True repentance

True repentance involves more than confession. It requires us to admit the darkness of the depth of our souls.

Neal Wilson, former president of the General Conference, and currently serving as special assistant to the General Conference president.

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent" (Rev. 3:19) is the call of the True Witness to the angel of the Laodicean church. But will the people, represented by the angel, respond to the call?

As I have pointed out in the past few months, the message to the Laodicean church presents our true condition as a people. It clearly identifies a twofold problem within the church self-righteousness, and spiritual blindness to our true condition. This condition has been caused by drifting away from Jesus. However, the Laodicean condition is not completely hopeless, for Jesus presents a twofold solution to the problem repentance, and a renewal of our relationship with Him.

My fellow Laodiceans, I want to speak to you now about repentance true repentance. One of the steps followed by the apostles as they prepared themselves for the day of Pentecost was a humbling of themselves in true repentance and the confession of their unbelief. Ellen White counsels that "the same work, only in greater degree, must be done now."1

There is no way for us to escape the issue of repentance. Therefore, it is time for us, individually and as a church, to humble our hearts before God in true repentance.

What is repentance?

Of the four conditions to be met before God will give us the latter rain—confession, humiliation, repentance, and earnest prayer—it is the experiences of confession, humiliation, and repentance that are least understood. In other words, three fourths of the conditions are either vague in the minds of most Christians or are misunderstood. Is it any wonder, then, that we have not met the prescribed conditions and have not received the power that God is waiting to give us?

In the minds of most people, repentance consists of kneeling at the side of our beds at the end of the day and asking God to forgive us for losing our tempers, or yelling at our children, or telling a partial untruth, or mistreating animal pets, or doing other misdeeds. Although this is important, how many realize that losing our tempers or telling a lie are symptoms of a spiritual disease? As long as we continue to treat only the symptoms, the disease will never be cured! When a person has a fever or a headache, taking an aspirin may give some relief, but this is only treating the symptoms. If the disease is isolated and treated, the fever and headache will disappear.

What is true in the physical realm is true also in the spiritual. Confessing the lies we tell and the harshness with which we treat other people is the right thing to do. We must remember, however, that we are dealing with the symptoms of the disease. We must also come to grips with the disease itself, and then the symptoms will begin to disappear.

The spiritual disease that has infected us is sin, in which we all share. The apostle Paul explains how we became sinners, what our condition is in sin, and how the disease can be overcome.

To begin with, Paul tells us that we are in a sinful state because of the decision of Adam, who was the corporate head of the human race. One passage that clarifies this for us is Romans 5:12: "Where fore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned."

I have been told by some of our scholars that this verse is a literary chiasm. A chiasm is a rhetorical inversion of the second of two parallel phrases or clauses for the purpose of emphasizing a truth. By parallels Paul tells us that by man (Adam) sin entered the world, and as a result, all men sinned. That is, because of Adam's sin, all men became sinners. And since by sin death entered the world, the result is that death spread to all. That is, because sin entered into the world, all human beings die.

What Paul is teaching becomes clearer when we recognize that Paul is writing in terms of corporate identity. This corporate identity is seen clearly in Paul's summation of his position in verses 18 and 19: "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation [corporate identity]; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life [corporate identity]. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners [corporate identity], so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous [corporate identity]."

Now, why spend time, you ask, going through this theological reasoning? Be cause, my fellow believer, it is by under standing what Paul is saying theologically that we can understand what our real problem is. Once we understand the problem, we can find the solution that God has laid out for us in His Word.

Our real problem

First of all, the problem is our sinful, or carnal, nature, which we have received as a birthright from Adam. Every human being possesses this nature. It is this nature that leads us to sin against God. It is the presence of the carnal nature within all human beings and what it leads us to do that caused Paul to say: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). We sin in action be cause we possess a fallen, carnal nature as a legacy from Adam.

As the apostle Paul opens his heart to us, he confesses: "I am carnal, sold under sin" (Rom. 7:14). Why is Paul carnal? He inherited his fallen nature from Father Adam. Who sold him under sin? Father Adam. We are all in this same condition; there is not one human being that is any different from another.

My Christian friend, true repentance will take us beyond dealing with the symptoms of sin. Please do not misread me. I do not wish to be misunderstood. Sinful acts that grow out of the presence of the carnal nature should be confessed and forsaken. But true repentance leads us to the point at which we will come to grips with the fact that the carnal nature exists within us.

A sad but graphic illustration of this is the experience of a man who had been confined in a death camp. Yehiel Dinur appeared in an Israeli courtroom to testify against the Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann, who was accused of being a butcher of humanity. When Dinur saw Eichmann, he "suddenly began to cry, then fell to the floor. It was not hatred or fear which overcame him. He suddenly realized that Eichmann was not the superman that the inmates had feared; he was an ordinary man. Says Dinur: 'I was afraid about myself. I saw that I am capable to do this. I am . . . exactly like he!' Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes told the story on TV. He summed it up: 'Eichmann is in all of us.' "2

The potential exists within each one of us to do the most inhuman things against our fellow human beings. We must be willing to recognize and admit this if we are ever going to experience true repentance. True repentance will lead us to humble ourselves before God, to look Him in the face and admit that we too have the carnal nature. It will lead us to admit to Him that we are capable of committing the most terrible sins. It will lead us to plead with Him to take control of our carnal natures and to subdue them and replace them with the character of Jesus.

The admission before God that there is a power within us that drives us on to sin and rebellion against Him will lead us to deal more kindly and redemptively with our brothers and sisters. When one of them sins, we will realize that the potential exists within us to do the very same thing. For we too are children of Adam.

I ask that we all examine our hearts. We must recognize that the carnal nature exists within us and be willing to admit the fact that the potential exists for us to commit grievous sins. Then we must ask God to control that evil nature. Until we can humble ourselves before God and admit our true condition, we will not understand what repentance is all about, nor can we even begin to understand what righteousness by faith is all about.

Until we humble ourselves before God and admit to Him that our natures are evil, it is not likely that we will have any desire to listen to the counsel the True Witness offers to spiritual Laodiceans. But this is what the Laodicean message is all about. We claim to be rich and in creased with goods when all the time we are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. As long as the carnal nature dominates our lives, our ears and minds will not be attuned to hear the invitation to buy the gold tried in the fire, white raiment to be clothed, and eyesalve that we may see.

The apostle Paul warns us: "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh" (Rom. 8:5); "For to be carnally minded is death" (verse 6); and "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (verse 7).

Jesus is the only answer to the carnal nature's dominion. Paul cries out: "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 7:24, 25). Ellen White affirms Paul's solution to our problem: "You cannot change your heart, you can not of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; your affections will be centered upon Him, your thoughts will be in harmony with Him." 3 Our natures must be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ! We must not only be revived spiritually, but changed and sanctified by the power of Jesus and His Spirit.

Beloved, it is time for God's people to humble themselves before Him and admit their true condition. We are sinful by nature. The carnal nature has led us to perform selfish acts to the detriment of God's work and to the hurt of His people.

Have we been quick to judge our brothers and sisters, to speak harsh words of condemnation, and to spread by mouth and print rumors and suspicions? Have we been thoughtless and mean to the members of our families and to the members of God's world family? Have we been self-centered, grasping, and harsh?

My fellow pilgrim, you and I are no better than any other person. We too at times have had our own agendas, and perhaps to the detriment of God's cause. We must admit that we are a backslidden, stiff' necked people, and that a revival of true godliness is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. I appeal to each of you, let us examine our hearts and join in humbling ourselves before God and admitting the presence of the carnal nature. Let us enter into an experience of true repentance individually, and then share in the joyful results together.

Let us prepare our hearts so God can do for us what He wanted to do at the General Conference sessions in 1888 and 1901 but could not do. Seek the gift of true repentance, seek the latter rain, and thus allow God to carry out His will to finish His work in and through us.

1. Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1962), p. 507.

2. Robert Wieland, As Many as I Love (Uniontown, Ohio: Adventist Realities, 1986), p. 27.

3. Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 47.

My fellow pilgrim, you and I are no bet
ter than any other person. We too at times
have had our own agendas, and perhaps to
the detriment of God's cause. We must
admit that we are a backslidden, stiff'
necked people, and that a revival of true
godliness is the greatest and most urgent of
all our needs. I appeal to each of you, let us
examine our hearts and join in humbling
ourselves before God and admitting the
presence of the carnal nature. Let us enter
into an experience of true repentance in
dividually, and then share in the joyful
results together.
Let us prepare our hearts so God can do
for us what He wanted to do at the Gen
eral Conference sessions in 1888 and
1901 but could not do. Seek the gift of
true repentance, seek the latter rain, and
thus allow God to carry out His will to
finish His work in and through us.
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Neal Wilson, former president of the General Conference, and currently serving as special assistant to the General Conference president.

July 1990

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