When God’s Goodness Leads to Repentance…and When It Does Not
God is good, all the time, but man’s heart is wicked (Jer 17:9). The goodness of God is what leads God’s people to repentance (Rom 2:4), but repentance is impossible apart from the Spirit’s work in regeneration (Jn 15:5; 1 Pet 1:3).
Sinful man thinks he is good, and he believes he does good (Rom 3:10–12). Therefore, when he hears a Christian preacher call all men to repentance (Acts 2:38; 17:30), the sinful man objects. He does not feel he needs to repent (Jer 8:6; 15:7).
Repentance means to think again. It also means to change one’s mind. With it comes a change of heart, which is the seat of power within a person. Sin prevents man from making the conscious decision to change his view of God and the view of himself.
When a man actually does repent, he agrees with God’s assessment of man, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5).” Man and his works do no look so good from God’s view. A repentant man moves from thinking more highly of himself than he should, to an honest self-loathing (Rom 12:3; 7:24).
Here the Bible and psychology are at odds with one another (1 Pet 1:13; Jude 1:21). Psychology says that people need to increase their self-esteem and self-love; while the Bible says that men need to increase their view of Jesus Christ (producing humility), and they need to love God with their whole hearts (being).
God is good to man, in giving him life in this world, despite man’s active rebellion against God (Eph 2:12). In fact, when God is good to man, it tends to harden man’s heart against God (Jn 12:40). In His providential care of humanity, God extends goodness, in giving sunshine and rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt 5:45). God also gives man work to do (Eccl 3:13).
Man is told by Satan, the father of lies (Jn 8:44), that God is withholding good things from him. Man, secretly, and sometimes openly, despises God because he has believed the devil instead of God (Gen 3). In one breath, man grumbles and complains against God. In his next breath, he denies God even exists (Ps 14:1; 53:1). Man’s entire system of government, education, business, the arts, sports, and the sciences are designed to steal glory from God. Man takes credit for himself at the awards’ banquet and during the television interview. Man loves the world system, but he should not (1 Jn 2:15–17).
The proper response of man eludes him. Instead of giving thanks to God and acknowledging God, in everything, man suppresses the truth about God and about himself (Rom 1:18). Man sings, “I did it my way,” and boasts, “I am the greatest!” Man looks at the physical universe and writes his best-selling book on how the creation created itself. Sinful man lives to deny God the due credit, honor, and glory.
From God’s point of view, man is ignorantly storing up wrath for the day of God’s wrathful judgment (Rom 2:5). Man is condemned already (Jn 3:17), therefore, man’s singular task, being a product of his own reprobate mind, is to stay the course of sin accumulation. Refusing to repent, because there is absolutely no reason to do so, man hardens his disposition, like clay in the sun from day to day.
The tragedy of man is not even to be believed by man (2 Cor 4:4). He is in utter denial to his own dangerous plight. He will never repent…unless God gives him the grace unto repentance (Acts 3:26; 5:31; 8:22; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25).
Grace is the exclusive work of God in his chosen people (Ps 57:2; 138:8; Is 26:12; Eph 2:8–9), the beneficiaries of His goodness. Why doesn’t God just destroy us? What in the world is He waiting for? The answer is exclusive. God is patiently enduring the rages of men against Him (Ps 2), so that all of His elect people, in every generation, receive His grace unto salvation (2 Pet 3:9).
Jesus said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing (Jn 15:5).” That includes repentance. God grants repentance to His elect people (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25; 2 Pet 3:9), whose hearts are humbled by God’s goodness. He causes them to be born again (Jn 3:1–8; 1 Pet 1:13), and then He causes them to walk in His statutes (Ezek 36:27). Here is the singular catalyst in differentiating the righteous from the unrighteous.
Christian, if God has granted you repentance, then He has also given you faith (Rom 12:3; Gal 3:22; 5:22; Eph 2:8–9; Phil 1:29; Heb 12:2). You believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which you formerly resisted (Acts 9). You know God is withholding no good thing from you, as He alone knows the course best for you. Rejoice! Give thanks to Him with all your heart! He deserves all glory, for great things He has done, including granting elect sinners repentance!
Spokane Valley, Washington
December 21, 2021