“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?
Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil.” Jeremiah 13:23 NJKV
“We have no hope but in Jesus. He alone can reach us with His hand to lift us up out of the depths of discouragement and hopelessness and place our feet upon the Rock. Although the human soul may cling to Jesus with all the desperate sense of his great need, Jesus will cling to the souls bought by His own blood with a firmer grasp than the sinner clings to Him.
“I [Ellen White] read this over and over again, for it is so full of assurance: ‘Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:14–16). … What a Saviour we have–a risen Saviour, One who can save all who come unto Him!” That I May Know Him, 80.
“Through the goodness and mercy of Christ the sinner is to be restored to the divine favor. God in Christ is daily beseeching men to be reconciled to God. With outstretched arms He is ready to receive and welcome not only the sinner but the prodigal. His dying love, manifested on Calvary, is the sinner’s assurance of acceptance, peace, and love. Teach these things in the simplest form, that the sin-darkened soul may see the light shining from the cross of Calvary.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 178, 179.
What beautiful thoughts and truths are revealed in these words of inspiration! Dear friend, are you ever in need? Does your heart, does your soul ever cry out in despair? Do you feel and know your desperate condition as a sinner? Truly there are temporal or earthly needs, but our spiritual need is even greater, even deeper, and even more hopeless when left on our own. Listen to the way God describes the reality of our condition as revealed to Isaiah, the prophet: “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Isaiah 64:6. Does this leave room for the thought that there is any goodness in us? If our righteousness is as a filthy rag, what does that say for the rest of us? We need Jesus. We are helpless in and of ourselves. “We have no hope but in Jesus.”
I want to establish this fact beyond the shadow of a doubt not only theoretically, but as a deep, heart wrenching reality. Until we know the depth of our need, we will never receive the help we need. Too often we think ourselves relatively good. I’m OK, you’re OK kind of mentality. But that is not reality in God’s eyes. We are absolutely helpless to be good. As a leopard cannot change its spots, so we cannot change the spots of sin in our lives. Our righteousness is as filthy rags. “It is impossible for us, of ourselves, to escape from the pit of sin in which we are sunken. Our hearts are evil, and we cannot change them. ‘Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.’ ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’ (Job 14:4; Romans 8:7).” Steps to Christ, 18.
We know from Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. Therefore, we are doomed if left to ourselves and we must recognize our need before we can get the help we so desperately need. Jesus repeatedly, during His ministry on earth, illustrated the basic fact that in order to get help you must feel a need.
“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” ’ ” Revelation 3:14–19.
Through John, Jesus sends a message to His church in Laodicea, the last of the churches mentioned in Revelation 2, revealing to them their true state, that of believing they are rich and increased with goods, when in reality they are described by God as being “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” He warns them that if they continue in this state He will vomit them out of His mouth. There is no hope for this people if they do not see their true condition. They will be vomited out of the mouth of God. The Laodiceans must feel their need before they can receive help.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells a parable to a group of people who had a pretty good opinion of themselves. “He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ ” Luke 18:9–14.
Only one of the men left the temple justified in the sight of God. It was not the one who felt no need. Rather it was the man who knew his wretched condition before God. Not one of us is “good” enough to stand before a righteous and holy God in our own goodness. The Bible describes all our righteousness as being filthy rags.
Jesus Himself also said in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Again we see that it is those that feel their need that will be filled. Countless Bible stories illustrate that it is only the one who knows his need that will receive help.
We have seen clearly through Inspiration that we have no hope in and of ourselves. We are totally helpless to change our wicked and evil natures; we must have Divine help. So the question might be asked, as it is stated in Steps to Christ, 23, “How shall a man be just with God? How shall the sinner be made righteous?”
What is the very first thing that needs to happen in this process of the sinner being made righteous? Continuing in Steps to Christ, 23: “How shall a man be just with God? How shall the sinner be made righteous? It is only through Christ that we can be brought into harmony with God, with holiness; but how are we to come to Christ? Many are asking the same question as did the multitude on the Day of Pentecost, when, convicted of sin, they cried out, ‘What shall we do?’ The first word of Peter’s answer was, ‘Repent’ (Acts 2:37, 38). At another time, shortly after, he said, ‘Repent … and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out’ (Acts 3:19).”
The first step is to repent, but what does it mean to repent? The Encarta Dictionary defines “repent” like this: “To recognize the wrong in something you have done and be sorry about it.” So in order to repent you need a conviction that you have done something wrong, and that you are sorry for.
We are going to learn just how depraved we are in our dreadful condition and ruin, and how good and merciful and loving our God really is. John 16:8 says that we have become so lost that we are not able to recognize our evilness and cannot even gain a conviction of sin on our own. “And when He [the Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin.” If we already have a conviction, why would we be told that when the Holy Spirit comes He would convict the world? It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that a conviction of sin is experienced.
Once convicted of sin we are sorry about it and have true repentance. “Repentance includes sorrow for sin and a turning away from it. We shall not renounce sin unless we see its sinfulness; until we turn away from it in heart, there will be no real change in the life.
“There are many who fail to understand the true nature of repentance. Multitudes sorrow that they have sinned and even make an outward reformation because they fear that their wrongdoing will bring suffering upon themselves. But this is not repentance in the Bible sense.” Steps to Christ, 23.
To repent because of the impending consequences is not true repentance or true reform. True repentance means that “the sinner has a sense of the righteousness of Jehovah and feels the terror of appearing, in his own guilt and uncleanness, before the Searcher of hearts. He sees the love of God, the beauty of holiness, the joy of purity; he longs to be cleansed and to be restored to communion with Heaven.” Ibid., 24.
We see an example of true repentance in David after his sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. “His repentance was sincere and deep. There was no effort to palliate [lesson the intensity or severity; attempt to make an offense seem less serious by giving excuses] his guilt; no desire to escape the judgment threatened, inspired his prayer. David saw the enormity of his transgression; he saw the defilement of his soul; he loathed his sin. It was not for pardon only that he prayed, but for purity of heart. He longed for the joy of holiness—to be restored to harmony and communion with God.” Ibid., 24, 25.
Listen to David’s plea to God. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. … For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. … Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. … Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence; And take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free spirit. … Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of Thy righteousness (Psalm 51:1–14 KJV).” Ibid., 25.
Here we see true, deep, sincere repentance; not a repentance of making excuses, or of blaming someone else, or a desire to escape the punishment for his sin. But rather we see a sincere, heart-cry for restoration with His God. This is the meaning of true repentance.
Again though, as we study, we find how truly helpless we are of ourselves. “A repentance such as this, is beyond the reach of our own power to accomplish; it is obtained only from Christ, Who ascended up on high and has given gifts unto men.” Ibid., 25.
Again we read that this repentance can come only from Christ. “It is the virtue that goes forth from Christ, that leads to genuine repentance. Peter made the matter clear in his statement to the Israelites when he said, ‘Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 5:31).” Ibid., 26. [Emphasis added.]
Jesus Himself also said, “ ‘I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me’ (John 12:32). Christ must be revealed to the sinner as the Saviour dying for the sins of the world; and as we behold the Lamb of God upon the cross of Calvary, the mystery of redemption begins to unfold to our minds and the goodness of God leads us to repentance. … And as Christ draws them to look upon His cross, to behold Him whom their sins have pierced, the commandment comes home to the conscience. The wickedness of their life, the deep-seated sin of the soul, is revealed to them. They begin to comprehend something of the righteousness of Christ, and exclaim, ‘What is sin, that it should require such a sacrifice for the redemption of its victim? Was all this love, all this suffering, all this humiliation, demanded, that we might not perish, but have everlasting life?’ ” Ibid., 26, 27. [Emphasis added.]
The answer is quite simply and profoundly, yes. What love, what devotion, what longing for righteousness this should engender in our hearts for the sacrifice that made possible our rescue from the doom of death required by our sin.
“One ray of the glory of God, one gleam of the purity of Christ, penetrating the soul, makes every spot of defilement painfully distinct, and lays bare the deformity and defects of the human character. It makes apparent the unhallowed desires, the infidelity of the heart, the impurity of the lips. The sinner’s acts of disloyalty in making void the law of God, are exposed to his sight, and his spirit is stricken and afflicted under the searching influence of the Spirit of God. He loathes himself as he views the pure, spotless character of Christ.” Ibid., 29.
So, the first step in this process of coming to Christ is conviction and repentance. If our conviction and repentance are sincere, what will follow is confession. Once we are convicted of wrongdoing and experience sorrow, there is an action that we need to take in order to be forgiven. 1 John 1:9 states this very clearly. It says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The most important word in this text is just a little two letter word “if.” All the rest of the text hinges on that one word. And that word implies that we have a choice. We can choose to confess—or not. In order to gain forgiveness and cleansing we must confess. We will not be forgiven or cleansed unless we do confess. It seems that confession then is a very important step. So let’s see what God says about confession. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Proverbs 28:13 KJV.
Steps to Christ 37, 38 gives us a very beautiful explanation of confession. “The conditions of obtaining mercy of God are simple and just and reasonable. The Lord does not require us to do some grievous thing in order that we may have the forgiveness of sin. We need not make long and wearisome pilgrimages, or perform painful penances, to commend our souls to the God of heaven or to expiate our transgression; but he that confesseth and forsaketh his sin shall have mercy.
“The apostle says, ‘Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed’ (James 5:16). Confess your sins to God, Who only can forgive them, and your faults to one another. If you have given offense to your friend or neighbor, you are to acknowledge your wrong, and it is his duty freely to forgive you. Then you are to seek the forgiveness of God, because the brother you have wounded is the property of God, and in injuring him you sinned against his Creator and Redeemer. The case is brought before the only true Mediator, our great High Priest, Who ‘was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,’ and Who is ‘touched with the feeling of our infirmities,’ and is able to cleanse from every stain of iniquity (Hebrews 4:15).
“Those who have not humbled their souls before God in acknowledging their guilt, have not yet fulfilled the first condition of acceptance. If we have not experienced that repentance which is not to be repented of, and have not with true humiliation of soul and brokenness of spirit confessed our sins, abhorring our iniquity, we have never truly sought for the forgiveness of sin; and if we have never sought, we have never found the peace of God. The only reason why we do not have remission of sins that are past is that we are not willing to humble our hearts and comply with the conditions of the word of truth. Explicit instruction is given concerning this matter. [Now what does this confession of sin involve?] Confession of sin, whether public or private, should be heartfelt [you must truly mean it] and freely expressed [it can’t be dragged out of you, forced, or coerced]. It is not to be urged from the sinner. It is not to be made in a flippant and careless way, or forced from those who have no realizing sense of the abhorrent character of sin. The confession that is the outpouring of the inmost soul finds its way to the God of infinite pity. The psalmist says, ‘The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit’ (Psalm 34:18).”
In order for our confession to be heard by God it must be 1) heartfelt, 2) freely expressed, 3) not made in a flippant or careless way, 4) not forced, 5) with a realization of the abhorrent character of sin, 6) be the outpouring of the inmost soul. This is true repentance as we saw with David.
“True confession is always of a specific character, and acknowledges particular sins. They may be of such a nature as to be brought before God only; they may be wrongs that should be confessed to individuals who have suffered injury through them; or they may be of a public character, and should then be as publicly confessed. But all confession should be definite and to the point, acknowledging the very sins of which you are guilty.” Ibid., 38. In addition here we find that true confession, 1) is of a specific character, 2) acknowledges particular sins, 3) may need to be kept only between you and God, 4) if the sin wronged or caused suffering to another, it should be confessed to that individual, 5) if the sin was public, it should be publicly confessed, 6) is definite, 7) to the point.
“Confession will not be acceptable to God without sincere repentance and reformation. There must be decided changes in the life; everything offensive to God must be put away. This will be the result of genuine sorrow for sin. The work that we have to do on our part is plainly set before us: ‘Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow’ (Isaiah 1:16, 17). ‘If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die’ (Ezekiel 33:15). Paul says, speaking of the work of repentance: ‘Ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter’ (II Corinthians 7:11).
“When sin has deadened the moral perceptions, the wrongdoer does not discern the defects of his character nor realize the enormity of the evil he has committed; and unless he yields to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit he remains in partial blindness to his sin. His confessions are not sincere and in earnest. To every acknowledgment of his guilt he adds an apology in excuse of his course, declaring that if it had not been for certain circumstances he would not have done this or that for which he is reproved. …
“The examples in God’s word of genuine repentance and humiliation reveal a spirit of confession in which there is no excuse for sin or attempt at self-justification. Paul did not seek to shield himself; he paints his sin in its darkest hue, not attempting to lessen his guilt. He says, ‘Many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities’ (Acts 26:10, 11). He does not hesitate to declare that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief’ (I Timothy 1:15).
“The humble and broken heart, subdued by genuine repentance, will appreciate something of the love of God and the cost of Calvary; and as a son confesses to a loving father, so will the truly penitent bring all his sins before God. And it is written, ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (I John 1:9).” Ibid., 39–41.
Why are these things, conviction, repentance and confession so very important, and what do they have to do with the kingdom of glory? The kingdom of glory is the kingdom established by God, governed by His perfect law (Psalm 19:7). In this kingdom there is no sin. Sin cannot exist in God’s presence. Since sin has entered this world, in His mercy and love God provided a means for our restoration. It is called the plan of salvation.
The covenant that God made with His son Jesus “before the foundations of the earth” was simply “an arrangement for bringing men again into harmony with the divine will, placing them where they could obey God’s law.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 371. These steps, conviction, repentance and confession are the beginnings of our part in this great plan for our restoration. “It is man’s part to respond to His great love, by appropriating the great salvation the blessing of the Lord has made it possible for man to obtain.” Lift Him Up, 232.
These truths should awaken in us the most ardent, the most tender, the most devoted love for the One Who loved us so much that “He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.
NKJV unless otherwise noted.
Brenda Douay is a staff member at Steps to Life. She may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.