The number of times we have all heard or said the phrase “I am sorry” must be countless (at least for any sane human being). The words are to be said with utmost sincerity, truly regretting the offence committed. But, unfortunately, those words are sometimes said with no sincerity. Some people will say sorry to appease the offended or escape a hard conversation (Jeremiah 3:4-5). So it is with repentance.
During my time in High School at our Christian Union, it became normal to see so many girls (I was in a girls-only institution) go forward to receive salvation in response to an altar call during the exam period. I bet this wasn’t just the case in my school alone. If one were observant, one would notice it was the same girls going forward over and over again at every end of term. This clearly demonstrates that the girls had a poor understanding of repentance. Also, most girls who back then were super enthusiastic about faith are today living lifestyles that are nowhere near God-glorifying (Romans 1:24). This blog will attempt to expound on what true repentance is.
What is Repentance?
Renowned Preacher, the late R.C. Sproul, highlights that the word repentance comes from the Greek word metanoia, which means changing one’s mind with respect to their behaviour. Repentance is about receiving forgiveness and cleansing from sin (Psalm 51:2, 1 John 1:9), which is the work of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit prompts our hearts to repent, for we cannot seek it for ourselves without his help.
Signs of True Repentance
Repentance in Scripture is often associated with feelings of remorse, regret and sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10) and is often followed by a change in behaviour. Firstly, one must recognise their sin and need for mercy/pardon. David models this very well in Psalm 51. His prayer of confession begins with him admitting he has sinned and his need for mercy and cleansing (51:1-3). Secondly, godly sorrow produces honest repentance. David does not hide his sin; he acknowledges that he is guilty (51:3).
Isaiah also cries, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…” (Isaiah 6:5). Being honest yet sorrowful about our sins is a vital sign of repentance. David demonstrates the same as he prays: “…a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)
Looks to God for Cleansing
When bogged down by the guilt of sin, where do we run to? To whom do we acknowledge we have sinned? Whom do we look to to atone for our sins? One sign of true repentance is acknowledging that no one except for Christ can atone for our sins. We then look to him for pardon, for he has promised to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The Lord does not despise those broken by their sin (Psalm 51:17); he comforts those who mourn over their sin (Matthew 5:4). He does not partially cleanse us; he does it fully, without restraint. Sin that left a crimson stain, He washes white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).
We have all encountered people who claim to be followers of Christ but need more fruit that ascertains their claims. Even for ourselves, it is helpful to evaluate ourselves to ascertain the genuineness of our salvation frequently (1 Corinthians 10:12). Ligon Duncan says, “Gospel repentance always leads to a change of behaviour, not just words where we profess to believe one thing and then act another way, but an actual change of behaviour so that our behaviour comes in line to what the Word says.”
The result of true repentance, then, is a change in behaviour. Does that happen instantly? The writer in Proverbs 20:9 asks, “Who can say; I am clean from my sin?” We are freed from sin’s dominion but not from sin’s presence. As slaves of God, we are now set free from sin, only bound to obey God as we follow his precepts (Romans 6:14-18).
Abiding and Bearing Fruit
Psalm 1:1-3 gives a contrast between the ungodly and the godly. The godly has genuinely repented of his sin and turned away from unrighteousness. David says he is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields fruit in its season (Psalm 1:3). Jesus, in Matthew 7:15-23, teaches that his disciples will be known by their fruit. To be fruitful, we must abide in the true vine, our Saviour Jesus (John 15:1-5).
From the moment of our conversion, our lives are to move in a different direction, towards God and not away from him as it was before. All who are in Christ have genuinely repented of their sins. We may momentarily fall into sin, but we don’t lose sight of our Saviour still. We keep running to him, knowing well that our ability to live as God pleases doesn’t come from ourselves but from God. So you know you’ve repented whenever you’re moving away from sin and moving towards the Saviour, Jesus Christ. Are you moving towards Jesus, or are you just feeling sorry?
- Excerpt From: R.C. Sproul. “What Is Repentance? (Crucial Questions)”.