What is repentance?

“Just what is repentance?” is the question I was asked away from the blog yesterday. I’ll answer first using the summary of scriptures provided in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

I mentioned in the previous post on this topic that repentance is of the same coin as faith. The reasoning is that we do not turn to Christ (faith) if we are not turning away from sin (repentance) at the same time. In most cases I hear this within the context of a onetime decision or choice to follow Christ. In this manner we speak of getting “saved” or becoming “born again” in most evangelical circles. But this repentance is more than a onetime event. It is regular part of the Christian life.

I’ll start with faith, being we are more familiar with it. We do not say that I needed faith just that one day to believe, and since I have voted for Christ, I do not need faith any longer. No. The whole Christian journey is one of a walk of faith. If our Christian walk is so involved with the concept of faith, why then is there a disproportionate amount of teaching on repentance? If we are striving to walk each day by faith, then we should have an equal and opposite striving to put off our old sins.

What this looks like on a daily basis is quite simple. When we call to mind our actions, or are about to go to God in prayer, we realize that we have not been as holy as we should be. This “true sense of sin” should once again remind us that we do not deserve anything from the hand of God, apart from the mercy of God in Christ. We have nothing to boast of. So in prayers and our reflections of things to do, we praise God for saving us from the high estimations we have of ourselves (pride).

It is also an ongoing process in our sanctification. We, working with the Holy Spirit, have a real and honest “full purpose” or drive to reach the goal of new obedience every day.

Martin Luther the reformer (not King) was quite distraught when he was told that to be holy all he had to do was repent of all his sins. Well, that sounds easy until you stop to see if you can remember them all. What about ones you can’t remember? What about sins you repent of, but then your repentance is so reflex and dry that it needs repenting of? There would be no end to such a robotic way of viewing repentance.

Now the more specifically you can recall and repent of specific sins the more in tune you might be to seek to avoid them in the future. Ever notice yourself asking for forgiveness for the same sin(s) over and over again? Maybe it’s time to take that sin seriously. Maybe it’s time to get the elders of your church, or a best friend in on the situation to help you fight against and make a valid effort to turn from that temptation. And just to answer the question, “when does temptation become the sin?” It is when you give the temptation a second thought, look, or give in to some action that takes you in that direction. It’s not enough to tell the temptation “no,” we need to say “yes” to things above.

So with repentance we are not on an introspection hunt of sin until we have routed out each and every one. That is a lifetime process that will naturally occur as we walk and focus upon Christ, following Him by Faith. In walking this journey we will notice the pull, drag and diversions of sin. They will not need hunting down; your sins will pretty well stand out for what they are. Putting on the new and shedding the old man, is one of cutting our ties to those things then that seek to prevent us from walking at all.


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