Today's Free-Gracers are muddying the waters of sound doctrine with their shallow definition of repentance. Their contention that phrases like "repent of your sins" or "turn from your sins" must mix works into salvation is nonsense. Unlike some of the catch phrases used today (i.e. "Do you want to go to heaven..."), these phrases actually mention and show the negative nature of sin; something every sinner must face and understand before he can be saved. As we demonstrated above, saying one should repent of his sins is the same as saying one should regret his sins and then turn from them to the Lord. There are no works stated or implied in these statements. They reflect a purely mental attitude and exercise.
This is not to say phrases like "Repent of your sins..." cannot be misused. If one insists repent must include an outward reformation of life or visible change in behavior before they can be saved then they have corrupted its meaning. It is up to the evangelist to make sure his words are correctly understood.
The Free-Gracers will counter with, "Using these terms leads people to think that they must confess and forsake all their sins before they can be saved, and that is not true...," but with this they are simply revealing their failure to clearly present or even understand the gospel. The phrase "repent of your sins" says nothing about works. They are reading works into the words. Again, it is up to the evangelist to make sure his words are not misunderstood.
As we saw repeatedly above the turning in repentance is in the heart. Paul stated emphatically it is an "impenitent heart" that "treasurest up unto thyself wrath" (Rom 2:5), not a lack of works. The penitent or repentant heart will acknowledge its guilt before God and then believe on Christ as the remedy. (See chapter, Meaning: Turn)
It must be made clear that regret (or remorse, compunction, sorrow, etc.) in itself is not repentance. It may only be an inward or worldly regret or sorrow that "worketh death" (2Cor 7:10). It becomes repentance when the sorrow is because of one's sins and he turns his remorseful heart toward God for help. This is "godly sorrow that worketh repentance." Turning in the heart is the key. Sorrow without the turn of the heart is vain; sorrow that leads to regret and a heart turned toward God is true repentance and will lead to eternal salvation.
Some of the Free Gracers will say concerning 2Cor 7:10, "See, sorrow and repentance are two different things because sorrow leads to repentance, which is a change of mind...." The flaw in this argument should be obvious. Nothing in this verse even hints there can not be sorrow or regret in repentance. It simply says first there was just sorrow but then it "worketh" (or produces) repentance, which by definition is a turning of the mind in sorrow for sin to God. Again, sorrow without turning toward God is just sorrow. Godly sorrow will produce or add to it a change of heart that leads to God and salvation.
Dear reader, please consider, why would a person turn to God or seek salvation if he did not regret the state he is presently in? Why would he want anything from God if he saw no need to turn to Him or be saved? Can a person be saved without seeing his sins as sin? Can he be saved while understanding his sin is against God but yet glories in them (hedonism)? No, he must see them as negative and deadly; as something vile that must be dealt with.
It is regret and remorse for sin itself, not just its effects, that is the turning point. It is the difference between life and wrath.
Christ came into the world to save people FROM their SINS (Gal 1:4; 1Tim 1:15) If a sinner does not agree with the Lord on the negative and deadly nature of sins, then he does not see himself of having anything bad to be saved from...but if he does agree, then he will be remorseful and contrite that he is a sinner. God does not save the proud sinner, only the humble (Job 22:29).
"Sin(s)" in the repentance context does not speak of individual sins that must be dealt with individually, it speaks of them all as a single block or unit. In essence repentance means one regrets all the wrong he has done and is sorry that he has offended God with his life and actions. His is not only sorry for what he has done, but for what he IS. This regret includes a change of heart about himself, his standing before God and his sins. That is true "repentance towards God." It is only after a person gets into this repentant state that he can truly believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. "Belief" in Christ apart from a person facing his sins (life) head on in repentance is vain.
All is clear, it is not a work for a person to "repent of his sins," be "sorry for his sins," or "turn from his sins" when properly understood. As we have seen these are all actions of the heart/mind and can be done in a moment. Sometimes Free-Gracers will counter with "How does one know if he has repented enough, is sorry enough, or turned enough...," but these are contrived questions that come from imagined problems. One could also ask "How does one know if he has changed his mind enough or believed enough?".
Concerning salvation, if one is sorry for his sins enough to turn to God and consider Christ as the only remedy, he is sorry enough. If one has turned in his heart to the point where the cross is before him and he can comprehend what it represents, he has turned enough. The whole point in repentance is for one to see himself as he really is, and see the Lord for who He is, what He has done, and what He will do.
Some have likened the turning in repentance to marriage. When a man marries a wife, he turns his heart away from all other women he may have courted before. They are behind him, his wife is before him, and so is the Lord to be before him in repentance.
The Free-Gracers are right when they insist salvation is free. It is free of works of righteousness on man's part and received only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But they are wrong when they insist there is no regret, sorrow, contrition, or turning in repentance. It is repentance that prepares the heart to believe on Christ, and the English text of the blessed King James Bible of 1611 makes this clear.