The believer in Christ is a lifelong
repenter. He begins with repentance and continues in repentance. (Rom.
8:12-13) David sinned giant sins but fell without a stone at the mere
finger of the prophet because he was a repenter at heart (2 Sam. 12:7-13).
Peter denied Christ three times but suffered three times the remorse until
he repented with bitter tears (Mt. 26:75). Every Christian is called a
repenter, but he must be a repenting repenter. The Bible assumes the
repentant nature of all true believers in its instruction on church
discipline. A man unwilling to repent at the loving rebuke of the church
can be considered nothing more than "a heathen and a tax
collector." (Mt. 18:15-17)
What is repentance?
Repentance is a change of mind regarding sin and God, an inward turning
from sin to God, which is known by its fruit—obedience. (Mt. 3:8; Acts
26:20; Lk. 13:5-9) It is hating what you once loved and loving what you
once hated, exchanging irresistible sin for an irresistible Christ. The
true repenter is cast on God. Faith is his only option. When he fully
knows that sin utterly fails him, God takes him up. (Mt. 9:13b) He will
have faith or he will have despair; conviction will either deliver him or
The religious man often deceives himself in his repentance. The believer
may sin the worst of sins, it is true; but to remain in the love of sin,
or to be comfortable in the atmosphere of sin, is a deadly sign, for only
repenters inhabit heaven. The deceived repenter would be a worse sinner if
he could, but society holds him back. He can tolerate and even enjoy other
worldly professing Christians and pastors well enough, but does not desire
holy fellowship or the fervent warmth of holy worship. If he is intolerant
of a worship service fifteen minutes "too long," how will he
feel after fifteen million years into the eternal worship service of
heaven? He aspires to a heaven of lighthearted ease and recreation—an
extended vacation; but a heaven of holiness would be hell to such a man.
Yet God is holy, and God is in heaven. He cannot be blamed for sending the
unholy man to hell despite his most articulate profession (Heb. 12:14).
What are the Substitutes for true Repentance?
and faith are bound together. A repenting man has no hope for obedience
without faith in the source of all holiness, God Himself. In repenting of
sins, he loses his self-sufficiency. God is his sanctifier. (Jude 24-25; 1
Thess. 5:23-24; 1 Pet. 1:5)
1. You may reform in the actions without repenting in the heart.
(Ps. 5 1: 16-17; Joel 2:13) This is a great deception, for the love of sin
remains. (I Jn. 2:15-17; Acts 8:9-24) At this the Pharisees were experts.
(Mk. 7:1-23) The heart of a man is his problem. A man may appear perfect
in his actions but be damned for his heart. His actions are at best
self-serving and hypocritical. What comes from a bad heart is never good.
"Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same
opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear
figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh." (Jas.
2. You may experience the emotion of repentance without the effect of
it. Here is a kind of amnesia. You see the awful specter of sin in the
mirror and flinch out of horror yet immediately forget what kind of person
you saw (Jas. 1:23-24). It is true, repentance includes sincere emotion,
an affection for God and a disaffection for sin. Torrents of sorrow may
flood the repenter's heart, and properly so (Jas. 4:8-10). But there is
such a thing as a temporary emotion in the mere semblance of repentance;
this emotion has very weak legs and cannot carry the behavior in the long
walk of obedience. Your sorrow may even be prolonged. Yet if it does not
arrive at repentance, it is of the world and is a living death—and maybe
more (2 Cor. 7: 10). It is an old deceiver. Judas had such remorse but
"went and hanged himself." (Mt. 27:3-5)
3. You may confess the words of a true repenter and never repent.
(Mt. 21:28-32; 1 Jn. 2:4, 4:20) Confession by itself is not repentance.
Confession moves the lips; repentance moves the heart. Naming an act as
evil before God is not the same as leaving it. Though your confession may
be honest and emotional, it is not enough unless it expresses a true
change of heart. There are those who confess only for the show of it,
whose so-called repentance may be theatrical but not actual. If you
express repentance to appear successful, you will not be successful at
repenting. You will speak humbly but sin arrogantly. Saul gave the model
confession (I Sam. 15:24-26) and later went to hell. Repentance "from
the teeth out" is no repentance.
4. You may repent for the fear of reprisal alone and not for the hatred
of sin. Any man will stop sinning when caught or relatively sure he
will be, unless there is insufficient punishment or shame attached (I Tim.
1:8-11). When there are losses great enough to get his attention, he will
reform. If this is the entire motive of his repentance, he has not
repented at all. It is the work of law, but not grace. Men can be
controlled by fear, but what is required is a change of heart. Achan
admitted his sin after being caught but would not have otherwise. Find his
bones in the valley of Achor; his soul, most likely, in hell. (Josh.
5. You may talk against sin in public like a true repenter but never
repent in private. (Mt. 23:1-3) The exercise of the mouth cannot
change the heart. Your sin is like a prostitute. You are speaking against
your lover in public but embracing her in the bedroom. She is not
particular about being run down in public if she can have your full
attention in private. "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know
that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" (Jas. 4:4)
6. You may repent primarily for temporal gains rather than the glory of
God. There are gains for the repenter, but the final motivation for
repenting cannot be selfish. Self is a dead, stinking carcass to be
discarded. We are to repent because God is worthy and is our respected
authority, even if we gain nothing. Indeed, our repenting may appear to
lose us more than our sin had gained. (Mt. 16:24-26; Phil. 3:7-8) And this
is a test of true repentance.
7. You may repent of lesser sins for the purpose of avoiding the
greater sins. (Lk. 11:42) We try to salve our nagging conscience by
some minor exercise of repentance, which is really no repentance at all.
The whole heart is changed in the believer. The half repenter is a divided
man: part against sin and part for it; part against Christ, part for Him.
But one or the other must win out, for man cannot serve God and mammon (or
any other idol); he must love the one and hate the other. (Mt. 6:24)
8. You may repent so generally that you never repent of any specific
sin at all. The man who repents in too great a generality is likely
covering his sins. (Prov. 28:13) If there are no particular changes, there
is no repenting. Sin has many heads, like the mythological Hydra. It
cannot be dealt with in general, but its heads must be cut off one by one.
9. You may repent for the love of friends and religious leaders and not
repent for the love of God. (Isa. 1: 10-17) A man talked into
repentance may reform for the love of friends or the respect of the
spiritually minded, yet do nothing substantial. If a man turns from sin
without turning to God, he will find his sin has only changed its name and
is hidden behind his pride. Now it will be harder to rout for its
subterfuge. You have loved others but not God. And you have loved yourself
most of all. Lot's wife left the city of sin at the insistence of an angel
and for the love of her family, but turned back. She had left her heart.
"Remember Lot's wife." (Gen. 19:12-26; Lk. 17:32)
10. 'You may confess the finished action of sin and not repent from the
continuing habit of sin. If a man is honest, he is a good man in human
terms; but he is not a repenting man until the sin is stabbed to death. He
must be a murderer if he would be God's: "For if you live according
to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds
of the body, you will live." (Rom. 8: 13) God knows what you have
done; what He wants is obedience. (Lk. 6:46)
11. You may attempt repentance of your sin while consciously leaving open
the door of its opportunity. A man who says " I repent" but
will not leave the source or environment of that sin is suspect. Though
some situations which invite temptation cannot be changed, most can. A man
who will not flee the setting of his temptation when he is able still
loves his sin. A mouse is foolish to build his nest under the cat's bed.
"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the
flesh, to fulfill its lusts." (Rom. 13:14)
12. You may make an effort to repent of some sins without repenting of
all the sin you know. The businessman learns to show concern for the
needs of his clients, yet he batters his wife through neglect. Another
gives his money in the offering plate weekly but steals time from his
employer daily. Every man boasts of some sins conquered, but true
repentance is a repulsion of sin as a whole. The repenter hates all sin,
though he fails more readily in some than in others. He may not know all
his sins, but what he knows he spurns. Repentance is universal in the
believer; the spirit is willing even when the flesh is weak (Mt. 26:41).
Repentance is a gift of God (Acts 11:19; 2 Tim. 2:25) and a duty of man
(Acts 17:30; Lk. 13:3). You will know if it has been granted by the
exercise of it. (Phil. 2:12-13) Do not wait for it; run toward it.
"Be zealous and repent." (Rev. 3:19) Pursue it and you will find
it; forget it and perish.