Paul, in Colossians 2.6, instructs us: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…” Simple words, but powerfully practical when unpacked.
How did we “receive” Jesus? By faith and repentance – or by repentance and faith. We are not quite sure which comes first, but perhaps that does not matter. It may be that the order is different with different people. What matters is that genuine conversion involves both of these elements: Repentance of our sin and of all our desire and attempts to save ourselves through our good behavior; Faith in the gospel – the good news – of what Jesus has done on our behalf, and what is offered to us in him.
If these are the two elements by which we received Jesus then, according to the Apostle’s instruction, these are the two elements that should be characteristic of our day-to-day life in Jesus. The old Puritan Thomas Watson once wisely noted: “Faith and repentance are the two wings by which we fly toward heaven.” In other words, faith and repentance are not only the instruments by which the journey of salvation is initiated, these are the practices by which we travel. These are the ingredients of spiritual growth leading to maturity.
The chart above reflects both faith and repentance, and provides a tool to help us be able to “preach the gospel to ourselves”.
It reminds us that when recognize sin in our lives, our response should not be to simply resolve to “stop it”. We need to discern its source. In other words, the sin we see, the sin which shows itself in our behavior (and in our attitudes), has deeper roots and causes. So, like an explorer commissioned to trace the a great river to discover its tributaries and its origin, we are called upon to discover what “root sins” are tributaries of our behavior, and ultimately what idols are the original source. Once discovered – or even while in the process of discovery – “putting sin to death” requires that we confess it and repent of it. All of it – the sinful behaviors, the attitudes that lead to it, and the idols that source it. Growth in grace is greater than mere moral reform. Growth in grace is a work of the Spirit upon the heart which eventually and inevitably leads to a change in behavior.
Yet growth in grace does not come by confession and repentance alone. Such may lead to behavior change, if we feel guilty enough and desire to change. But that is not growth in grace. Growth in grace requires that we believe what grace gives; that we ponder what is true, and good, and beautiful: chiefly among such things is the gospel, the good news of what God promises – and does – when we trust in Jesus. (Philippians 4.8) Reminded of the truths of the gospel, our hearts change; they turn toward God, causing us to hunger to grow more like him, and enabling us to rely more on his promise that what he began he will complete. (Philippians 1.6)
This is the spiritual discipline of preaching the gospel to ourselves.