Repentance – Restoring the Joy of Our Salvation

By: Dr. Steven Riser; ©2005
What was the very first command that Jesus gave us in Mark 1:15? “Repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus, as well as John the Baptist, continually urged the people to humble themselves, admit their sins and turn to God in repentance and faith. By contrast, the advertising industry invites us to be big self-centered, emotionally immature babies—an invitation that is hard for human nature to resist.

Repentance – Restoring the Joy of Our Salvation

What was the very first command that Jesus gave us in Mark 1:15? “Repent and believe in the gospel.

Jesus, as well as John the Baptist, continually urged the people to humble themselves, admit their sins and turn to God in repentance and faith. When Jesus was told of a tragedy in Luke 13:1-5 that caused many deaths, Jesus repeated his theme, “…unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5b). We live in a time that’s hard to talk about Christian faith at all, let alone topics such as sin and repentance. As we shall see, repentance is actually a very posi­tive biblical term and it is a key to experiencing the joy-filled life.

Today, the Advertising industry invites us to be big self-centered, emotionally immature babies—an invitation that is hard for human nature to resist. Try telling the average non-Christian that he is a sinner and needs to repent. What kind of reaction are you likely to find? Bring up original sin and judgment day and what kind of reaction are you likely to experience?

The sad fact is that many of us never get around to talking about the hard part of the gospel. You see, what’s wrong with us requires much more than a hug, it requires a cruel cross! Most people today would rather consider themselves as victims of a cruel world rather than lost sinners who are contributors to the world’s cruelty. The truth is that most people cling to their treasured sins much like a drowning man to an anvil. Because we have fallen for the “victims are sinless fallacy”, we shield ourselves from our real condition and remain babies all our lives: pampered, ineffective, whiney, spoiled rotten, self-centered and fool­ishly arrogant.

Jesus did not just come to save us from the penalty of sin, He came to save us from the power of sin as well. For progress to occur, we must come to grips with the scary but exhilarating truth that God is infinitely holy and He wants us to be holy as He is holy. In order for this to happen, we must understand, accept and practice God’s gracious gift of repentance. Repentance is not self-loathing but rather insight into our true spiritual condition. We all need to see ourselves as God sees us and realize how deep-rooted is the rottenness of our hearts. This awareness grows slowly over time because God is merciful and does not give us more than we can bear. Repentance replaces our distorted self-image with God’s perspective. Repentance involves coming to our “right mind” while despair is debilitating and sinful. Repentance should be “a way of life” for every Christian!

The constant companion of repentance is gratitude in response to God’s kindness. Paul said that the kindness of God is intended to lead us to repen­tance. (Rom.2: 4) Repentance is the door to “the joy-filled life.” When we repent we are free, free from any need to hide, to conceal or impress or make excuses for ourselves or make demands; free to love God and others unselfishly. The more we are in touch with our own sin, the more understanding we can be of the short-comings of others. The normal Christian life involves spiritual transforma­tion (Rom.12:1-2).

What happens when we realize that we are hurting the one we love? We repent… we change. Love and empathy change us. Love constrains us to treat others as we would want to be treated. Guilt actually increases the rebellion and people end up sinning more (Romans 5:20; 7:5). The bottom line is that guilt is about the law and godly sorrow is about love (how God loves us and how He wants us to love others). When God’s Spirit convicts us, He is warning us of spiritual danger and trying to get us to see how our attitudes and actions are hurting: God, ourselves and others. If we see that, love will result in repentance. Paul says in Ephesians 4:30 “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” We could paraphrase this by saying, “Don’t make the Holy Spirit sad by the way you live.

Repentance is one of the characteristics of those who do things God’s way. Ephesians 4:22-24 says, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” This process of putting off the old and putting on the new involves repentance and sanctification.

What is repentance?

Biblical repentance consists of the following four elements:

  1. A true sense of one’s own sinfulness and guilt (liability to punishment);
  2. An apprehension of God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ;
  3. An actual hatred of sin (Psa. 119:128; Job 42:5, 6; 2 Cor. 7:20) and turn­ing from it to God; and
  4. A persistent endeavor in walking with God in the way He prescribes and commands.

The true penitent is conscious of guilt (Psa. 51:4, 9), pollution (Psa. 51:5, 7, 10), and helplessness (Psa. 51:11; 109:21-22). Thus he apprehends himself to be just what God has always seen him to be and declares him to be. But repen­tance comprehends not only such a sense of sin, but also an apprehension of mercy and grace, without which there can be no true repentance (Psa. 51:1; 130:4).

Repentance is turning from worldly ways to kingdom ways: from sin to the Savior. The abundant life of love that God wants us to experience is found in doing His will, His way. Therefore we must understand the importance of seeking the ways of God and learn how to become motivated to do it. In Romans 8:13, Paul says, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” What is the incen­tive for living according to the Spirit? Life! Reality! Truth! Love! Joy! Peace! (Gal. 5:22-23).

What are the psychological components of genuine and complete repentance?

  1. The Intellectual Element—Repentance affects how we think (Mind).
  2. The Emotional Element—Repentance affects how we feel (Heart).
  3. The Volitional Element—Repentance affects how we act (Will).

In its most integrated form, repentance involves the whole person—mind, heart and behavior.

It involves the changing of one’s mind, with corresponding godly sorrow and behavioral implications.

It is a way of life for the Christian—the way to deal with any and all failures in spiritual growth.

Let’s briefly consider each of these three elements complete and genuine of repentance:

  1. The Intellectual Element: Repentance is that change of a sinner’s mind which leads him to turn from his evil ways and live. The change brought by re­pentance is so deep and radical as to affect the whole spiritual nature and to involve the entire personality. The intellect must function, the emotions must be aroused, and the will must act. Psychology shows repentance is profound, per­sonal and all-pervasive. The intellectual element is manifest from the nature of man as an intelligent being, and from the demands of God who desires only rational service. Man must apprehend sin as unutterably heinous, the divine law as perfect and inexorable, and himself as coming short or falling below the re­quirements of a holy God (Job 42:5-6; Psa. 51:3; Rom. 3:20). Prior to repentance we are confused or wrong headed in our thinking; when we repent, we come to our senses—to our right mind!
  2. The Emotional Element: There may be a knowledge of sin without turningfrom it as an awful thing which dishonors God and ruins us. The change of viewmay lead only to a dread of punishment and not to the hatred and abandonmentof sin (Ex. 9:27; Num. 22:34; Josh. 7:20; 1 Sam. 15:24; Matt. 27:4). An emotionalelement is necessarily involved in repentance. While feeling is not the equivalentof repentance, it nevertheless may be a powerful impulse to a genuine turningfrom sin. A penitent can’t be stolid and indifferent. The emotional attitude must bealtered if New Testament repentance be experienced. There is a type of grief thatissues in repentance and another which plunges into remorse. There is a godlysorrow and a worldly sorrow. The former brings life; the latter, death (Matt. 27:3;

Luke 18:23; 2 Cor. 7:9-10). There must be a consciousness of sin in its effect on man and in its relation to God before there can be a hearty turning away from unrighteousness. The feeling naturally accompanying repentance implies a conviction of personal sin and sinfulness and an earnest appeal to God to forgive according to His mercy (Psa. 51:1-2, 10-14).

3. The Volitional Element: The most prominent element in the psychology of repentance is the volitional. This aspect of the penitent’s experience is expressed in the Old Testament by “turn”, or “return,” and in the New Testament by “repent” or “turn.” The words employed in the Hebrew and Greek place chief emphasis on the will, the change of mind, or of purpose, because a complete and sincere turning to God involves both the apprehension of the nature of sin and the con­sciousness of personal guilt (Jer. 25:5; Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38; 2 Cor. 7:9-10).

The demand for repentance implies free will and individual responsibility. That men are called upon to repent there can be no doubt, and that God is repre­sented as taking the initiative in repentance is equally clear. There can be no external substitute for the internal change. Sackcloth for the body and remorse for the soul are not to be confused with a determined abandonment of sin and return to God. Not material sacrifice, but a spiritual change, is the inexorable demand of God (Psa. 51:17; Isa. 1:11; Jer. 6:20; Hos. 6:6).

Repentance is only a condition of salvation and not its meritorious ground. The motives for repentance are chiefly found in the goodness of God, in divine love, in the pleading desire to have sinners saved, in the inevitable consequences of sin, in the universal demands of the gospel, and in the hope of spiritual life and membership in the kingdom of heaven (Ezek. 33:11; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:1-5; John 3:16; Acts 17:30; Rom. 2:4; 1 Tim. 2:4). The first 4 beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-6) form a heavenly ladder by which penitent souls pass from the dominion of Satan into the Kingdom of God. A consciousness of spiritual poverty dethroning pride, a sense of personal unworthiness producing grief, a willingness to surrender to God in genuine humility, and a strong spiritual desire developing into hunger and thirst, enter into the experience of one who wholly abandons sin and heartily turns to Him who grants “repentance unto life”.

What are the essential elements of repentance?

Repentance contains as essential elements:

  1. A genuine sorrow toward God on account of sin (2 Cor. 7:9-10; Matt. 5:3- 4; Psa. 51);
  2. An inward repugnance to sin necessarily followed by the actual forsaking of it (Matt. 3:8; Acts 26:20);
  3. Humble self-surrender to the will and service of God (Acts 9:6).

What is the difference between godly and worldly sorrow?

Worldly sorrow involves insincere and/or incomplete repentance and can keep us from feeling forgiven.

Guilt is not the proper response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The proper response is godly sorrow because it is based on love and leads to genuine and complete repentance. In 2 Corinthians 7:10 Paul says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

We could say that guilt is self-directed while sorrow is God and other directed.

The angry condemning conscience is worldly sorrow at work. It’s not based on love and doesn’t bring about lasting change and repentance. Perhaps the two best examples of this are Judas and Peter:

  1. Worldly sorrow is the kind Judas expressed after he betrayed Jesus. He went out and killed himself. It is not based on love but on one’s self and one’s own badness.
  2. Godly sorrow is the kind that Peter expressed after he denied Jesus 3 times. His heart was broken for the hurt he caused one he loved. He repented, was forgiven, restored and reconciled by Jesus (Luke 22:34).

Does Repentance have different stages of development?

Repentance has different stages of development.

  1. In its lowest form it may arise from fear of the consequences or penalty of sin. If it goes no farther than this it is simply remorse and must end in despair (i.e., Judas).
  2. It deepens in character with the recognition of the baseness of sin itself. It’s merely a burden of soul from which we may seek to free ourselves in vain till we recognize the great hope before us in the gospel.
  3. It becomes more complete and powerful in those who have experienced the saving grace of God and thus realize more fully the enormity of sin and the depths of God’s grace operative in their salvation.

Repentance is a gift of God (Acts 5:31; 11:18; Rom. 2:4) because God has given His Word (with its revelations concerning sin and salvation). His Spirit impresses the truth and awakens our consciences and leads us to repentance. As with faith, so with repentance—it’s up to us to respond to God’s gracious initiative.

What is the relationship between repentance and faith?

Repentance and faith are like two sides of the same coin. We can’t turn to­ward God and trust Him without first turning from sin and renouncing it. Although faith alone is the condition for salvation (Eph. 2:8-10; Acts 16:31), repentance is bound up with faith and inseparable from it. For without some measure of faith, no one can truly repent and repentance never attains to its deepest character till the sinner realizes through saving faith how great God’s grace is. There is no saving faith without true repentance.

How should we respond when we encounter God’s wise and loving discipline?

When we encounter God’s discipline, we need to be willing not only to take God at His Word (trust) and agree with the truth (confession) but also to change (repent) and live out the truth (obedience). Repentance means that we will truly change what needs to be changed. Repentance is a process and therefore it doesn’t mean the problem is always immediately or completely fixed. Repen­tance involves an attitudinal shift of turning from what convicts us as destructive (sin) to God’s best for our life. In short, repentance helps us to move from death to life!

What is the proper biblical way of dealing with failure?

When we sin and stop obeying, we need to obey by repenting. Repentance is the proper response to failure because it brings forth more growth, love, respon­sibility and fulfillment. It results in re-establishing a vital relationship with Christ. Repentance was not only exemplified by Peter but was also a hall mark of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). It’s a change is thinking which results in a change in attitude which result is a change in direction. It’s a movement away from the broad path that leads to destruction to the narrow path that leads to life. Repen­tance requires humility because we need to be willing to admit we’re wrong. In repentance, our eyes are open to our own sin, failure and weakness, especially when compared to God’s holy standard and we gladly change our ways to follow His paths.

Repentance is a response to our increased understanding of who God is:

  • The Lord’s nature—Job 42:2-6
  • His holiness and grandeur—Isa. 6: 1-5
  • His provision and love—Ezek. 36:24-31
  • His power and might—Luke 5:8
  • His Kindness—Romans 2:4

What does it mean to live by the Spirit?

What the law cannot do, our Lord can. He replaces living by the law with living by the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4). Living by the Spirit involves living according to a rela­tionship and an empowering process (Gal. 5:16, 25). In order to change the areas God wants us to change, we need to agree with God concerning them (confession) and we need to admit we are unable to change them by ourselves (Matt. 5:3). Then we have to be set free by establishing a relationship with Christ (which takes care of the guilt and condemnation). Guilt and condemnation must end for any permanent change to take place (Rom. 8:1). Knowing that we’re accepted and loved frees us to be able to change. God’s love and grace sets us free to live according to the Spirit which involves more than trusting God and asking God for help. We cannot stop sinning; we can only be saved from sin— from its penalty and increasingly from its power—by the grace of God. The Bible’s commandment regarding sin is and always has been: Repent! In order to deal effectively with sin we must think differently about sin. We must see it as inherently deceptive and destructive and ultimately producing death. Repentance is not some shallow commandment but permanent, positive change.

How can we learn to repent?

Perhaps Psalm 51 is the best text on learning how to repent. David wrote this Psalm when the prophet Nathan came to him after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Repentance begins with David appealing to God’s mercy (v. 1).

Next is a statement of the sinner’s intent. David desires for God to cleanse him from his sin (v. 2).

For repentance to take place there must be clear conviction of sin—the work of God’s Spirit (v. 3).

We must have a broken spirit and a contrite heart over our sin (v. 17). There are certain realizations that God helped David to arrive at:

  1. We realize that all sin is ultimately against God (v. 4a)
  2. We agree with what God says concerning our sin (Confession) (v. 4b)
  3. We acknowledge that we are sinners from the beginning (nature precedes actions) (v. 5)
  4. We realize that we are thoroughly sinful—sin isn’t just confined to one aspect of our being
  5. We know that God wants us to be radically honest in the core of our being (v. 6a)
  6. We pray that God’s wisdom would invade our inner most being (v. 6b)
  7. We acknowledge our sin deserves death—God is justified when He judges our sin (v. 4c)
  8. We respond by turning our mind, emotions and will from sin to righteous­ness
  9. We commit to live righteously as a testimony of God’s mercy and forgive­ness
  10. We rejoice in the results of repentance—rediscover the joy of God’s salva­tion (v. 12a)
  11. We realize that repentance leads to worshipping and praising God (v. 15)
  12. We desire to share the lessons we learn from God with others (v. 13). We cannot repent too soon because we do not know how soon it may be too late!

Relevant Scriptures Regarding Repentance

  • True repentance is revealed by changed actions—Ex. 9:27-34; Ezra 10:3-4, 11
  • Old Testament sacrifices required an attitude of—Lev. 5:5
  • It must be more than admitting guilt—Num. 14:40-44
  • We need continual repentance—Deut. 31:27-29
  • It measures our spiritual integrity—Judg. 2:4
  • Judges reveals cycle of sin, judgment, repentance—Judg. 2:10
  • No one is too evil to repent—I Ki. 21:29
  • God gave Israel and Judah many opportunities for it—2 Ki. 25:1
  • It is changing behavior that produces sin—2 Ki. 22:19
  • It must precede forgiveness—1 Chron. 21:8
  • It may require a broken heart—Ezek. 6:8-10
  • There is no limit to number of times you can repent—Neh. 9:28-31
  • First steps in repentance—Psa. 80:2, 7, 19; Matt. 3:1-2
  • When it is and isn’t good news—Matt. 3:3
  • What repentance means—Matt. 3:6; 2 Cor. 7:10
  • True repentance makes a difference in your life—Matt. 3:6
  • Baptism is a sign of repentance—Mark 1:4
  • The two sides of repentance—Luke 3:3
  • It must be tied to action—Luke 3:8-9
  • It makes us valuable to God—Luke 3:17
  • Heaven’s joy over each repentant sinner—Luke 15:8-10
  • Don’t be suspicious of repentant sinners—Luke 15:25-31
  • It is needed for entrance into God’s kingdom—John 3:3
  • It is the only way to stop sin—John 12:10-11
  • It brings spiritual refreshment—Acts 3:19-20

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