Thomas Watson writes, “there must be first some seeds of faith in the heart of a penitent, otherwise it is a dead repentance and so of no value” (emphasis mine). It is not simply an essential command of the Christian to repent; it is, Watson reasons, the essential command, being the foundation-grace given by God (Hebrews 6:1). “…religion which is not built upon this foundation must needs fall to the ground.”
As promised, I have a few reflections on the above words. Repentance is a matter which is wholly unknown in many parts of the Church today. Pastors mire it by encouraging the unsaved in their flock to repent but never explain it adequately, nor do they offer any meaningful application other than “come talk to one of us down front/in the foyer/on the leadership team if you want to know Jesus.” That, dear reader, is NOT repentance, biblical or otherwise…but it is the closest you will get to it in many Protestant Evangelical churches.
Instead, Thomas Watson is providing us, 350 years after his life, an excellent exposition on the importance of this biblical “foundation grace,” as he terms it. We (read: “I”) will do well to heed his warning and encouragement.
What has a lack of repentance fostered in the church? I believe a strong case can be made that without repentance, a theology of glory manifests. What is a theology of glory?
Simply put, it is the notion that God exists to make us happy. It started all the way back in the garden with the serpent saying, “You will be like God” to Adam and Eve. It continues down to this day in many forms: Rick Warren’s PurposeDriven ideas, Copeland’s “expect a miracle” and Joel Osteen’s affirmations to name three. God does not share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8) and any theology which makes God our bellhop or life-advisor does injustice to His word.
A fitting understanding of repentance however, fosters inside the believer an understanding that they are sinful and God is holy. God calls sinful man to repent of his sin. This is something he can’t do apart from the saving work of Christ. Christ brings repentance about in the life of a believer as a free gift…a repentant believer is acting in consonance with his nature. We do what we do because we are what we are. We sin because we’re sinners. We repent because we’re believers.
Obviously, Watson is pointing out our inconsistency and showing that false repentance is possible. With that assertion, I wholeheartedly agree. We will get to the ingredients of true repentance in Watson’s book very shortly, but I wanted to set up in a more “time-relevant” way why this topic is so important.
The good news is that we aren’t just repenting for forgiveness. No, we’re to repent because in Christ we ARE forgiven. So let us act like the redeemed, brothers and sisters. Let us confess our sins to God and to each other, that we may pray in truth and live to edify the body. Let us turn from the sins we confess. Let us pray for God to help our unbelief when we falter and let us weep over our sins knowing that it is God’s kindness which leads us toward repentance.