Repentance and Abuse: Real Repentance Bears Fruit
1Pe 1:1-2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Elect –> according to foreknowledge –> in sanctification –> for obedience to Jesus Christ + sprinkling with his blood.
In these few words, the Apostle Peter debunks any notion that a person can be a Christian yet not pursue holiness or obey Jesus Christ. The whole chain is linked and flows together. God the Father in eternity past loved His own people (that is what it means to “foreknow.” It doesn’t mean looking into the future and seeing who would believe), and out of that love elected and chose them. For what? That they would be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. That means set apart as God’s own holy people. Made into a holy priesthood. In accordance with that election and sanctification, they are a people whose purpose is to obey Jesus Christ, being a people cleansed by His own blood. What then is a Christian? A Christian is a person who has been chosen by God, who has been and is being sanctified by God, who obeys Jesus Christ and who has been cleansed and forgiven by Christ’s death upon the cross. That’s the whole package.
And this, once again, is why we insist that a person who is dominated and characterized by a mentality of power and control, of entitlement to what is essentially worship, who without conscience can enforce his power and control over others through the use of wicked means, is not and cannot be a Christian. You can be sure that where there is no fruit of repentance, there is no repentance. And where there is no repentance, there is no salvation. The fruit borne by real repentance and faith always evidences itself in increasing holiness of life and in obedience to Jesus Christ as evidence of having been cleansed by His blood.
How does a person know if he or she is elect? Follow the chain. Do you see sanctification working itself out in you? That is to say, do you see the Spirit of God leading you into increasing holiness of life? Not perfection, mind you. We don’t believe in perfectionism in this life or in some supposed second work of the Spirit that claims to give a state of sinlessness. No. But do you sense and see the results of a great battle having begun within you between the sinful flesh and the leading of the Spirit in you. Pauls says (Romans 8) that if we are led by the Spirit and if by the Spirit we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, then we can be sure that we will live. And do you see a heartfelt desire to obey Jesus Christ and an increasing pattern of doing so in your life. If so, then you can be sure that you are one of God’s elect ones. And sure enough, this is the very thing that Peter says in his second epistle:
2 Peter 1:5-11 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We have heard of pastors who tell abuse victims that they must regard their abuser as being a Christian, even though the abuser shows no repentance and his life is characterized by habitual evil. Being baptized or having said a prayer to accept Christ or being a church member does not make anyone a Christian. If it did, then the Bible would have pronounced Esau to be a most eminent saint. Instead, this is what we read about Esau –
Hebrews 12:15-17 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
And is this not the very thing that so many of our readers have seen and had their fill of in the case of their abuser who claims to be a Christian? Sexual immorality, despising of the grace of God, yet seeking, even with zeal and tears, to be pronounced by God and everyone else to be a true Christian? Such actions alone only qualify a man to be an Esau and nothing more. So let’s not be deceived by a counterfeit repentance that bears only rotten fruit.
We conclude with these great words from J.C. Ryle on Repentance: [Old Paths, Banner of Truth, 1999, Chapter 16] –
True repentance, such as I have just described, is never alone in the heart of any man. It always has a companion—a blessed companion. It is always accompanied by lively FAITH in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Wherever faith is, there is repentance; wherever repentance is, there is always faith. I do not decide which comes first—whether repentance comes before faith, or faith before repentance. But I am bold to say that the two graces are never found separate, one from the other. Just as you cannot have the sun without light, or ice without cold, or fire without heat, or water without moisture—so long you will never find true faith without true repentance, and you will never find true repentance without lively faith. The two things will always go side by side.
And now, before I go any further, let us search and try our own hearts, and see what we know about true repentance. I do not affirm that the experience of all penitent people tallies exactly, precisely, and minutely. I do not say that any man ever knows sin, or mourns for sin, or confesses sin, or forsakes sin, or hates sin, perfectly, thoroughly, completely, and as he ought. But this I do say, that all true Christians will recognize something which they know and have felt, in the things which I have just been saying. Repentance, such as I have described, will be, in the main, the experience of every true believer. Search, then, and see what you know of it in your own soul.
Beware that you make no mistake about the nature of true repentance. The devil knows too well the value of that precious grace not to dress up spurious imitations of it. Wherever there is good coin there will always be bad money. Wherever there is a valuable grace, the devil will put in circulation counterfeits and shams of that grace, and try to palm them off on men’s souls. Make sure that you are not deceived.