we are content to be secret disciples like a stealth bomber moving through the world. Paul says the Corinthian believers demonstrate the earnestness of their repentance and the great zeal should be a part of normal Christianity. It's evidence of true repentance. One final characteristic of true repentance and we'll be through with this list.

The word is a little difficult to translate. ESV uses the word punishment. The King James says revenge. Other translations have said avenging of wrong or eagerness or readiness to see justice done. I think the idea is that truly repentant people are eager to do whatever they can to make right what they've done wrong. There is a desire to make restitution if at all possible. You see true repentance is not just a change of mind about the sin and a commitment to turn from it. There is also a willingness to make right what we've done in the past that is wrong. There is a need for restitution and we seek to do what we can to do that, to make that restitution.

This need is made clear in the Old Testament where one who becomes aware of a wrong they've committed is required to make restitution and even add a fifth part to it so that there is restitution. We need to have the attitude that Samuel had. You remember when the Israelites called for a king and Samuel was instructed by God to give them what they were asking for?

He came to the end of his ministry and he gathered all the people before him and he said, OK, bear witness against me. What have I done wrong? Anybody? Can you imagine standing up before everybody that you've ever known, that you've ever had interaction with? You say, OK, here I am. Bear witness, what have I done? Anything I've done unto you, haven't tried to make it right. We need to have that attitude of doing everything we can to set right the wrongs that we've done.

And so as we close, we need to ask ourselves a question. Am I truly repentant? Not because I've achieved a level of repentance, but because God in His grace, just as He's given me faith, has given me the gift of repentance, something God grants.

But we have ways of knowing if that's true in our lives. Is there in us an earnestness, a diligence, an eagerness to turn from sin to the Lord? Am I eager to deal with sin in my life, every sin, not just the ones that I think are necessary? Do I respond with indignation toward every sin in my life? Do I fear the deceitfulness of sin and run from temptation? Is it the longing of my heart, first and foremost, to seek the kingdom, the righteousness of God? Am I zealous for the gospel? Have I made every effort to right all my wrongs? You know, this is heavy stuff.

It's not real uplifting and joyful. But with all of God's commands, there's always the promise. And God has said that when we repent and turn from sin and run to Him, He, like the prodigal's father, will run to us with open arms, receive us, and shower us with blessings. His promise is that if we confess our sins, if we agree with Him about our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Let's pray. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness. According to the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and uphold me with Thy free spirit. We pray in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-19 06:33:07 / 2023-11-19 06:46:20 / 13

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