The Apostle Paul regularly preached repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). This was precisely what Jesus Christ, following the resurrection, had told His disciples they should preach (Luke 24:47). The gospel message is not complete without the message of repentance.
Repentance, much like faith, is an inward work that has outward fruits (Matt. 3:8). God gives repentance (Acts 5:31) and the sinner is then able to repent. This repentance is essentially a change in the way a sinner views God, himself, and everything else. The very word means a different way of thinking. This change of mind affects the entire life of the one repenting.
From the newborn child of God to the seasoned believer, repentance is a work that is continually experienced. Whenever God demonstrates through His Word, whether under preaching or some other means, that the repentant one is wrong and has come short of God’s glory in some specific way, repentance is experienced again and again. This is not to say that one is saved over and over in the sense that we usually understand the word "saved." It is simply to say that the spirit of the saved is such that he is sensitive to sin, eventually. He cannot continue on indefinitely embracing sin and ignoring the fact that he has offended a holy God. When his sin is exposed, the repentant believer responds.
The response of the repentant believer is described in 2 Corinthians 7:9-11, Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that 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. It is important to note that Paul is addressing believers in this context. He is speaking of their repentance that leads to salvation.
Repentance in the life of a true believer is distinguished from that which works in the life of the unbeliever who experiences a measure of sorrow in relation to sin. There is a sorrow of the world over wrongs done that is not a "godly sorrow" that "worketh repentance to salvation."
The sorrow of the truly repentant one is described in Psalm 51, in which David expresses his repentant heart in the face of the exposing of his sin related to Bathsheba. David recognized the seriousness of his sin: Have mercy upon me, O God...wash me...cleanse me...I acknowledge my transgressions...my sin is ever before me...Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight... David understood that his sin was great because it was against God. His heart was broken.
David also recognized that only God was able to cleanse him from guilt and the consequences of his sin: Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me...Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation... Sin had crippled David, destroying the joy and usefulness of this servant of the Lord. He recognized that only God could restore him to a place of usefulness. The cry of his repentant heart was that God would cleanse and restore him, according to His mercy.
There is no religious formality and verbosity in the repentant one. He is not speaking in pride or arrogance. He is not seeking to defend or excuse his sin. David’s repentant heart led him to understand that what God prized above all religious ceremony was a broken and a contrite heart.
We cannot see the workings of a man’s mind and soul. It is very difficult for us to evaluate what lies behind actions and words. But there are some signs that we may see in ourselves or in the lives of others that greatly encourage us that a repentant heart is at work. Whether this be in a new believer, or in one that has fallen away for a time, praise God when signs of repentance are seen!
A truly repentant person will not minimize his sin. He will not be heard making light of his past. He will speak only of his sin with much remorse and will not seek to glamorize or gloat in how bad he was.
There will be the sense of brokeness heard in the tone of the one who is truly repentant. A godly sorrow will be evidenced. Usually this brokeness is accompanied with silence. This person will not be filled with talk, but there will be quietness and soberness as he seeks the mending that comes from the glorious mercy of God.
There will be no resistance to instruction and help offered by those walking in the light. It is amazing to encounter the boldness of some who have fallen into sin who speak about their repentance, but then quickly seek to instruct others in how to deal properly with them. The repentant one will wait upon instruction and will not push himself forward as the teacher.
The repentant soul has a new or renewed interest in the Word of God, preaching, and fellowship with the saints. There will be a love for all things that have to do with His gracious and merciful God. He will desire openness with his brethren. The isolation that marked him in his unrepentant state will markedly change. He will desire to walk in the light along with his brethren who are in the light.
Where repentance is at work, there will be no indifference toward sin. Is this not what the Apostle means in the list given in 2 Corinthians 7:11? There is great eagerness to fight against every temptation that led to the life of sin. There will be a longing to revenge all that was lost by sinful choices, by replacing them with righteous choices of obedience. Every tendency toward sin will be resisted. There will no longer be the coddling of secret or private sins. There will be the desire to put to death all the deeds of the flesh that remain.
Repentance that is connected to genuine salvation is experienced by every single believer in Christ. There may be seasons of slipping or sliding back. But repentance that is resident in the life of every believer will eventually work and restore the erring one. This repentance is recognizable. It is not merely an inward matter. It is not merely words. It is a powerful grace of the Spirit of Christ working in every child of God.
Have you experienced repentance toward God? Are you in need of the exercise of that grace in your life right now? Have you wandered from the narrow way? Turn again to the Lord who saved you and called you with a holy calling! Turn again to the Shepherd and Bishop of your soul!
Kyle White, Pastor