Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Dannah Gresh: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says genuine repentance goes way beyond your words.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: We have not truly repented of any sin that we are still habitually committing.

Leslie Basham: This is the Revive Our Hearts podcast with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, along with Dannah Gresh, for October 3, 2019. 

Dannah: Thank you for joining us. We are in the middle of a twelve-day series called “Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival.” It’s based on Nancy’s workbook Seeking Him. She’s even recorded a brand-new twelve-part video series for small groups. I think you would love it! 

Right now we’re in the middle of listening in on that video series here on Revive Our Hearts. So far we’ve covered the topics of Humility and Honesty. Here’s Nancy to pick the series back up.

Nancy: Okay, is there anybody here who’s finding some of this tough sledding, some of these initial conversations—teaching sessions—on Seeking Him? Maybe you were thinking at the beginning, “Wow! This is supposed to be experiencing the joy of personal revival! That sounds wonderful! It’s something I can’t wait for!”

And now we’re talking about humility and honesty and one more hard one coming up, if you’ve flipped ahead in the study. You’re thinking, I don’t know . . . this isn’t quite what I signed up for!” You may be finding as you’re going through this study that you’re feeling a little weighed down. I just want to encourage you, as I have from the outset . . . hang in there! 

This is a process, and you have to hear the bad news before the good news is really good news! Being honest about the bad news is a first step toward really experiencing the joy and the freedom and the fullness that we’re talking about in the good news.

When we come to that season of the year in our part of the country where Robert and I live, where there are a lot of crops that have been sown and they have grown up . . . but first you have this process of plowing up the ground. I suppose, if the ground could have feelings or could talk, it might say, “This is hard! I don’t think I want to go through this!”

And maybe you’re feeling a little bit that way by now. But, oh the joy when the ground is soft and tilled up and the seed can go into the ground, it can take root, it can produce fruit; it’s all a part of the process. But the harvest doesn’t come overnight. You don’t just walk out onto a hard patch of field that’s been through the hard winter, or it’s been stomped down by animals. It’s hardened, and you don’t just throw seed on that ground and expect to get a harvest. 

There has to be that plowing up process, and that’s what we’re doing as we’re talking about humility and honesty . . . and today, repentance. We’re “plowing up the ground” so the seeds of grace and revival can take root and produce fruit in our lives.

So, yes, we want to talk today about responding to God’s conviction in genuine repentance. And it reminds me of a cartoon I saw some years ago of a robed prophet carrying a placard that said, “Sinners repent!” And then, in parentheses off to the side, it said, “Nothing personal.” (laughter) Well, isn’t that sometimes the image we have?

We don’t mind talking about repentance as long as it applies to someone else or to someone else’s sin . . . but not to us. That’s a little less comfortable. But I tell you, you can’t read the Scripture from cover to cover without seeing that this theme (there are different words that are used), this concept of repentance is all through the Scripture. 

I think it’s a missing doctrine in the church today . . . not entirely. There are people who understand this and who are proclaiming it, but it’s something we would just as soon skirt around. People don’t flock to online booksellers or retailers to find books on repentance. They’re not usually the best-selling books. 

But it’s a concept in Scripture that is so important and one we can’t miss, if we want to really experience the joy of personal revival. I want to just highlight today some of the places in Scripture where we see this theme of repentance.

I think about John the Baptist, who comes on the scene at the beginning of the New Testament; he’s preparing the way for the coming of Christ. Now, this isn’t to say that repentance isn’t found in the Old Testament. It is—over and over and over again. The term you’ll often see is “return.” I just finished Isaiah, I’m into Jeremiah in my quiet time, and over and over again God says to His people: “Return! Return! Turn away from idols, turn to Me!”

That’s an Old Testament concept (and New Testament as well) of repentance. But then we come to the New Testament and we have this prophet, John the Baptist. He’s making the people ready to experience the coming of Christ here to this earth. And so Matthew 3:1 tells us that, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea.”

And what was his message? He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (v. 2). And you think, Well, John gave that message. Of course Jesus was getting ready to come. But then we can move on to some other message when Jesus comes, right? Well, the first message Jesus gave, when He came here to earth, is the exact same message!

Matthew chapter 4 (one chapter later), verse 17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying [this is Jesus’ first earthly message; what did He say?], “‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Now, John and Jesus were both talking about the same thing. This is a new kingdom, a whole new system, a new way of doing things, a new set of values. 

And He was saying that being a part of this kingdom requires that you turn away from your own kingdom, from the kingdom of this world, from the kingdom of man, the kingdom of self, the kingdom of this earth. You’ve been going one direction, you’ve been living for one kingdom—it’s your own kingdom—but there’s a new kingdom coming!

And when you become a part of that kingdom you have a new heart, new desires, a new lifestyle, a new agenda. And in order to repent, you have to admit that the agenda you’ve been living for all along is wrong. So you have turn around from the way you’ve been going and embrace the new kingdom agenda. 

This is what it is to become a Christian and this is what it is to live as a Christian. We are the subjects of a new kingdom! We have a new citizenship. We have a new Ruler for our lives. We have a new Lord. We have a new life . . . because Jesus has come. As we embrace Him, we’re saying we’re turning from going our own way, we’re turning from the idols of our hearts, we’re turning from our own superficial temporal values to embrace the kingdom of Christ. 

He is the reigning King. He is the Ruler. He is the Lord, and we turn to Him. That’s repentance! You think, Well, did that message continue through the New Testament? Yes it did!

After His resurrection, before He returned to heaven, Jesus appeared to His disciples. So here He is, one of His last times speaking to His disciples here on earth, Luke 24:45–48 tells us (this is the last chapter of the book of Luke): 

“Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead [that had just happened . . . and here’s what’s coming next] and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” 

So Jesus came preaching the gospel of repentance. Before He went back to heaven He said, “Here’s what you’ve got to keep doing after I leave. Keep proclaiming the gospel of repentance!” We think of repentance as bad news. Repentance is actually incredibly good news, because it places us under the care and the protection and the providence and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

And as part of His kingdom, we have access to the glories and the blessings and the fruit and the mercies of that kingdom. But we can’t be part of that kingdom without living in repentance. But Jesus didn’t stop there. When He went back to heaven, we find that Jesus’ last word to the church in the Scripture was not (as some people might guess) the Great Commission.

He did give this: “Go into all the world; make disciples”(see Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15). We see that before He went to heaven. He said that to His disciples. But Jesus’ last recorded message in Scripture to His people . . . what was that message? It was, “Repent!” And where do you find that? The last book of the Bible, Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

Remember the letters to the seven churches? In five of those seven letters Jesus called them to repent. As He’s doing His assessment of the churches, He didn’t say to them, “You need to improve your preaching,” or “You need a stronger worship program,” or “You need to be more committed to missions,” or “You need to do more to reach out to your community,” or “You need to do a better job of reaching young people.” 

He told them, “You need to repent! Now, these churches had many positive qualities for which He commended them. But He didn’t overlook the things for which they needed to repent. And He was specific: different churches in different places had different issues.

Some were doctrinal issues, some were personal purity issues. He told them, “This is what I see going on in your church, and you need to repent.” Now, what was it meant to repent? Many of you know that there is a Greek word that is associated with repentance; it’s the word metanoia.Meta “to change;” noia “the mind.”

It’s a change of thinking that results in a change of heart and life. It’s a change in thinking about ourselves, about our sin, about God. It’s such a change that we get to the place where we hate what God hates and we love what God loves. This means that, in time, we come to hate things we used to love and we come to love things that we never had much affection for before!

It is a change from the inside out; it’s an internal change and it’s an external change. It affects every part of us. It’s an about-face. It’s a decisive definite change of direction, a complete reversal of attitudes and values that we once had. It’s turning away from those and turning toward God.

Psalm 119, verse 59, describes this process beautifully. The Psalmist says, “I thought about my ways [he had to be honest and humble to do that, right?], and turned my steps back to your decrees” (CSB). “I thought about where I was, what You showed me in light of Your Word, and then I turned my way back to Your decrees.” 

Repentance is foundational to the Christian life! Hebrews chapter 6 talks about repentance and faith being the first two of six foundational doctrines. It’s the starting place.

Hebrews 6:1: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ . . .” (That doesn’t mean you leave it like you go away from it, but you move on from it; you continue past it) “. . . and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.”

If you have not got to the place of repentance and faith, you are not a Christian at all! That’s the starting place! Now, we don’t leave it as in “we leave it behind”—we continue in that—but we move on to other maturity issues in our life. But you cannot go on to spiritual maturity in Christ if you have bypassed repentance and faith. 

I think sometimes we have the mistaken notion that repentance is for nonbelievers, that unbeliever, that person who doesn’t believe in God, that agnostic, that atheist, that morally bankrupt person. They need to repent! Well, they do need to repent, but repentance is not just necessary at the point of salvation; it’s also necessary for us as believers.

Martin Luther, as you know, was one of the people that God used to spark the great Protestant Reformation. And you remember him; it’s legendary about how he had these ninety-five theses that he wrote out and he nailed to Wittenberg’s castle church door.

And the first of those ninety-five theses read this way: 

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said, “Repent,” He intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance. 

That was so foundational. It so rocked the church of its age—which was corrupt through and through and needed a reformation (as maybe we do today).

Martin Luther started by saying, “Repent!” And not just one time, but it needs to become the entire life of the believer. And that message changed the course of Christendom. It turned it upside-down, inside-out! We are sitting here today, in large measure, because of changes that came about in the church when he called God’s (so-called) people to repent.

Now, I think we also need to remember that repentance is not a single act but it’s a continual attitude; it’s a lifelong process. The question is not, “Were you ever repentant?” But it is, “Are you repentant now?” 

One writer that I love to read is Richard Owen Roberts. He’s written a lot about the history of revival, and he says, “True repentance affects the whole man, alters the entire lifestyle, and does not cease.” It continues; it’s a way of life. 

And you see, also, in the ministry of John the Baptist that repentance always has visible evidence. It always bring forth fruit. It’s a change of mind, but it always has evidence. So in Luke chapter 3, when John was preaching the message of repentance and he called the crowd before him a “brood of vipers” (v. 7-8), that didn’t make him the most popular preacher of the day. 

He said to them, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” Like, “Let your repentance be seen, don’t just say you’re repentant; let it be evident.” And so the crowd asked him, “What then shall we do?” (v. 10). In other words, “How do we show our repentance?”

He said, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (v. 11). Then he spoke to tax collectors, then he spoke to soldiers. He talked to these people in these different demographics, these different seasons and stations of life and he said, “This is what repentance would look like on you.”

You see, we like somebody preaching about other people’s sins to us, but when they start pointing the finger and saying, “This is what you need to repent of!” Well, that’s not any way to be popular! But he was saying to them, if you say have repented, if you say you are of the kingdom of God, then you need to deal with the very area where you are refusing to let Jesus be King of your life You need to repent.

How can we know if we’ve repented? What would it look like it we truly repented? Let me invite you, for just these next few moments, to turn to the epistle of 2 Corinthians, chapter 7. I want to read a passage that speaks to what genuine repentance looks like. Let me give you a little backdrop for it.

At one point in his ministry, the apostle Paul had to send a strong disciplinary letter to the church in Corinth to address a particular issue that needed to be corrected. We don’t know exactly what that issue was, and we don’t have that original letter. But at one point, we know that he sent Titus (his young protégé, his disciple, the young pastor he mentored) to check on them and see how they were doing.

Titus returned with the report that the Corinthians had responded with true, genuine repentance. So in the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul commends these believers for responding in that way. I wish we could do the whole passage, but I’m starting now in 2 Corinthians 7:8–10, Paul says, 

Even if I made you grieve with my letter [because it was hard!], I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief [some of your translations say “godly sorrow”] produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret.

Paul is saying you will never regret true repentance; whereas, worldly grief, worldly sorrow (call it “remorse;” you’re remorseful about your sin but you’re not repentant over your sin) produces death.

Now, just a couple of observations about what Paul is saying here. First of all, it becomes clear that sin brings brief pleasures and lasting sorrows! Sin does have pleasures for a season, but those pleasures soon run out. Sin brings brief pleasures and lasting sorrow. 

Repentance, on the other hand, brings brief pain (it’s hard to be confronted about the sin we need to repent of!) but it brings eternal joy! Now, which would you rather have? Do you want to hold onto your sin, or do you want to repent and turn from it?

So Paul talks here about worldly grief vs. godly grief, worldly sorrow vs. godly sorrow. Worldly sorrow continues on; it doesn’t result in repentance. Godly grief, godly sorrow, leads to true repentance. The Corinthians had godly grief, the kind of sorrow that leads to repentance—a change of heart, a change of life. They turned to God, they turned to holiness.

And they didn’t just claim to have repented, they gave evidence of true repentance. So look at verse 11; Paul says to them, 

“See what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!” 

Wow! Paul is saying, “You guys acted on this godly sorrow, and that’s the evidence that it was true repentance. You changed, and you were serious about turning to God from your sin!” Now this doesn’t sound like any clappy-happy-slappy Christianity here. This sounds like some serious stuff: earnestness, indignation, fear, longing, zeal, punishment.

He’s saying, “You came to hate your sin, and you came to earnestly, eagerly love God and His righteousness and want to obey Him with all your hearts.” Listen, it’s one thing to be convicted over your sins, tell others about, just being honest with others, maybe even being remorseful: “I feel really bad about this sin in my life.”

Whether that sin is a loose tongue or critical spirit, sexual sin, addictions, laziness, self-righteousness, whatever. But it’s another thing to not just be remorseful about it but to actually truly repent. Paul says at the end of verse 11, “At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”

It wasn’t that they were innocent. They had sinned, but he said, “You have complied with the instruction, you have been honest, you have been humble . . . and you have repented.” This was not partial halfway obedience. This was full, complete, thorough repentance.

So as I meditate on this passage, let me make this observation: we’ve not truly repented of any sin that we are still habitually committing. Did you get that? If there’s a sin that I’m still habitually committing, then I can’t say I’ve truly repented of that sin. Now that doesn’t mean that once we’ve repented we won’t still have to battle temptation, battle sin.

We still have the flesh, that pulls against the Spirit in our lives, wars against the Spirit. We still have this world that pulls us; we have Satan and his temptations. We will still be tempted, but our attitude about that sin will be different once we’ve repented. We’re not going to want it, we’re not going to want to sleep with it, we’re not going to want to cling to it, we’re not going to want to hold on to it. We’re going to want to be rid of it! 

You can tell whether somebody has truly repented by their attitude toward that sin. So, as we read that description in 2 Corinthians 7, would you say that you’re a repenter?

For over twenty years, the people of Romania suffered under the iron-fisted Communist rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu. He was one of the most repressive, corrupt dictators of the twentieth century. And Christians were especially targeted by this regime and were subjected to intense intimidation and relentless harassment.

Evangelical believers, in particular, were ridiculed. They were referred to as “repenters.” It wasn’t a compliment . . .“Oh, those repenters!” All different denominations, but evangelical, Bible-believing Christians, they were called “the repenters.” It was a term of derision.

The pastor of one of the largest evangelical churches in the country had prayed for years for revival, and he was convinced that revival must begin among God’s people. He explained to his people that unbelievers weren’t the only ones who needed to repent. 

At one point he got before his people in that church—Second Baptist Church of Oradea, Romania—and he said, “It’s time for the repenters to repent!” He didn’t just leave it there; he didn’t just talk in generalities. He was straightforward and specific in calling out sins that he believed were hindering the church, in that day, from experiencing true revival.

If I were to name for you what some of those sins were, you might say, “Oh, seriously?! Those don’t seem like that big a deal to us.” 

He said, “These are a big deal.” 

And the repenters, under the conviction of God’s Spirit, began to repent! They began to take holiness seriously; they turned from everything they knew to be displeasing to God.

And when they did—-when the repenters repented—God sent revival! Revival spread throughout that surrounding area and ultimately throughout the entire country. And there are those who believe that this work of the Spirit in the hearts of God’s people was one of the factors that ultimately led to the overthrow of the Ceaușescu regime in 1989.

I was in Romania before and I was in Romania after the overthrow, the downfall of Communism there, and I can tell you there was a world of difference! And it was, many would say, the repentance of the repenters that paved the way for God to come and set that nation free from the shackles of Communism.

Jesus said to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:19, “ Be zealous and repent.” Be zealous and repent! There’s nothing half-hearted about that, is there? “Zealous” is “to desire eagerly.” We are to repent zealously—to be intentional, to be serious about our repentance. 

Now, let me tell you, the more seriously you take sin, the more seriously you deal with it in humility, honesty, and repentance, the greater will be the joy of personal revival that you experience on the resurrection side of the cross!

So you say, “This feels so heavy! This seems so narrow, this seems so hard!” I know it seems hard. It is hard, because sin makes our lives hard! But it’s not the repentance that’s making your life hard; it’s the sin you’re holding on to. So the deeper you go into humility, honesty, and repentance, the deeper and the richer and the sweeter will be your experience and your joy of personal revival.

Are you a repenter . . . like today? Not ten years ago. Are you repenting? Is your heart attitude toward God—today, this moment!—a repentant one toward anything that God has shown you in your life that is displeasing to Him? Now even as I’m saying that, the Holy Spirit is working in your heart, as He is in mine. 

What He’s dealing with me about will probably be different than what He’s dealing with you about. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Open the Word. As you get into the Word, ask God to show you where your ways need to be turned to be in accordance with His ways. This Book is a Book that leads us to repentance! The Holy Spirit leads us to repentance. Repentance is a gift from God!

Will you ask God for that gift? Say, “Lord, I want to live as a repenter! Anything that You show me in my life that is not pleasing to You, I will repent!” 

Robert and I were talking about this last night, and I said, “Honey, I’m getting ready to teach on repentance. What comes to your mind?”

Robert grew up in a background that had a lot of rules and “can’ts” and “must-do’s” and lists, and sometimes spirituality was measured in those terms . . . by well-meaning people. But it was interesting to hear him say, 

"You know, there’s something so sweet about true repentance! It sets you free. It turns you in a different direction. It puts you on a different course. It puts you in the kingdom of God instead of in your own puny, tiny kingdom."

How sweet genuine repentance is. Would you ask God for it?

And, oh Lord, we say together, we want, we need, we plead with You for this gift of repentance. We know it comes from You. So as we get into Your Word, as we open our hearts to You in humility and honesty, as You show things to us, as we step into the light, as You show us things that need to be repented of, help us to be zealous to repent! And thank You that, as we’re willing to do that, we will experience in a whole new measure the amazing grace of Christ! 

(That’s what we’re going to talk about in our next session.) So may we be ready to receive that and to experience that grace in abundant measure . . . because we’ve been saying, “Yes, Lord! I want to repent and walk in Your kingdom and in your light.” We pray it in Jesus’ name, amen!

Dannah: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth in one of the most crucial lessons we can learn as believers in Christ: if we’re quick to repent, true change and true growth can happen! And that message is part of the series “Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival.” 

It’s based on Nancy’s workbook Seeking Him. And, Nancy, this really is one of the core messages of Revive Our Hearts, isn’t it?

Nancy: It is. All these themes we’re talking about in these series, we all need to hear over and over again. No matter how long we’ve known these truths and been around them, we need the refresher course. We need to go back to the basics.

Dannah: And that’s why we asked you to, once again, teach on this content. We not only recorded it by audio, but we also have video. This makes me really excited, because it presents an opportunity for a lot of women listening right now. 

Nancy: Well, we video-ed this series years ago, but that video is really dated now!

Dannah: I would like to see that!

Nancy: Yeah, I don’t know if we want to show that! So it was time to refresh the video and film each of twelve sessions. And my hope is that there will be thousands of groups that will go through the Seeking Him study together. This video series—one session for each of the twelve lessons in Seeking Him—will be a great resource for those groups!

Dannah: We’d like to send you a copy of the workbook and let you know how to get the DVD set, in case you want to get that, too. The workbook is our thank you when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount this week.

Nancy: And those gifts are so important! We can’t bring you Revive Our Hearts day after day without support from our listeners. So thank you for praying for this ministry, thank you for supporting it, for believing in the message and wanting to see it reproduced in the lives of women around the world.

Dannah: We hope you’ll visit ReviveOurHearts.com. Donate a gift in any amount this week and you’ll get the Seeking Him study as our way of saying “thank you.” You’ll also find out more about how you can get the DVDs that go with it. Again, visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Nancy: And Dannah, tomorrow we’re going to be talking about one of the most precious topics, themes, in all of God’s Word! It’s one that we really need after these past few sessions talking about honesty, humility, and repentance. That can start to feel like a downer! 

But we’re going to talk tomorrow about the grace of God, and how God’s grace is His provision for every area of need in our lives!

Dannah: That’s a message you don’t want to miss! So be back with us for Revive Our Hearts.

Helping you seek Him, Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

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