Is it reform or repentance? (Psalm 51)

How can a person change? Is it possible for people to truly change and to stop behaviors that are destructive or immoral and begin actions that are edifying and helpful and holy? In this article we will attempt to answer these and other related questions.

GUILT, ADMITTING WRONG, AND REFORM

There is no power in the guilt that comes from a pricked conscience. When a person does something wicked or disobedient, their conscience accuses them of wrong (Romans 2:15) and there follows a momentary pang of guilt. But that guilt is quickly suppressed and forgotten so that the sinful behavior can continue uninterrupted. The sinner appreciates the comfort of a seared conscience.

Ah, but there is power in the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11). Rather than merely a passing pang of guilt, this conviction of the Holy Spirit is persistent. Conviction is not easily dismissed. It urges a significant response. Rather than being suppressed, the conviction demands that the underlying sin be dealt with.

There is no power in merely admitting that you did something wrong. Indeed, admitting wicked acts can be done with defiance and evil pride. “whose glory is in their shame (Philippians 3:19).” The most deceitful of hearts can admit that something they did would be considered wrong by some.

Ah, but there is power in seeing my sin as sin and then confessing my sin to the Lord. I acknowledge my sin as rebellion before the Lord (Psalm 32:3-6). Confessing my sin means telling the Lord that what I did was sin. I confess that I have rebelled against the living God.

Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight (Psalm 51:4).

REFORM AND REPENTANCE

And now we come to the heart of the matter. For guilt and admission of wrong, or conviction and confession are merely preliminaries, because the goal is changed behavior. For changes in behavior, we have two tools: reform and repentance. There is no power in reform, but there is great power in repentance.

Reform is an attempt at behavior modification while the rebel inside remains. Attempts at reform assume that changing the external behavior means the person has changed. But reform of a person’s external behavior while their “inner man” remains enslaved to sin is an exercise in futility. The modified behavior conflicts with the fundamental nature of the rebel. The rebel inside detests the new behavior and despises those who constrain his sin. He longs to return to the freedom of his slavery to sin.

The rebel still loves the old behavior but pretends to like different, “better” behavior for some selfish reason. Thus, the rebel strives to reform their external behavior while their heart still loves rebellion. The new behavior lasts as long as the rebel can endure the repugnant modifications and can suppress their cravings for the old ways, but sooner or later, the rebel emerges. The internal conflict is too great, the love of sin is too powerful, and the reforms are the casualty. “The dog returns to its own vomit” and “The pig returns to wallowing in the mire.” The rebel returns to the comfort of his rebellion, and once again, reform is exposed as useless, as a vain attempt to prevent the rebel’s headlong sprint to their own destruction. Reform fails because the rebel remains. But reform is the best you can hope for if you are working with a rebel.

Repentance is different. Repentance is unavailable to the rebel, because repentance is founded on the existence of a heartfelt desire for permanent change, and the rebel’s deceitful heart of stone only desires sin. Ah, but if we change the rebel into a saint, from a slave of sin into a slave of righteousness, then instead of the uselessness of reform, there is the power of repentance. The shackles of sin have been shattered and have been replaced with a hunger and thirst for righteousness. The person has been changed, so they are free to change.

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:36

The Son has set the rebel free, so now the former rebel detests their old behavior and puts their old behavior to death (Colossians 3:5) by repentance. There is great power in repentance, in actively hating the sins that I see in my life, and confessing them, and then changing my behavior and turning from those sins. I have been set free, so I can change! The power of repentance is in asking the Lord to remove these loathsome sins from my life. “Make me more like Jesus, O Lord! Help me to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel! Help me to walk as Jesus walked.” Repentance is the powerful tool that allows the changed person to change.

SDG                 rmb                 5/6/2021

The Cage (Romans 6:20-21)

Going to a college reunion can be an enlightening experience. You get the chance to see people you haven’t seen in thirty years and see what they have done with the last thirty years of drawing breath and taking nourishment on this planet. You may hear, “Oh, wow! You look just the same as you did thirty years ago!” Now, that is probably a bold-faced lie, but it is received with grace, because that is just what you say at college reunions. Another phrase that you may hear at the reunion weekend goes like this, “My, you haven’t changed at all!” This comment would alarm me. “What? You don’t see any change after thirty years? You mean that you still see the same arrogant, profane buffoon that you knew thirty years ago?” I would hope that the comment would sound more like, “You are not the same person you were.”

But the stark reality is that most people do not change. They remain the same “arrogant, profane buffoon” their entire lives. A more wrinkled version of the same person shows up at the forty-year reunion that attended the twenty-year affair. No growth. No change. The question we want to address with this article is, “Why do people not change?”

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit (“fruit”) were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. – Romans 6:20-21

SLAVES OF SIN

The Bible presents the truth that people are “slaves of sin.” Here in Romans 6:20, the apostle Paul states the truth that, “When you (the believers in Jesus) were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” What that means is that, as a slave of sin, I had no desire to change, and I had no ability to change.

NO DESIRE TO CHANGE

Before I trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I was a slave of sin. I did not know that I was a slave of sin, but slave I was, nevertheless. According to Romans 6:20, I did, however, have some freedom. I was “free in regard to righteousness.” That actually is a strong indictment. “Free in regard to righteousness.” This basically means I was free OF righteousness and free FROM righteousness. At that time, there was not a single shred of righteousness in me to restrain my sin. I was a willing slave of sin and zealously did my master’s bidding. This does not mean I was always actively pursuing sin, but it does mean that I was never pursuing righteousness. Since I was “free in regard to righteousness,” I exercised my freedom by carefully avoiding any taint of righteousness. All this says that one reason I did not change was that I had no desire to change. I enjoyed being unrighteous, so why would I want to change?

NO ABILITY TO CHANGE

But there was another, much more powerful and fundamental reason why I did not change. Because I was a slave of sin, I had no ability to change. The foundational reason I did not change was that I could not change. It was not a question of my lack of desire, it was a question of my utter inability. I was a slave of sin, and there was no one to set me free. I was trapped in the cage that Adam’s sin had built, and I did not have the power to break free. My willpower might allow me to modify my behavior, but the cage of sin prevented me from changing. The same broken man was in a new location or in a different situation, but the same man, nevertheless. This is what it means to be a slave of sin and to be free in regard to righteousness.

And the Bible declares that every unsaved man or woman, boy or girl is trapped in this cage, and you are unable to free yourself. You may be able to modify your behavior for a while, but you cannot leave the cage. You remain helpless, a slave of sin unless and until someone with power opens the cage and sets you free from your slavery.

IF THE SON SETS YOU FREE

There is only one Person with the power to free you from your cage of sin so that you can begin to make fundamental changes, and His name is Jesus Christ.

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.  36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.John 8:34, 36

For those who have trusted Christ as Lord and Savior, the cage has been crushed and the chains of slavery to sin have been shattered. Now in Christ Jesus, those who were slaves of sin who loathed righteousness have become slaves of righteousness who loathe sin. Those who are in Christ are transformed into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Transformed! What does that mean? Changed! Transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We are being transformed (changed) from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). And how can they change? They change because believers in Jesus have been delivered from the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:15) so that they hunger for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).

Jesus Christ changes those who come to Him for salvation. First, He sets them free from the power of sin so that they are no longer slaves to sin. But He also gives them a new heart that desires holiness. So, the believer in Jesus has the ability to change and they have the desire to change. And so, they change.

Has the Son set you free? Have you changed or are you still caged?

If Jesus has made you free so that you are free indeed, your next college reunion will be an interesting experience. ““I don’t remember you, but I do remember a guy that looked a lot like you. But it wasn’t you. No, it definitely wasn’t you.”

SDG                 rmb                 4/22/2021