Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Repentance for the Christian

As we've discussed what the Bible has to say about the concept of repentance, we have observed that the Scriptures speak about repentance in two different contexts. There is a repentance associated with conversion that leads to eternal life (Ac 11:18), as well as a repentance associated with the Christian life that is a part of daily sanctification. Thus, many of the same principles of repentance in the event of justification also hold true for repentance in the process of the believer’s sanctification. The intellectual, emotional, and volitional components apply to the Christian life as well as conversion, for the Scriptures demonstrate that a believer’s repentance should (1) be continual and ongoing, and (2) include a sorrow over sin which brings about (a) confession and turning from that sin, (b) a corresponding turn to God, and finally (c) the bearing of fruit in keeping with that professed repentance.

While many of the passages we've discussed in previous posts describe the nature of repentance at the moment of conversion from spiritual death to spiritual life, Scripture is clear that even God’s people are called to ongoing repentance as a result of their sin. Repentance is not to be considered a one-time act for Christians. Indeed, Christ intends that repentance be a staple of the Christian lifestyle. As He is discussing principles for ongoing life as a part of His church, specifically in the areas of sin, confrontation, forgiveness, and restoration (cf. Mt 18:15-20)
, Peter interjects and asks how often he should forgive a brother who sins against him. In the parallel account in Luke 17, Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Lk 17:3-4). Here, Jesus teaches that ongoing repentance is the basis for Christians’ forgiveness of and restoration to fellowship with each other. Though our justification frees us from the penalty of sin, our remaining flesh causes the presence of sin to remain as well. Therefore, as we continually sin against God and others, we must continually repent. In a believer’s life, a spirit of repentance must be as “indwelling” as is his remaining sin. Chris Jenkins, in his 2008 article, What is Repentance? Settling the Debate, in the Journal of Modern Ministry, helpfully summarizes: “At conversion, a sinner purposes to turn from sin generally conceived (i.e., as the dominant principle of life), and yet throughout the sanctified life, he also turns from specific sins as they occur.”

While there is indeed no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1), it is plain that godly sorrow and mourning over one’s sin is a part of a believer’s repentant lifestyle. Paul rejoices that his severe letter made the Corinthian believers sorrowful for a time, because their sorrow produced in them a repentance without regret (2Cor 7:9-10). Paul himself, the very one to proclaim that great promise of Romans 8:1, only a few verses earlier lamented greatly over the wretchedness of his own continual battle with sin:
I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom 7:22-24; cf. 7:14-25).

After his threefold denial of the Lord Jesus, the Apostle Peter was said to have "wept bitterly" (Mt 26:75), no doubt experiencing the emotional component of repentance signified by nacham. King David, the man after God’s own heart (1Sam 13:14), frequently expressed his repentant grief over his sin (Ps 40:12), and in some cases even experienced physical effects of “the agitation of his heart” (Ps 38:8), such as being “bent over and greatly bowed down” (Ps 38:6) experiencing the burning of his loins (Ps 38:7), and groaning over the wasting away of his body and the loss of his vitality (Ps 32:3-4). Even the writer of that queen of psalms in which he celebrates his delight in the Law of God nevertheless closes with the lamentation, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep” (Ps 119:176). Thus, the repentant believer should be being led to repentance by the grief he experiences over his sin.

Such godly sorrow will lead to the open acknowledgment, confession, and repudiation of sin. King David explicitly affirms this in two of his most classic penitential psalms. In Psalm 32:5, he said, "
I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh'; and You forgave the guilt of my sin." In Psalm 51, he cried out, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge" (Ps 51:3-4). David is clear about acknowledging and confessing his sin, as well as purposing to continue his life before Yahweh without persisting in such sin.

These things are not limited to David. Job, unquestionably a believer in Yahweh (Job 1:1, 8), acknowledges his sinful attitude and speech by confessing, “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). That repentance also involves his repudiating, or turning from, his specific sin is plain by his simple declaration: “Therefore I retract” (Job 42:6). Jesus confirms this need for believers' open acknowledgment, confession, and repudiation of sin in His stern warnings to the seven churches in Revelation, calling them to turn from their sins of weakening love (Rev 2:4-5), of tolerating false teaching (
Rev 2:15-16), of deeds of immorality (Rev 2:21-22), and of indifference towards Christ (Rev 3:15-19). A repentant believer, therefore, should name and confess his specific sins before God and, based on the promises of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit, purpose to forsake such sins.

Almost indistinguishable from the believer’s turn from specific sin is his turn to God. Confession itself is an act of returning to God (or another offended party) and a looking to Him for forgiveness. The example of the sinning brother in Luke 17 is said to return to his brother seven times (Lk 17:4); his turning from sin is expressed in his turn to the one whom he sinned against. Also, David declares, “I acknowledged my sin to You,” and “I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh” (Ps 32:5). His plea for forgiveness is said to be “according to [God’s] lovingkindness” and “the greatness of [His] compassion” (Ps 51:1). In turning from his sin, then, the believer is to turn to the Lord God and wholly hope in His character for forgiveness.

Finally, the believer’s turning to God in repentance will always result in corresponding obedience. The Corinthians’ repentance led them to specific action that matched their profession, for which Paul rejoices (2Cor 7:11)
. David prays for forgiveness, and subsequently declares that he will teach sinners the ways of Yahweh (Ps 51:13), joyfully sing of His righteousness (Ps 51:14), and declare His praise (Ps 51:15). Even Peter’s turn from his sin of denial and his return to the Lord Jesus is evident in his fearless testimony of Christ before the rulers and elders of Israel on multiple occasions (Ac 4:8-11, 18-20; 5:27-32, 41-42). And indeed, Jesus Himself declares to the churches that amending their ways and performing righteous deeds is a necessary fruit of their repentance (Rev 2:5). While Christians are not forgiven or received by God because of these fruits of obedience, such obedience is the necessary evidence of true repentance.

In conclusion, then, whether speaking of the sinner’s conversion or the believer’s Christian life, Biblical repentance involves (1) the penitent’s intellectual recognition of his culpability because the offensiveness of his sin, along with (2) an emotional remorse and godly sorrow that he has offended God and has, for a time, forfeited the joy of fellowship with Him. These finally lead to (3) a conscious exercise of his volition as he freely and turns from his sin and delightfully turns to God in Christ. And as that turn of his will must be because he finds the glory of Christ more satisfying than the faux-pleasures of sin, it will
therefore result in the believer’s joyful obedience to the Word of God.

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