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Repentance is the act of
acknowledging one's sins and resolving to fully obey God. To repent means to change one's
overall attitude from wanting to go his own way to wanting to go God's way. It begins when
God opens one's mind to see himself in comparison with God and His law. True repentance is
the first step toward reconciliation with God, and thereby toward ultimate salvation.
Repentance signals the start of a changed and godly life. It
involves a fully conscious recognition of one's sinful, lawless way of life, a way of life
that is antagonistic toward God and His law, accompanied by a firm conviction to make a
total change and to begin to live in full accord with God's way of life as described in
True repentance can occur only when God Himself opens one's eyes to see
his past sinfulness by granting repentance (Acts 11:18;
2 Tim. 2:25). But
repentance is much more than a recognition of personal sins. Repentance, rather is the
process through which God leads us so that we can become progressively more like Him,
thereby proceeding toward salvation as sons and daughters in His divine family which is
God's ultimate desire for all humanity. As such, repentance should include the positive,
joyful realization of the fact that it is God who grants repentance, that this
repentance is "unto life" (Acts 11:18), and that all who are so called shall
"come to know the truth" (2 Tim. 2:25).
True repentance is a complex and deeply personal phenomenon that can
only be understood, in the final analysis, by experiencing it. The first component is the
realization that there is a vast difference, a great gulf, between God and oneself (e.g.
Job 42). The next aspect is an all-consuming desire to close that gap, to become more like
God in character, thought and behavior, though the capacity to accomplish this is far
beyond human power alone and requires the active involvement of God's Holy Spirit.
One who is coming to repentance must first understand
that sin is the transgression of God's law (1
John. 3:4), the penalty for which is death (Rom. 6:23). Added
to this theoretical definition of sin must be the deep personal realization that one has
indeed sinned and that his whole frame of mind and attitude of approach is oriented
against God's law (Rom. 8:7). But the deceitfulness of sin blinds one to seeing his
sinfulness unless God opens his mind to reality, to recognize that one indeed is a sinner.
Genuine repentance, therefore, must come from God Himself, and man cannot claim credit for
it, though he has a part in it. His part is to acknowledge the truth about himself which
God has shown him and then to act upon it.
In the process of seeing himself, a person comes to realize that the
human "heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9).
Since sin is ultimately of the mind, he also begins to understand that even his own
righteousness, which in an unconverted person is invariably motivated by selfishness, is
only a "dirty rag," as it were, in God's sight (Is. 64:6). When an individual
repents, he must compare his righteousness to God's righteousness and not to that of other
human beings. When man compares himself to Godand with God's help sees himself as he
really ishe is astonished at his own sinfulness and inadequacy.
Confronted with this reality, the person nearing repentance comes to
appreciate that man is incapable of leading a godly life without God's direct help and
intervention through His Spirit. "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in
himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23). While man's
intentions are often the besthe may want to do goodhe nevertheless
finds himself caught in a struggle between them and his natural inclination toward evil.
Romans 7 describes this struggle: "For that which I do I allow not: for what I would,
that do I not; but what I hate, that do I . . . For I know that in me (that is, in my
flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that
which is good I find not" (vs. 15-18). A person in an attitude of repentance feels a
strong need for help in this spiritual dilemma and reaches out to God for aid through His
Holy Spirit. Thus, Paul admitted that the only relief from this eternal conflict between
the good of God and the evil of our own nature is "through Jesus Christ" (v.
In his natural state without God's Spirit, man is cut off from God and
indeed at enmity with God (Rom. 8:7; Is. 59:1-2). The story of Adam and Eve is an example
of how this spiritual enmity has occurred in man (Rom. 5:12). The Genesis account
indicates that Adam and Eve were born morally neutral, with the ability to do good or evil,
right or wrong, but without an actual inclination toward either. God nonetheless
instructed them in His law and explained to them right from wrong. They had no reason to
doubt God or to disobey until Satan, symbolized (and/or materialized) in Genesis 2 as a
serpent, tempted them by saying God was both holding back knowledge from them and lying
about death as the penalty for disobedience. Adam and Eve chose to obey Satan rather than
God and so ate of the forbidden fruit. The effects of this sin cut them off from God as is
evidenced by His thrusting them from the garden. It also caused a rationalization of, or a
blinding to, the sin, as shown by Adam's attempt at justifying himself. Likewise, their
act of stepping from the realm of moral neutrality to that of sinfulness through the
initiation of this one sin caused deep and profound mental changes in Adam and Eve. They
were no longer morally neutral but became evilly oriented in much the same way as
wasand isSatan, since Satan's attitude of mind had now influenced their own.
All human beings are, like Adam and Eve, born morally neutral. Yet
living in Satan's world, surrounded by an ungodly environment, all persons soon sin, as
did Adam and Eve. (To ask at what age or to try to discern the demarcation line between
moral neutrality and sin is not practical.) Thus, sin has the same consequences in us as
it did in Adam and Eve. It cuts us off from God, it blinds us to our own sinfulness and it
changes our minds from neutrality to enmity against God (Rom. 8:7).
Viewed in this context, repentance is the bridge between a carnal mind,
one that is at enmity against God, and a spiritual mind, one that has God's Spirit and is
obedient and pleasing to the Creator. When one repents, he sees for the first time in his
life the ungodly, debilitating, wicked orientation of his natural mind; he asks God for
forgiveness and is baptized. He then receives the Holy Spirit which, working in and
through his mind, actually changes or "transforms" it from carnal to spiritual
(Rom. 12:2). This transformation is called "conversion." And repentance is the
bridgefirst stepin this process of transformation.
Although repentance involves seeing the sinful side of oneself, thus
generating negative personal feelings, it nevertheless has extremely positive aspects.
Upon true repentance and baptism, one is forgiven of sin. The psalmist said, "Blessed
is the man to whom sin is not imputed" (Ps. 32:2). The sheer joy of having one's sins
forgiven is the sure knowledge of being right and clean before God. King David bore
testimony to the positive, uplifting nature of repentance when he prayed "Make me to
hear joy and gladness; that the bones which though hast broken
[as a result of my sin] may
rejoice" (Ps. 51:8). One who has repented can rejoice at the impending forgiveness of
his sins, joy indeed.
The most profound evocation of real repentance in the Bible must truly
be this heartfelt prayer of David in Psalm 51. The occasion was Nathan the prophet's
coming to him about his sin with Bathsheba. The prayer shows the important basic
components of godly repentance: an attitude of abject wretchedness and contrite humility
before God; a deep recognition of all one's sins, which are "ever before me";
the conviction that God can and will forgive all one's iniquities and cleanse him from all
his sins; and the sure knowledge that God can and will create in a truly repentant
individual "a clean heart" and put "a new and right spirit" in him,
restoring "the joy of your salvation."
"Have mercy on me, 0 God, according to thy steadfast love;
according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my
iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever
before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy
sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment" (Ps.
"Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not
away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of thy
salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit" (Ps. 51:9-12).
Godly repentance must, of course, be accompanied by "godly
sorrow." Godly sorrow reflects a profound awareness that one has sinned against God.
It is a sorrow that is felt because sin hurts others and works against God's master plan
of salvation. It is this "godly sorrow" that produces a repentance that leads to
salvation" (2 Cor. 7:9-10).
On the other hand, God also speaks of "worldly sorrow."
Worldly sorrow is not sorrow that one has committed sin, but just a momentary feeling
brought on by adverse consequences such as results after one has been caught and is being
punished. It is temporary self-pity, in no way involving permanent change from sinning to
obedience, and its end is death.
True repentance, conversely, is a deep-seated desire to change one's
whole being. It is a desire to reform and redirect one's motivational approach to life. It
is coming to abhor sin as God does. This type of repentance can come only from God. As we
have seen, it is God who must give and lead one to repentance (Rom. 2:4;
2 Tim. 2:25).
In a more detailed way, repentance includes many things. It involves a
profound sense of utter helplessness, realizing that to do what must be done is impossible
by one's own willpower. It requires the conscious awareness that God must take an active
part in redirecting and reshaping one's life, for only God knows the way to life and only
He can solve the problems of mankind. We must come to realize this fact and accept the
process by which we can become acceptable to God. We have to change from doing things our
own way to acknowledging God, His will and His laws in our lives. This means a desire to
change our very hearts and minds. We have to turn from our way of lust, greed, selfishness
and self-centeredness to God's way of mercy, generosity, love and outgoing concern for
others (Eph. 4:22-24). We can view this as a spiritual "mind transplant." We
have to adopt new ways of thinking, new feelings and attitudes (2 Cor. 5:17). Repentance,
however, is not designed to create total uniformity of personality, tastes, interests,
life styles, etc. among Christians. Such would be an anathema to God, who is creating true
sons in His family, not the proverbial "rows of yellow pencils." Repentance, in
fact, is the means by which human beings can grow to have the same overall attitudes and
character of God. This is the overwhelmingly uplifting result of godly sorrow.
Paul lists seven attributes of this godly sorrow. "For see what
earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what
indignation, what alarm, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have
proved yourselves guiltless in the matter" (2 Cor. 7:11). This type of sorrow
generates real repentance which in turn will lead to salvation.
Real repentance is a spiritual gift, and only God can give it. Human
remorsefulness, even accompanied by great emotion, is not the repentance that the Bible
says is a prerequisite for baptism and salvation. Consequently, an individual desiring to
be converted must ask God for a repentant attitude of mind as well as for forgiveness of
sins through Jesus Christ. This conscious act of asking God is an essential part of
As is commonly known, true repentance must be followed by water
baptism, which results in the forgiveness of one's sins by God and the consequent
reception of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands of the ministry.
Although one's initial act of repentance occurs prior to baptism,
repentance is not a one-time eventIt must be a continuous lifelong process. The more
one learns about God and His way, the more one becomes aware of how far he must go to be
like God. As a converted individual seeks God's way and reads God's Word to receive
personal correction, so his inner sinful attitudes and motivations are perceived. This
continuous process of growth and change is the very essence of the Christian life. As God
opens His mind to see more clearly (even more than before baptism) his sinful nature, the
Christian repents more and more deeply. His post-conversion repentance is a
continuous reaffirmation of his commitment to live God's way as well as being contrite and
remorseful for any errors made.
Repentance is not synonymous with perfection. A repentant person is not
guaranteed a sinless life for ever after. Even a converted person will sin out of weakness
from time to time, but he need only repent of that sin and confess it before God,
acknowledging Christ's atoning sacrifice once again, in order to restore contact with God
and to obtain God's full forgiveness which reestablishes the joy of righteousness.
Such a repentant person knows that God shall completely forgive all his
sins upon repentance. He knows that God has willed to actually forget all our
iniquities once they have been repented of and put under Christ's blood. God can no longer
even remember our sins! ". . . as far as the east is from the west, so far does He
remove our transgressions from us" (Ps. 103:12). This is the incredible promise of
real repentancereal freedom: freedom from guilt and fear, freedom from
anxiety and depression, freedom from sins, freedom from eternal death. It is the reason
why true repentance is the most encouraging, beneficial gift God can give us. It is with
this confidence that the Christian continues to suppress and overcome his human nature
with God's help. He asks God to replace his ungodly thoughts with the godly approach of
the Holy Spirit; he seeks to diligently understand God's law more and more through the
practical experience of obedience.
God does warnand it should not be taken lightlythat
"it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been
enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy
Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come,
if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and
hold Him up to contempt" (Heb. 6:4-6). This shows that any who willfully reject God
by adamantly refusing to follow His way cannot be coerced into repentance and cannot be
forced to receive eternal life. Yet, diametrically contradicting the alien concept of a
harsh, vengeful God is the astounding, thrilling, clarion-call truth of the Bible
that all who want to repent can repentat any time, for any sin, with the full
assurance of God's total and immediate forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Savior. God
does not want any human being to perish "but that all should reach repentance"
(2 Pet. 3:9).
In summary, repentance involves a change of one's whole way of life and
frame of mind from disobedience and antagonism toward God to obedience and love toward
God. It is the bridge that takes one from worldliness to godliness, from wickedness to
uprightness, from the way of "get" (selfishness, self-concern, vanity) to the
way of "give" (selflessness, outgoing concern, service). All this is only
possible through God's Holy Spirit. Already working in the lives of thousands, God's gift
of repentance is a great miracle that shall eventually work in the lives of billions.
This publication is intended to be
used as a personal study tool. Please know it is not wise to take any man's word
for anything, so prove all things for yourself from the pages of your own Bible.
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