Steps to Christ
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 3: Repentance
The prayer of David after his fall, illustrates the nature of true
sorrow for sin. His repentance was sincere and deep.
Review and Herald Publ. Assoc.
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.
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. They lament the suffering rather
than the sin. Such was the grief of Esau when
he saw that the birthright was lost to him forever.
Balaam, terrified by the angel standing in his pathway
with drawn sword, acknowledged his guilt lest
he should lose his life; but there was no genuine
repentance for sin, no conversion of purpose, no
abhorrence of evil. Judas Iscariot, after betraying his [p. 24] Lord, exclaimed, "I have sinned in that I have
betrayed the innocent blood." Matthew 27:4.
The confession was forced from his guilty soul by
an awful sense of condemnation and a fearful looking
for of judgment. The consequences that were to
result to him filled him with terror, but there was
no deep, heartbreaking grief in his soul, that he had
betrayed the spotless Son of God and denied the
Holy One of Israel. Pharaoh, when suffering under
the judgments of God, acknowledged his sin in order
to escape further punishment, but returned to his
defiance of Heaven as soon as the plagues were stayed.
These all lamented the results of sin, but did not
sorrow for the sin itself.
But when the heart yields to the influence of the
Spirit of God, the conscience will be quickened, and
the sinner will discern something of the depth and
sacredness of God's holy law, the foundation of His
government in heaven and on earth. The "Light,
which lighteth every man that cometh into the world,"
illumines the secret chambers of the soul, and the
hidden things of darkness are made manifest. John
1:9. Conviction takes hold upon the mind and heart.
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.
The prayer of David after his fall, illustrates the
nature of true sorrow for sin. His repentance was
sincere and deep. There was no effort to palliate [p. 25] 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. This was the language of his soul:
"Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord
imputeth not iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no guile."
Psalm 32:1, 2.
"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to
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
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. [p. 26]
Just here is a point on which many may err, and
hence they fail of receiving the help that Christ desires
to give them. They think that they cannot come to
Christ unless they first repent, and that repentance
prepares for the forgiveness of their sins. It is true
that repentance does precede the forgiveness of sins;
for it is only the broken and contrite heart that will
feel the need of a Saviour. But must the sinner wait
till he has repented before he can come to Jesus? Is
repentance to be made an obstacle between the sinner
and the Saviour?
The Bible does not teach that the sinner must
repent before he can heed the invitation of Christ,
"Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden,
and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28. 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. We can no more
repent without the Spirit of Christ to awaken the
conscience than we can be pardoned without Christ.
Christ is the source of every right impulse. He
is the only one that can implant in the heart enmity
against sin. Every desire for truth and purity, every
conviction of our own sinfulness, is an evidence that
His Spirit is moving upon our hearts.
Jesus has 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 [p. 27] 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. In dying for
sinners, Christ manifested a love that is incomprehensible;
and as the sinner beholds this love, it softens
the heart, impresses the mind, and inspires contrition
in the soul.
It is true that men sometimes become ashamed
of their sinful ways, and give up some of their evil
habits, before they are conscious that they are being
drawn to Christ. But whenever they make an effort
to reform, from a sincere desire to do right, it is the
power of Christ that is drawing them. An influence
of which they are unconscious works upon the soul,
and the conscience is quickened, and the outward life
is amended. 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
The sinner may resist this love, may refuse to be
drawn to Christ; but if he does not resist he will be
drawn to Jesus; a knowledge of the plan of salvation
will lead him to the foot of the cross in repentance
for his sins, which have caused the sufferings of God's
dear Son. [p. 28]
The same divine mind that is working upon the
things of nature is speaking to the hearts of men and
creating an inexpressible craving for something they
have not. The things of the world cannot satisfy their
longing. The Spirit of God is pleading with them to
seek for those things that alone can give peace and
rest—the grace of Christ, the joy of holiness. Through
influences seen and unseen, our Saviour is constantly
at work to attract the minds of men from the unsatisfying
pleasures of sin to the infinite blessings that may
be theirs in Him. To all these souls, who are vainly
seeking to drink from the broken cisterns of this world,
the divine message is addressed, "Let him that is athirst
come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of
life freely." Revelation 22:17.
You who in heart long for something better than
this world can give, recognize this longing as the voice
of God to your soul. Ask Him to give you repentance,
to reveal Christ to you in His infinite love, in His
perfect purity. In the Saviour's life the principles of God's
law—love to God and man—were perfectly exemplified.
Benevolence, unselfish love, was the life of His soul.
It is as we behold Him, as the light from our Saviour
falls upon us, that we see the sinfulness of our own
We may have flattered ourselves, as did Nicodemus,
that our life has been upright, that our moral
character is correct, and think that we need not humble
the heart before God, like the common sinner:
but when the light from Christ shines into our souls,
we shall see how impure we are; we shall discern the
selfishness of motive, the enmity against God, that [p. 29] has defiled every act of life. Then we shall know that
our own righteousness is indeed as filthy rags, and
that the blood of Christ alone can cleanse us from
the defilement of sin, and renew our hearts in His
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
When the prophet Daniel beheld the glory
surrounding the heavenly messenger that was sent unto
him, he was overwhelmed with a sense of his own
weakness and imperfection. Describing the effect of
the wonderful scene, he says, "There remained no
strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me
into corruption, and I retained no strength." Daniel
10:8. The soul thus touched will hate its selfishness,
abhor its self-love, and will seek, through Christ's
righteousness, for the purity of heart that is in harmony with
the law of God and the character of Christ.
Paul says that as "touching the righteousness which
is in the law"—as far as outward acts were concerned
—he was "blameless" (Philippians 3:6); but when the
spiritual character of the law was discerned, he saw
himself a sinner. Judged by the letter of the law as [p. 30] men apply it to the outward life, he had abstained
from sin; but when he looked into the depths of its
holy precepts, and saw himself as God saw him, he
bowed in humiliation and confessed his guilt. He
says, "I was alive without the law once: but when
the commandment came, sin revived, and I died."
Romans 7:9. When he saw the spiritual nature of
the law, sin appeared in its true hideousness, and his
self-esteem was gone.
God does not regard all sins as of equal magnitude;
there are degrees of guilt in His estimation, as
well as in that of man; but however trifling this or
that wrong act may seem in the eyes of men, no sin
is small in the sight of God. Man's judgment is
partial, imperfect; but God estimates all things as
they really are. The drunkard is despised and is
told that his sin will exclude him from heaven; while
pride, selfishness, and covetousness too often go
unrebuked. But these are sins that are especially offensive
to God; for they are contrary to the benevolence
of His character, to that unselfish love which is the
very atmosphere of the unfallen universe. He who
falls into some of the grosser sins may feel a sense of
his shame and poverty and his need of the grace of
Christ; but pride feels no need, and so it closes the
heart against Christ and the infinite blessings He
came to give.
The poor publican who prayed, "God be merciful
to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13), regarded himself as a
very wicked man, and others looked upon him in the
same light; but he felt his need, and with his burden of [p. 31] guilt and shame he came before God, asking for His
mercy. His heart was open for the Spirit of God to
do its gracious work and set him free from the power
of sin. The Pharisee's boastful, self-righteous prayer
showed that his heart was closed against the influence
of the Holy Spirit. Because of his distance from God,
he had no sense of his own defilement, in contrast
with the perfection of the divine holiness. He felt no
need, and he received nothing.
If you see your sinfulness, do not wait to make
yourself better. How many there are who think they
are not good enough to come to Christ. Do you
expect to become better through your own efforts?
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard
his spots? then may ye also do good, that are
accustomed to do evil." Jeremiah 13:23. There is help for
us only in God. We must not wait for stronger
persuasions, for better opportunities, or for holier tempers.
We can do nothing of ourselves. We must come to
Christ just as we are.
But let none deceive themselves with the thought
that God, in His great love and mercy, will yet save
even the rejecters of His grace. The exceeding sinfulness
of sin can be estimated only in the light of the
cross. When men urge that God is too good to cast off
the sinner, let them look to Calvary. It was because
there was no other way in which man could be saved,
because without this sacrifice it was impossible for
the human race to escape from the defiling power
of sin, and be restored to communion with holy
beings,—impossible for them again to become partakers [p. 32] of spiritual life,—it was because of this that Christ
took upon Himself the guilt of the disobedient and
suffered in the sinner's stead. The love and suffering
and death of the Son of God all testify to the terrible
enormity of sin and declare that there is no escape
from its power, no hope of the higher life, but through
the submission of the soul to Christ.
The impenitent sometimes excuse themselves by
saying of professed Christians, "I am as good as they
are. They are no more self-denying, sober, or
circumspect in their conduct than I am. They love
pleasure and self-indulgence as well as I do." Thus
they make the faults of others an excuse for their own
neglect of duty. But the sins and defects of others
do not excuse anyone, for the Lord has not given us
an erring human pattern. The spotless Son of God
has been given as our example, and those who
complain of the wrong course of professed Christians are
the ones who should show better lives and nobler
examples. If they have so high a conception of what
a Christian should be, is not their own sin so much
the greater? They know what is right, and yet
refuse to do it.
Beware of procrastination. Do not put off the
work of forsaking your sins and seeking purity of
heart through Jesus. Here is where thousands upon
thousands have erred to their eternal loss. I will not
here dwell upon the shortness and uncertainty of life;
but there is a terrible danger—a danger not
sufficiently understood—in delaying to yield to the
pleading voice of God's Holy Spirit, in choosing to live
in sin; for such this delay really is. Sin, however [p. 33] small it may be esteemed, can be indulged in only at
the peril of infinite loss. What we do not overcome,
will overcome us and work out our destruction.
Adam and Eve persuaded themselves that in so
small a matter as eating of the forbidden fruit there
could not result such terrible consequences as God had
declared. But this small matter was the transgression
of God's immutable and holy law, and it separated
man from God and opened the floodgates of death
and untold woe upon our world. Age after age there
has gone up from our earth a continual cry of mourning,
and the whole creation groaneth and travaileth
together in pain as a consequence of man's disobedience.
Heaven itself has felt the effects of his rebellion
against God. Calvary stands as a memorial of
the amazing sacrifice required to atone for the
transgression of the divine law. Let us not regard sin as
a trivial thing.
Every act of transgression, every neglect or rejection
of the grace of Christ, is reacting upon yourself;
it is hardening the heart, depraving the will, benumbing
the understanding, and not only making you less
inclined to yield, but less capable of yielding, to the
tender pleading of God's Holy Spirit.
Many are quieting a troubled conscience with the
thought that they can change a course of evil when
they choose; that they can trifle with the invitations of
mercy, and yet be again and again impressed. They
think that after doing despite to the Spirit of grace,
after casting their influence on the side of Satan, in
a moment of terrible extremity they can change their
course. But this is not so easily done. The experience, [p. 34] the education, of a lifetime, has so thoroughly
molded the character that few then desire to receive
the image of Jesus.
Even one wrong trait of character, one sinful
desire, persistently cherished, will eventually neutralize
all the power of the gospel. Every sinful indulgence
strengthens the soul's aversion to God. The man
who manifests an infidel hardihood, or a stolid
indifference to divine truth, is but reaping the harvest of
that which he has himself sown. In all the Bible
there is not a more fearful warning against trifling
with evil than the words of the wise man that the
sinner "shall be holden with the cords of his sins."
Christ is ready to set us free from sin, but He does
not force the will; and if by persistent transgression
the will itself is wholly bent on evil, and we do not
desire to be set free, if we will not accept His grace,
what more can He do? We have destroyed ourselves
by our determined rejection of His love. "Behold,
now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of
salvation." "Today if ye will hear His voice, harden
not your hearts." 2 Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 3:7, 8.
"Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the
Lord looketh on the heart"—the human heart, with its
conflicting emotions of joy and sorrow; the wandering,
wayward heart, which is the abode of so much impurity
and deceit. 1 Samuel 16:7. He knows its motives,
its very intents and purposes. Go to Him with your
soul all stained as it is. Like the psalmist, throw its
chambers open to the all-seeing eye, exclaiming, "Search
me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know [p. 35] my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in
me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:
Many accept an intellectual religion, a form of
godliness, when the heart is not cleansed. Let it be
your prayer, "Create in me a clean heart, O God;
and renew a right spirit within me." Psalm 51:10.
Deal truly with your own soul. Be as earnest, as
persistent, as you would be if your mortal life were
at stake. This is a matter to be settled between God
and your own soul, settled for eternity. A supposed
hope, and nothing more, will prove your ruin.
Study God's word prayerfully. That word presents
before you, in the law of God and the life of Christ,
the great principles of holiness, without which "no
man shall see the Lord." Hebrews 12:14. It convinces
of sin; it plainly reveals the way of salvation. Give
heed to it as the voice of God speaking to your soul.
As you see the enormity of sin, as you see yourself
as you really are, do not give up to despair. It was
sinners that Christ came to save. We have not to
reconcile God to us, but—O wondrous love!—God in
Christ is "reconciling the world unto Himself." 2
Corinthians 5:19. He is wooing by His tender love the
hearts of His erring children. No earthly parent could
be as patient with the faults and mistakes of his
children, as is God with those He seeks to save. No one
could plead more tenderly with the transgressor. No
human lips ever poured out more tender entreaties to
the wanderer than does He. All His promises, His
warnings, are but the breathing of unutterable love.
When Satan comes to tell you that you are a [p. 36] great sinner, look up to your Redeemer and talk of
His merits. That which will help you is to look to
His light. Acknowledge your sin, but tell the enemy
that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save
sinners" and that you may be saved by His matchless
love. 1 Timothy 1:15. Jesus asked Simon a question
in regard to two debtors. One owed his lord a small
sum, and the other owed him a very large sum; but
he forgave them both, and Christ asked Simon which
debtor would love his lord most. Simon answered,
"He to whom he forgave most." Luke 7:43. We have
been great sinners, but Christ died that we might be
forgiven. The merits of His sacrifice are sufficient to
present to the Father in our behalf. Those to whom
He has forgiven most will love Him most, and will
stand nearest to His throne to praise Him for His
great love and infinite sacrifice. It is when we most
fully comprehend the love of God that we best
realize the sinfulness of sin. When we see the length
of the chain that was let down for us, when we
understand something of the infinite sacrifice that
Christ has made in our behalf, the heart is melted
with tenderness and contrition.
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