The Repentance Factor

The Repentance Factor

The Extent of Repentance

True repentance is a life-altering event. It is a complete change of attitude about God, yourself, the world and even reality. It is a total about-face or turning in one's life and direction; a completely different outlook or "world-view." It is a self judgment with a reversal of attitude, approach, and will. A turning from self and sin toward God and his will. To say it is just a "change of mind" is like saying a hurricane is just a "change in the weather."

Hastings Bible Dictionary's entry on Repentance reflects the common understanding of the term throughout the ages,

"There can be no evangelical faith which does not spring from a heart broken and contrite on account of sin; on the other hand, there can be no true repentance which has not the germ of faith in God, and of hope in His mercy, in it. The Law alone would break the heart; the Gospel melts it. Repentance is the turning from sin; Gospel faith is the turning to Christ for salvation. The acts are inseparable (Acts 20:21)."

William Tyndale, one of the first to use the term "repent*" in the English Bible said in the To the Reader of his translation (1534),

"Concerning this word repentance … the very sense and signification both of the Hebrew and also of the Greek word is, ‘to be converted and to turn to God with all the heart, to know his will, and to live according to his laws; and to be cured of our corrupt nature with the oil of his Spirit, and wine of obedience to his doctrine."

Charles Spurgeon was even battling the anemic "change of mind" repentance in 1872 and said (from, The Royal Saviour),

"Just now some professedly Christian teachers are misleading many by saying that ‘repentance is only a change of mind.’ It is true that the original word does convey the idea of a change of mind; but the whole teaching of Scripture concerning the repentance which is not to be repented of is that it is a much more radical and complete change than is implied by our common phrase about changing one’s mind. The repentance that does not include sincere sorrow for sin is not the saving grace that is wrought by the Holy Spirit....."

These words are just a valid today as they were then. Repentance is "a much more radical and complete change" than a mere mind change. It must include sorrow, remorse, and a turning to God.

Oliver B. Greene says in his Commentary of Acts of the Apostles (1969),

"True repentance is sorrow for sin committed against a holy God and not only sorrow for sin, but TURNING FROM SIN, FORSAKING SIN AND TURNING TO GOD."

Lester Roloff said in his message Repent or Perish,

Repentance is a godly sorrow for sin. Repentance is a forsaking of sin... Repentance is something a lot bigger than a lot of people think. It is absolutely essential if you go to heaven”

Harry Ironside details the scope of true repentance well in his book Except Ye Repent,

"...[In repentance] the pleasure lover sees and confesses the folly of his empty life; the self-indulgent learns to hate the passions that express the corruption of his nature; the self-righteous sees himself a condemned sinner in the eyes of a holy God; the man who has been hiding from God seeks to find a hiding place in Him; the Christ-rejector realizes and owns his need of a Redeemer, and so believes unto life and salvation."

This change of perspective, approach to life, and attitude Ironside describes is much more than a mere mind change. It is a complete reversal of the heart and soul.

True repentance is the action in the human heart that prepares one to believe on Christ. As we said, apart from this turning of the mind toward God, believing on Christ for salvation is impossible. The natural man just won't do it. He sees no need to do it.

Spurgeon rightly also said, "They will never accept grace until they tremble before a just and holy law," and once they tremble, like the Phillipian Jailer (Acts 16:29), repentance is very much at hand. All one needs to do then is turn his heart towards God in repentance, and believe on Jesus Christ in faith.

Did You Believe the First Time?

What is it that happens in the human heart that causes one to believe on Christ? (Sorry, Calvinist. It is not Irresistible Grace). If you, dear reader, are a believer, did you believe on Christ the first time you heard of Him and His gospel? Probably not. Your author sure didn't. He heard the gospel many, many times before he finally received and acted on it. What change took place in his heart, mind, and soul to cause him, and you, to by faith act on the gospel and receive Christ? The only answer is repentance.

Repentance is granted to a person by the power of the gospel (Rom 1:16), the reproof of the Holy Spirit (John 1:9, 16:8), the conviction of one's conscience (Rom 2:15), and the drawing of Christ upon on his heart (John 12:32). There are no works necessary or involved, but because of the stubbornness and rebellion of man, the path to and through repentance can be one of the most intense and stressful periods in a person's life. It is not that mental anguish or an emotional struggle is required, but they are often present while the Holy Spirit reproves a person over his sins. Human nature "kicks" against this reproof of the conscience as illustrated by Christ's words to Paul on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:5).

Like Corneilus, some people do get saved the very first time they hear a clear presentation of the gospel, but that is only because the Holy Spirit has been working on their heart in the past. It takes time for a person to contemplate the enormity of his sins and guilt before God and come to terms with it. Repentance is rarely a "spur of the moment" event. Missionaries in lands where the gospel is little known will testify to this. They say it can take months or years for prospective believers to finally come to Christ while they weigh things in their hearts. It took many years for William Carey to get his first convert in India. As we outlined above, it is not that belief in Christ is hard, its that a repentant heart is not yet present to believe.

Every person born of Adam (except Christ, of course) has the taint of sin upon him. He is born of sinful parents into a sinful world and partakes of a sinful nature and disposition. When he comes of age to know "good from evil" and violates his conscience, the Holy Spirit will reprove him with the "light" of Christ that "lighteth every man" (John 1:9), through his conscience, seeking to lead him to repentance (Rom 2:4). Once the person becomes convicted of his sin he will either seek (or at least be open to) a way to get right with the Lord or harden himself against the reproving of the Spirit to the point of searing his conscience (1Tim 2:4). This remorseful turning of the mind to seek and ultimately obey the Lord is what changed to make the person receptive to and able believe the gospel. Before this change the gospel was just "history."

Evangelical repentance is not when one mourns, cries, or weeps over his sins. It is not even when he acknowledges or renounces his sins. This can be sorrow, but this sorrow may or may not lead to repentance (2 Cor 7:10). Salvational repentance is when one sees sins for what they are and regrets that they are contrary to God and they keep him from God. Then when the person turns heart and mind towards God for help repentance has fulfilled its purpose and is complete. As the scriptures have repeatedly testified, once a truly repentant person hears the gospel, he will receive it without hesitation because his heart has been delicately prepared by the Holy Spirit for that very purpose.

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