Dealing Rightly with Delayed Repentance

From time to time, I encounter folks who express an awakened interest in seeking Christ, but insist that they want to “take it slow,” and “not rush into anything.” There is certainly a place for presenting Christ and the Gospel to such an individual in a methodical, fashion over time. In fact, as I react against manipulative “decisionism,” I always back off from such an individual and simply pray that the Spirit will be at work. But I am coming to see that trusting in the sovereign work of God in the heart does not mean that we lose a sense of urgency as we plead for sinners to be reconciled to God, because He has indeed commanded all people everywhere to repent now. (2 Cor 5:16-20; Acts 17:30-31) What I am learning in these cases of people wanting to “take it slow,” is that they are often quite satisfied to “seek” for an indefinite period of time, “always learning, but never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim 3:7) Often what is behind the delay in repenting and trusting in Christ is self-righteousness: they want to learn everything about the Bible, get themselves cleaned up, and then present themselves as dignified and desirable candidates for God’s grace.

Ichabod Spencer is a master at snuffing out sinners in hiding. When a young man came to him expressing his desire to “seek religion,” Spencer pressed upon him that “now is the acceptable time for salvation.” The young man backpedalled, and protests that he is not yet in the right state of mind. So Spencer asks, “Will disobeying God (by not repenting) put you in a better state of mind, do you think?” When the young man insists he is not prepared, Spencer responds, “That very thing is your difficulty. You are not prepared, but ‘now is the acceptable time.’ You wish to put off your repentance and conversion to Christ till some other time; but ‘now is the accepted time.’ You and your Bible disagree . . .  You told me you were determined to put off religion no longer. I suspected you did not know your own heart, and therefore I said to you, ‘now is the accepted time.’ And now it has become manifest that you meant to put off religion till some other time all the while.” (A Pastor’s Sketches Vol 2, pp 225-226)

It is important to keep in mind Spencer’s theology that is in back of this: he is not aiming at leading this man in a sinner’s prayer and then declaring him saved; he is driving the man to see his desperation for Christ so that he will cry out to God to have mercy on him. This line that Spencer takes here is perhaps not appropriate in every conversation, but it certainly is when someone is simply playing games with coming to Christ, and I can think of specific examples from my own life where it is exactly what was called for. The faithful evangelist surely must “conspire with the Holy Spirit” at all times to respond appropriately to each situation. Surely we are called to be “physicians of the soul.”

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About Eric Smith

Sinner saved by the grace of Jesus, husband of Candace, father of Coleman and Crockett, West Tennessean, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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