The Wonder of the Church: Part 2 – A Different People
11. Repentance & Conviction
Mk 1:15 ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’
Jn 16:8 when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.
To Recap: In the previous study we examined Jesus’ specific words to Nicodemus, about the kingdom of God, being born again, the (Holy) Spirit, and coming into the place of God’s blessing, having surrendered to Him and having had a life-changing encounter with Him through His Spirit, all made possible through the death of the Son. This followed a previous study that focused on the major difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, that the Christian has been called by God, has been ‘called out’ to become part of this assembly we now call ‘the Church’. But in the last study I did say we would need to look in more depth at the process of this ‘calling’.
A Change of Direction: The starting point for this means we have to examine the word ‘repentance’ which simply means a complete turnabout to create a change of direction. No one will become a Christian (in the Biblical sense, not a sociological sense) unless they had had this change of direction. Now we need to understand this change of direction more fully because it is not just because we liked the idea of the Christian life, we liked the idea of the ethics involved. Someone might join a political party because they hear about and agree with a particular political viewpoint, but that is NOT what happens here. Someone goes into a church building and they like the architecture, they like the beauty they find there, they enjoy the liturgy and go out saying, “This will be my church,” but that doesn’t make them a Christian. Yes, there is a change of direction, but the cause is completely self-centred. For a person to become a Christian, there almost has to become at some point what I can only describe as a revulsion of their self-centredness linked, with an awareness that previously, in reality, they have been godless.
Self-centred godlessness: The apostle Paul nailed it when he was speaking about our pre-Christian lives: “We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat.” (Eph 2:3 Message version) In that he was describing a life where ‘self’ reigned, and God never came into the equation. We might have even appeared ‘nice’ people but the fact was that we were self-centred and godless, and in that we were running in exactly the opposite direction to the way God had designed us to be: Him-centred and thus godly. It is the recognition that we have been living in this way – linked to a growing dissatisfaction about it – that works to start bringing about the other word we are focusing on here – conviction.
Conviction? We don’t realise it at the time, but it is the working of the Holy Spirit who brings about this conviction. As Jesus put it in our verse above. The Message version builds it out: “When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.” See the key words and phrases.
First there is, “the error of the godless world’s view of sin.” When we were ‘godless’ we got upset at being called ‘sinners’ and, anyway, who uses that old-fashioned word ‘sin’ any longer, doing right is just what you feel is right? Right? Well, actually, no! The word that the Bible often uses, ‘sin’ means just this – self-centred godlessness that leads to wrong thinking, wrong words and wrong actions that the Bible summarises under the umbrella of one word – unrighteousness. As we start being convicted by the Holy Spirit, we find a growing awareness that this is what we are like, if we can only be honest about it.
We struggle and we argue about it, but deep down He is working to help us face the truth – and we don’t like that truth. That is conviction and conviction leads on to repentance which involves i) acknowledging this truth, ii) asking God to forgive us for it and iii) asking Him to save us and give us a new life, a new direction, with new power and purpose.
That is what HAS to happen for a person to be ‘born again’. I often say this but it bears repeating, I am sure many of us when we are born again are not fully aware of all these things but the Spirit is bringing them to bear on our will so that we surrender, and the reality and fuller understanding of them only follows afterwards. Sometimes there is an immediate clarity but often it only follows gradually.
Believing in the Cross? But perhaps we ought to pick up more on some of those things in that Message version of Jn 16:8-11. “He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin.” That is at the heart of all this, that these godless lives we’ve been referring to are, in reality, lives that have not believed in Jesus and why he came. The New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus died on the Cross to take our punishment for our sins and up until this time we’ve been talking about, we didn’t see our need, we didn’t realise the extent of our self-centred godlessness that leads to unrighteousness, so we couldn’t see the point of Jesus dying. That simply demonstrated our blindness, the blindness that is part of the expression of Sin in our lives. Sins are the individual acts of our wrong thinking, wrong speaking and wrong doing. Sin is the propensity or tendency that we all have to be self-centred and godless with all the rest following. Jesus died to take our punishment, remove our guilt and open the way up for us to be restored to God the Father.
I can’t be righteous: However much I try, it is still the old self-centred me, I can never be perfect and, however much I try, failure is going to happen somewhere. Hence Paul spoke of the fact, “that righteousness comes from above”. God decrees us righteous when we simply say, “I believe” (and of course, mean it!) It is about how God views us. When we believe in Jesus as we’ve just been saying, God says we are now assessed as ‘righteous’ in His eyes and as far as judgment of sin is concerned and justice satisfied.
Now of course we know that the rest of our life will be spent changing to ensure our now God-focused lives are righteous in terms of the things we are now thinking, saying and doing, but now Jesus, by his Spirit, is there indwelling us, as we saw in the previous study, and helping and guiding and directing and empowering us to live this new life.
A Relationship: Once this happens, we no longer strive to appease God or win over His approval, because He has now given it the moment we believed. As the Spirit convicted us, as we repented and declared our belief and surrendered our lives to Jesus to save them, take them and lead them from now on, it is now not a matter of ‘following the rules’ but living in a new relationship with the Father and the Son, enabled by the Spirit. Relationship is all about interaction: we pray, He responds; we need help, He gives it; we need guidance, He gives it; we mess up and ask again for forgiveness, He gives it; we need a fresh start, He gives it. (We’ll consider this again in more detail in a later study).
THAT is what this Christian life is all about – being convicted by His Spirit, coming to repentance, surrendering our life to Him, believing in Jesus, being led by Him in a living, loving empowered relationship – and receiving a glorious new future, new future meaning all the days we have on this earth and then into eternity. Hallelujah!
A final word: Again, just in case anyone reading this study finds themselves responding, “But I’ve never known this, I’ve never experienced these things or this ‘new birth’ you’ve been referring to”, it is never too late. Consider the ‘ingredients’ of all this, if I may refer to them like this.
- First, a recognition that I have been self-centred and godless.
- Second, a desire to change.
- Third, a recognition that I need to say sorry to God for this and need His help to change.
- Fourth, a recognition that Jesus is God’s unique Son who came to die for me in my place (even though I may not fully understand that) and my need to declare that belief.
Fifth, the pathway to God is to come to Him and pray all this out, telling Him you are sorry, telling Him you believe in Jesus, asking Him to forgive you, take your life and lead it, and make you anew. Then leave the rest up to Him. Have a wonderful new life!