Have you ever thought, “OK, I’ll just give in to this temptation- just this one time- and then afterwards, I’ll quickly repent and everything will be good between me and God!” Now, if you’ve done that, I’m not posting to ask you to write out a confession in the comments section (I guess you can if you want), but I want us to take a moment and think this idea through. So, have you ever thought that way? Shamefully, I must admit that I have. I think many Christians are tempted to think this way, and to think this way often. They are tempted to view repentance as an easy work, to regard it as magic erasure they can just pull out of their back pocket and use it anytime they want. But is that really the case?
Last week, as I was reading through Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices, I came across Thomas Brooks’ response to this foolish thinking and dangerous practice. He addresses this idea under “Devices Satan Uses to Draw the Soul to Sin; Device 6”. Listen to his warning.
Device 6: By persuading the soul that the work of repentance is an easy work, and that therefore the soul need not make such a matter of sin. Why! Suppose you do sin, saith Satan, it is no such difficult things to return, and confess, and be sorrowful, and beg pardon, and cry, ‘Lord, have mercy upon me!’ and if you do but this, God will [forgive your debt], and pardon your sins, and save your souls. By this device Satan draws many a soul to sin, and makes millions of souls servants or rather slaves of sin.
Do you hear your own thinking in those lines? I know I heard mine! “Don’t worry about repentance; it is an easy thing… we can always repent later!” How many times have those thoughts passed through our minds?! But notice the source of such wicked thinking- it comes straight from the pit! So what do we do with our errant thinking; how do we combat this temptation? Glad you asked! Brooks gives 6 tools, six “remedies,” to fight this temptation. Today, you just get the first one (but trust me, it is enough to get you off to a good start!):
The first remedy is, seriously to consider, that repentance is a mighty work, a difficult work, a work that is above our power… Thou are as well able to melt adamant, as to melt thine own heart; to turn a flint into flesh, as to turn thine own heart to the Lord; to raise the dead and to make a world, as to repent. Repentance is a flower that grows not in nature’s garden.
This is something I know because I’ve experienced true repentance, but how often (especially in the moment of temptation) do I forget it. I have seen time and time again in my life that repentance is a gift of God, a divine grace working in my heart. It is not something I can muster up on my own whenever I will it. I know this, but if I’m not intentional about dwelling on this truth, in the moment of temptation I forget it.
Brooks then goes on to site these powerful words from the apostle Paul:
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26)
True repentance is a gift; it is more than mere words which we say, it is a change brought about in our person, a brokeness of the heart, a hatred towards sin, a grief over its presence, a humility before the Savior and a desperate desire for His grace and goodness. Brooks explains:
It is not the power of any mortal to repent at pleasure. Some ignorant deluded souls vainly conceit that these five words, ‘Lord! have mercy upon me,’ are efficacious to send them to heaven; but as many are undone by buying a counterfeit jewel, so many are in hell by mistake of their repentance. Many rest in their repentance, though it may be but the shadow of repentance, which cause one to say, ‘Repentance damneth more than sin.’
I must admit that last statement is truly shocking. However, when you grab hold of his point, that true repentance is a divine gift (it is not something that we can work up) and you remember that this was true of the beginning of your faith, it leads us to ask the question: why would it be any different for the moments after? If God was the Sovereign giver of the gift of repentance at the outset of our salvation, what would lead us to presume that we can now play the sovereign and demand this gift from Him (or work it up ourselves) at any moment here after? Will God simply allow us to use the gracious gift of repentance as a means to continue in our sin? Will He simply continue to dole out this gift whenever we ask? Maybe the better question is, if true repentance is a gift, will those who continue in sin really continue to seek this gift? When they ask for it, will their asking even be genuine?
This is a scary road to walk down, to imagine coming to a place when you don’t really desire repentance and your once sensitive heart begins to harden. But I think that this is Brook’s purpose, to show us that playing this game of “On Demand Repentance” is scary. Sin is not to be played with. It is dangerous, destructive, and enslaving. And the work to escape it, the work of genuine repentance, is not to be played with either. It is a divine work that should only be delighted in, never presumed upon.