Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Practical Aspects of Repentance

Written by Rev. G.R. Procee
Personal repentance is most necessary. God calls all men everywhere to repent. Repentance is a fundamental Scriptural matter. It involves sorrow for sin and the knowledge of God's holiness within as well as an actual turning from sin to God. Repentance is a change of motivation and aim of life. There is total commitment to Christ. Let us consider various practical aspects of repentance.
Legal And Evangelical Repentance
We can distinguish between two types of repentance: legal and evangelical repentance. Legal repentance is a genuine sorrow for sin, including both fear of its dangers and consciousness of its wrongs. It also loathes its odiousness and thoroughly justifies and approves God's holy law. It is a sorrow wrought by the Holy Spirit, using as instrument the convicting law of God. There is little or any conscious hope of mercy in Christ. When God's Spirit works savingly, however, He will never leave the sinner without some light, although he may be primarily in darkness. We think here of the conversion of Saul (Acts 9) and the conversion of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16).

Evangelical repentance is to have godly sorrow for sin, which is worked by the renewing Spirit of God. This tender sorrow is combined with hope for mercy proceeding from the Word of God, where the Lord Jesus Christ is portrayed as the blessed way of deliverance. The love of God draws the sinner to Him. Think of the conversion of Peter and John (John 1) and the conversion of Lydia, the seller of purple (Acts 16).

Repentance Is a Life-Long Matter
Repentance is a life-long matter. Repentance always remains a duty for God's children after their initial repentance or conversion. There is still so much indwelling sin in them that they must daily forsake their sins and turn to the Lord.

The apostle Paul refers to this in Ephesians 4:22-24. The Heidelberg Catechism refers to this as the dying of the old man and the quickening of the new man (Lord's Day 33). This mortification and vivification leads Calvin to write:

For from mortification we infer that we are not conformed to the fear of God and do not learn the rudiments of piety, unless we are violently slain by the sword of the Spirit and brought to nought... God had declared that for us to be reckoned among His children our common nature must die... If we share in Christ's resurrection, through it we are raised up into newness of life to correspond with the righteousness of God.

Calvin interprets that the aim of repentance is Òto restore us the image of God that had been disfigured and all but obliterated through Adam's transgression."

Repentance is a life-long matter. Therefore, we must distinguish between initial repentance and a repentance that continues all our life. There is indeed a turning from sin to God that characterizes the beginning of the Christian pilgrimage, but there is also a turning from sin that characterizes the whole journey.

This repentance is never completely finished or fulfilled by us. When has a child of God fully put off the mind of the flesh and fully adopted the mind of Christ? Certainly, this does not take place in this present life. It will be at death that God's children shall fully die to sin. In this life, God's children have at the most only a small beginning of this perfect obedience (Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 114)

Of What Do Sinners Repent?
Repentance means to turn from actual sins to God. Can we say that there is also repentance from original sin? Some say, if repentance is turning from sin, then it must also include repenting from original sin.

We confess that original sin is the result of AdamÕs fall on behalf of the whole human race and its ensuing corruption. This is a great sin in our lives. Still, original sin is something that man cannot repent of. God's child will have grief and sorrow for original sin and will confess that it is also his sin and guilt. But he cannot repent from original sin. It belongs to his nature and he cannot undo that nature. He will have grief because of the inordinate desires of his heart and will repent from them. The whole principle of living in the flesh, in this body of sin, is mourned, but it cannot be changed.

Man must repent from his particular and actual sins. Man must also repent from the quality of sin as a characteristic of his life. It grieves him that he bears this characteristic of sin.

There are forgotten sins and faults. Every true Christian will grieve and mourn about forgotten sins that he has done, but has not confessed. For instance, in Psalm 19:12, the poet asks,"Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults."

Repentance Is A Gift of God
The Arminians describe repentance as a working of man's heart that he performs with a little help from God. Basically, it is man's free will that leads him to repentance.

The Reformed clearly state that repentance is a gift of God. It is manÕs duty to exercise repentance. At the same time, we realize that repentance or conversion is worked and brought about by God's supernatural power and grace. Repentance is God's work; it is a gift (cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim.2:25; Ps.80:3,7,19; 85:4; Jer.31:18; Ez.11:19.

None but a regenerate heart is able to truly repent. The true penitent not only feels the danger of sins and the involuntary sting of his conscience which he would disarm if he could, but he also has a sincere sorrow because of the sinfulness of sin coupled with a desire for godliness. Love to God, which causes this sorrow, is poured out in the heart at regeneration.

Sequence: Faith and Repentance.
Faith and repentance belong together. The one does not exist without the other. They both come forth from regeneration. Calvin and many other Reformed theologians say that repentance not only immediately follows faith, but is produced by it. In his Institutes, III,3,1, Calvin writes:

When we speak of faith as the origin of repentance, we dream not of any space of time which it employs in producing it; but we intend to signify that a man cannot truly devote himself to repentance, unless he knows himself to be of God.

The convicted sinner cannot exercise that tender and affectionate sorrow for sin, which involves a true love to God, until he entertains some hope that God loves him in Christ. Before hope of mercy there is only stubborn remorse and despair.

Others argue that faith embraces Christ as Saviour. Since one will not do that unless he is convicted of sin and turns from it, repentance precedes faith. In reality faith and repentance are twin graces. Repentance feels the disease and faith embraces the remedy.

Fruits Of Repentance
When John the Baptist saw many of the Pharisees coming to him, he told them: ÒBring forth fruits meet for repentance.Ó A tree is known by its fruit and so repentance is known by works or fruits of repentance. The root of true repentance is in the heart. But in vain does one pretend that he knows repentance of heart, if the fruits are not present.

Even though CainÕs terror, PharaohÕs fair promises, AhabÕs humiliation, HerodÕs reverencing the prophet by hearing him gladly and doing many things, JudasÕ confession, the stony-ground hearersÕ joy, the tongues of men and angels, the gifts of miracles and of prophecy, and the knowledge of all mysteries, were all concentrated in one man, they would not prove him to be a true penitent, states Colquhoun. There must be genuine fruits of evangelical repentance.

1. There will be confession. There will be a personal confession of sins unto God in prayer. If our sins have scandalized the church there will be an open confession of sins. If our sin was directed towards our fellow man, we must confess unto him as well.

2. There will be reparation of our sin. We will seek to undo the results of sin. After a thorough reformation, there will be a vehement desire to put away evil and increase in conformity to Christ. Think of Zaccheus who desired to make a thorough restitution.

3. There will be a holy watchfulness against sin in the future. Such a person will take care that he will not fall again into the same sin. This springs from a filial fear, that is a reverential fear of God, which causes the soul to stand in awe of Him and holds him back from that which would dishonour and offend God. There is a fear of sinning against God.

The exercise of true repentance flows immediately from sincere and unfeigned love to Christ and to God. In regeneration the Holy Spirit pours out desires, longings and love for the Lord. Moved by that love, the sinner sorrows for sin and desires Christ above all to wash his sins away. GodÕs Word appeals to the soul and its rich invitations become precious. The soul is urged to flee to Christ. GodÕs Word invites him and appeals to him to do so. See for instance Joel 2: 12,13, ÒTherefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even unto Me with all your heart, and with fasting and with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord, your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.Ó

Conversion is necessary and it is necessary for all. Repent and believe the Gospel. Forsake your evil ways and turn to the Lord! Hebrews 6 speaks about those who can no longer come to repentance. That is possible. Then we let God wait so long and we have despised Him so long that we become hardened. Therefore, harden not your hearts, for now is the time of grace. We may not postpone conversion until God's longsuffering has been brought to an end. For there is a limit and God does not let Himself be mocked.

Are you in a vice? Must you say that you know you must repent but you are unable to repent? Remember that conversion is also a gift of God as it states in Jeremiah 31:18, "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God;" Acts 11:18, "When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life."

We are to realize that God calls us to repentance. How God works and strengthens man and uses man in this work of repentance is something we cannot understand, but God wants the necessity of repentance to be preached. "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12,13).

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