Al Baker: Two Vital Ingredients Missing From Much Reformed Preaching

For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.” -Ezekiel 18:32.

The prophet Ezekiel received six visions from the Lord which he gave to the people of Judah who were in the throes of the Babylonian exile. Those still in Jerusalem were challenging Yahweh with a proverb, “The fathers eat the sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge.” You no doubt have eaten sour grapes from time to time and have noticed a film on your teeth which makes them feel very dry. In essence those in Jerusalem are saying, “Wait a minute, Yahweh. Our fathers are the ones who were disobedient to You. We have done nothing wrong. Why then are we suffering?” So for the next twenty-seven verses Yahweh drives home the obvious fact that each person is responsible for his own sins. We are not judged for someone else’s sins. What we sow, this we shall also reap (Galatians 6:7).

In verses 30,31 Ezekiel applies this doctrine to the hearts of God’s rebellious, covenant people, saying, “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct. Repent and turn away from all your transgressions so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why will you die, O house of Israel?” 

Clearly, God is calling all men everywhere to repent. [1] This is the first ingredient missing from much of our Reformed preaching at this present time. Preaching repentance is vital. This includes all unbelievers who must repent and believe the gospel in order to be saved (Mark 1:15). This also means that believers are to repent daily as the Spirit’s convicting work brings to our minds and hearts our sins of commission and omission (John 16:8-11). Preachers are not merely to pass on interesting information in their sermons. They are to preach the law which reveals sin and they are then to call their people to repent of their sins and go to Jesus for cleansing. They are to preach for a verdict. They are to close the deal. Please note in the Ezekiel 18:30-31 the unmistakable language of repentance. They are called to repent. They are to turn away from all their transgressions, not just some of them. Why? So that their iniquity may not become a stumbling block which eventually could spell their damnation.

These admonitions to repent obviously beg the question, exactly what do the Scriptures mean by repentance? Richard Owen Roberts in his book Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel [2] says that there are two types of repentance – ego repentance (it’s all about me) and evangelical repentance (it’s all about God). The former is unbiblical and the latter is very much Biblical. What are the marks of each? In ego repentance sorrow is viewed as a fruit of repentance. But sorrow could simply be “I am sorry I got caught.” Esau sought the inheritance but he was rejected because he found no place for repentance even though he sought it with tears (Hebrews 12:16,17). Self-preservation is not enough either. Some men “repent” of rudeness to their wives in order to gain a measure of peace and tranquility in the house. Doing penance will not work. Some, when they sense guilt over their actions, decide to serve weekly in a soup kitchen, or to give an hour a week to help a child learn to read. These are worthy endeavors but they may be mere ego repentance. Reformation of manners, seeking to be a better person, is not true repentance. A man whose wife just filed for divorce because of his many adulterous affairs, may ask her, “What do I need to do to fix this?” In other words his desire is to salve his own conscience and get back what he fears he is losing. He seeks to address a symptom of his adultery but not the root of it. And it is not select repentance. A man may repent of an affair from ten years ago after he was caught with old email correspondence while failing to tell his wife about an affair he began last month. You will note from verses 31 and 32 of Ezekiel 18 that they were to turn away from all transgressions. Selective repentance is not evangelical repentance.

On the other hand, evangelical repentance is marked by a deep seated awareness of one’s own sin in the recesses of his heart. There is profound sorrow which yields specific, constructive confession of sin. He is not merely sorry he got caught. Evangelical repentance goes much farther, much deeper. He says with King David, “Against Thee, and Thee only, have I sinned,” (Psalm 51:4). David is not saying that he has no responsibility to Bathsheba or her husband Uriah. Rather the emphasis is on how he has offended the Holy God of Israel. This type of repentance always brings action which bears fruit in the person’s life. There is progress in gospel holiness. The person begins to grow in the grace and knowledge of new life in Jesus Christ. He has the fruit of the Spirit in his life in greater measure. Or to use the words of John the Baptist, he brings forth fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). He comes to hate his sin. He is grieved over his actions, values, and thoughts. He is fearful of what he has done or is capable of doing. He finds no rest until he repents, acknowledges his own guilt, confesses his sin to God and to those whom he has wronged, and asks the Holy Spirit to sanctify him so that he might mortify or put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:12,13).

And how does evangelical repentance come? It is a gift from God (2 Timothy 2:24,25). We can never say, “I know looking at internet porn is sin, but God is gracious and long-suffering. I will sin just this one time more and then ask God to forgive me.” But this is folly. This is presumption. To go further, evangelical repentance is only possible for those who possess new life in Jesus Christ. And here is the second ingredient missing in much Reformed preaching, the doctrine of regeneration, the new birth. Note the command in Ezekiel 18:31, “Make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” What? How is this possible? This is like you giving yourself a heart transplant. This is impossible, but God is commanding all of us to make a new heart within ourselves. We are to do the impossible, and the preacher is to call people everywhere to make for themselves a new heart. Unbelievers everywhere must do so or they will be lost forever. Here’s the deal, my friends. As an unbeliever, you may come to realize that you are in the jailhouse of your sin (original, actual, and indwelling sin) and you may think you have the key in your back pocket and can use it at any time to give you release. This is what people call “free will.” You may think you can continue to live in abject rebellion against God and choose to come to Christ when you are old and have done all the sinning you wish to do. But you cannot save yourself. You cannot make it happen. Only Jesus has the key to set you free from sin and that key is repentance and faith. And the only way you can repent is when the Holy Spirit does in you what you cannot do for yourself. He regenerates you. He takes out the rebellious, sensual, idolatrous heart which loves sin and hates God, and gives you the heart of Jesus which loves God and hates sin. 

The great need today, my friends, in the PCA, the SBC, and every other church in the U.S. and around the world is for people everywhere to repent with heartfelt grief and sorrow for sin, calling on the name of the Lord to save them. And this can only be done when regeneration takes place first. This is classic Reformed theology. Regeneration always precedes conversion (repentance and faith) and the Reformed preacher must get back to his task. Preach regeneration and repentance. Preach for a verdict. Preach Christ crucified. Do not be satisfied with merely preaching an accurate exegetical and theologically precise sermon. 

Is it possible, then, that many in the PCA and SBC are only engaged in ego repentance at best? Is it possible that many have not been born again?________________________

1. The Scriptures are replete with references to the absolute necessity of repentance. For example, read Isaiah 55:6-7, Jeremiah 3:11-14, 26:2-3, 2 Chronicles 7:13-20, Acts 2:38, 17:30, Mark 1:15.  
2. Richard Owen Roberts, born in 1931, and author of many books on revival, the last I heard, is still alive and preaching. He is a most powerful preacher and expert on revival. 

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Al Baker. It originally appeared at Forget None of His Benefits.]

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