Heidelberg Catechism Q88

Q.88. What is involved in genuine repentance or conversion?

A. Two things: the dying-away of the old self, and the coming-to-life of the new.


There are many in our world that believe sorrow for sin is enough to save them from the wrath of God.  But this is only half true.  People, like children, can be sorry for many reasons.  They can be sorry they were caught, or sorry they caused someone pain, or they can be genuinely sorry that their action was a violation of their parents’ instructions.  Each of these sorrows will produce a different result.  The first brings forth a sly way of living where a child tries to hide his or her bad actions, the second assumes that as long as no one is hurt, then the action can performed even if it violates a direct instruction, while the final form of sorrow, understands that in any and ever situation this parental law stands and must be obeyed.  This form of sorrow understands that a violation is a breaking of the relationship and a violation of trust.  Children who are sorry in this way strive for obedience more than any other.  Genuine repentance is like the final form of sorrow and the catechism describes it a is the dying-away of the old self.  Read Romans 6:1-11.


But there is also another aspect to salvation and that is the need for a newness of life.  Once a person begins to die to their old self, or the sin nature, then they must also come-to-life with a new nature. This is the process of transformation where a person comes to love the ways of God and obey them more and more.  Read Ephesians 4:22-24.


But are both of these things really part of salvation?  Are they both required for every believer?  Certainly. Read John 3:1-7 and Luke 13:3.  Jesus calls every sinner to repent.  Each person must come to understand the myriad of ways in which they violate God’s law but every person who wants to walk in God’s Kingdom must also come to new life.  Spiritual birth is needed just as much as physical birth.


Can any person die and come to life again?  No.  Only God can cause a person to hate their sin and desire to obey the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  God alone brings about conversion in a person.  Read Philippians 2:13 and John 6:44.


Read Lamentations 5:21, Acts 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:25-26.  In all three of these passages God is clearly displayed as the one who grants repentance.  He alone can bring a person from blindness to sight as the miracles of Jesus so tangibly display.  God is the only power capable of transforming the human heart.


Does God use any particular tools to bring about death and life?  Truly it is his Holy Spirit in a person that brings about this change, but the Spirit uses the law of God to convince of a sinner of their violations and the Spirit grants faith in order to usher us into peaceful relations with the Lord.  Read Romans 3:20, 5:1 and 1 Thessalonians 1:5.


About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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