“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matt. 3:11).
Because repentance is a large theme in the Gospel of Matthew, it is good to consider the subject of repentance in more detail.
In the early 1970’s, a young man stood on a street corner of Chicago and pointed a finger at people who passed by.
He shouted one word at them:
As the people hurried by, there were looks of concern and confusion.
“What did the man mean?”
On some level, we might understand what was happening that day in Chicago because for centuries the Church has been calling upon people to repent.
Repent is a familiar religious word, if not always fully understood.
At the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther declared,
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance” (95 Thesis, Number 1).
In recent years, an attempt has been made to defined the word repent to simply mean, “to change one’s mind” and be saved.
That is it.
To be sorry for sin is not an issue in the contemporary definition.
To forsake sin is of no real concern.
To bow before Jesus as Lord is something that has nothing to do with repentance, or so it is said.
Just change your mind about Christ and you are saved.
Let me suggest that such a simple definition does not go far enough. Perhaps, in the words of St. Augustine, “we need to repent of our repentance.”
Charles Allen has written that,
“It is so much easier to whittle God down to our size instead of repenting, changing our way of living, and being Godly ourselves.”
From the life of David comes an example of a person who truly repented of sin and found favor with God once more.
The confession of David is recorded in Psalms 51.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest” (Psalms 51:1-4).
We can be inspired by David by confessing that we too are great sinners.
We can be challenged by David by realizing our own confession of repentance is often silly, superficial, simplistic, and false.
Because repentance is often shallow, the contemporary Church has difficulty discerning what is authentic Evangelical Repentance and what is Superficial Repentance.
This spiritual inability in discernment is traced, in part, to the willingness of the Church to condone what it once condemned.
For example, the Protestant Reformation, which began in October 1517, once protested the selling of Indulgences, or papal forgiveness of sins in order to build St. Peter’s Basilica (Royal House).
Today, the Protestant church finds itself guilty of pandering to the world by preaching a form of cheap grace.
We may not sell the gospel per se, we simply cheapen it with theological concepts such as the Carnal Christian Doctrine which says it does not matter how a person lives, they are just backslidden, not unconverted.
We cheapen the gospel by reducing repentance to a change of mind.
We cheapen the gospel by telling each other not to judge, though the Bible tells the Church to judge righteous judgment (John 7:24).
In fact, the Bible says that Church leaders are to mark those who cause division (Rom. 16:17-22).
The Church is to remove the splinter in the brother’s eye (Matt. 7:3-20).
The Church is to rebuke before all those who sin (1 Tim. 5:20).
The Church is to cut off the offensive hand and pluck out the offending eye for sin is to be dealt with radically (Matt. 5:29).
The Bible says that Christians are to not to indulge in evil but to find a way to forsake it.
The Biblical way to escape evil is through repentance.
But what is repentance?
One way to answer that question is to make a comparison between Counterfeit Repentance and Evangelical Repentance.
Arthur W. Pink helps Christians understand the meaning of Evangelical Repentance.
Evangelical Repentance, writes Pink, is a supernatural and inward revelation from God, giving deep consciousness of what a person is in the sight of the Lord, which causes the repenting soul to loathe and condemn themselves, resulting in a bitter sorrow for sin, a holy horror and hatred for sin, and a turning away from or forsaking of sin.
Evangelical Repentance is the discovery of God’s high and righteous claims upon the heart, and the confession of a lifelong failure to meet those claims.
Evangelical Repentance is the recognition of the holiness and goodness of God’s Law, and the defiant insubordination of it.
Evangelical Repentance is the perception that God has the right to rule and govern His creation, despite an innate refusal to submit to Him.
Evangelical Repentance is the realization that God has dealt in goodness and kindness with individuals who have repaid Him by having no concern for His honor and glory.
Evangelical Repentance is the realization of God’s gracious patience, and how that instead of this melting the heart and causing it to yield loving obedience to Him, there is an abuse of His forbearance by continuing a course of self will.
True repentance is always accompanied by a deep longing and a sincere determination to forsake that which is displeasing to God.
Would any king pardon a traitor, though he seemed very humble, if the sovereign saw the criminal would be a traitor still?
True, God is infinitely more merciful than any human king, yet in the very passage where He first formally proclaimed His mercy, the Lord at once added that He will by no means clear the guilty (Ex. 34:5-7), meaning, the guilty hearted, those with false and disloyal hearts toward Himself, who would not be subject to Him in all things, and declined to have their every thought brought into captivity to obedience unto Him (2 Cor. 10:5).
God’s mercy is never exercised as the expense of His holiness (Psalms 130:4).
God never displays one of His attributes only to dishonor another.
To pity a thief, while allowing him to continue being a thief, would be folly, not wisdom.
Well did the Puritan Thomas Goodwin say,
“Resolve either to leave every known sin and to submit to every known duty, or else never look to find mercy and favor with God” (Deut. 28:19,20).
The leaving of sin is to be immediate for that is what salvation and sanctification is all about.
The great evangelist D. L. Moody told the story of a very agitated man who came to an inquiry room following an evangelistic service saying he wanted to become a Christian.
When asked by a Christian counselor why he was so upset the man confessed saying,
“The fact is, I have overdrawn my account.”
That is a polite way of saying he had been stealing.
“Did you take your employer’s money?”
“I do not know. I have never kept account of it.”
“Well, you have an idea. Did you steal about $1,500 last year?
“I am afraid it is that much.”
“What should be done?”
With a tongue in cheek observation, Mr. Moody said that some Christians might give the following counsel based on a belief in progressive sanctification, as opposed to immediate salvation and a measure of holiness.
Some Christians might say,
“Young man, here is what you are to do as a new Christian.
You are not to steal more than a $1,000 this year, and then next year do not confiscate more than $500, and in a few years, you will get so that you will not steal at all.
If your employer catches you, just tell him you are being converted and you promise to come to the place where you will not steal anymore.”
cried Mr. Moody,
“that counsel is a perfect farce!”
“Let him that stole, steal no more,” that is what the Bible says (Eph. 4:28).
The point is that the essence of true repentance leading to salvation is to resolve to leave every known sin, and to submit to every known gospel duty, immediately.
In his book I Surrender, Patrick Morley writes that the church’s integrity problem is in the misconception “that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin. It is a change in belief without a change in behavior.”
He goes on to say,
“It is revival without reformation, and without repentance” (Quoted by C. Swindoll, John The Baptizer, Bible Study Guide, p. 16.).
There are three kinds of repentance spoken of in Scripture.
There is the Repentance of Desperation.
The lives of Esau, Pharaoh, and Judas illustrate this type of self-serving superficial repentance.
After Esau foolishly sold his birthright for a bowl of soup, the Bible says he sought for it back with tears of repentance but without success.
Because Esau was a profane person according to Hebrews 12:16, and found no place of repentance (12:17).
The word profane is bebelos [beb’-ay-los] and refers to a wicked person. That is the divine commentary on Esau for God knows the heart.
While the Lord listens to the lips when a person speaks, He can determine sincerity or true remorse. Esau bitterly regretted what he had done, but he did not repent in the eyes of God.
There is the Repentance of Reformation manifested in King Ahab, the 7th king of Israel’s Northern Kingdom. He reigned for 22-years (874 – 853 BC).
Ahab was a worshipper of Yahweh, the God of Israel, but he also worshipped other deities.
The Bible gives a detailed account of the life of Ahab and the influence of Jezebel in his life to the point he became a prime example of evil (Micah 6:16),
The Bible also teaches the Repentance of Salvation based upon an evangelical conviction of sin.
When the apostles preached Christ following the Day of Pentecost, many people were convicted of sin and in sorrow turned to the Savior. God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life (Acts 11:18).
No one can repent of their own. God must grant repentance unto life.
The Evangelical Repentance God gives that leads to eternal life may be contrasted with the Legal Conviction often found in sensitive, but not sincere, seekers after God.
Consider the difference.
First, Legal Conviction fears hell, while Evangelical Repentance reveres God.
There are people who do not want to go to hell, but they also do not want to show any deference to God.
To eliminate the fear of an eternal judgment, and at the same time resist giving reverence to God, new religious ideas are created such as Deism, Universalism, or Annihilationism.
Second, Legal Conviction dreads punishment while Evangelical Repentance hates sin.
When Adam sinned against God, he knew he was in trouble which is why he tried to flee from the face of the Lord.
Adam dreaded the punishment he knew was coming.
However, we do not read that Adam initially hated his sin of rebellion.
The Bible tells us there is pleasure in sin, at least for a little while (Heb. 11:25).
Third, Legal Conviction informs the mind, while Evangelical Repentance melts the heart.
There is a reason so many people who have grown up under the sound of the gospel, been baptized, attended Sunday School and Church services, turn aside when they have the chance to be on their own.
The answer is this.
Their minds were informed, but their hearts were never melted by the gospel of Jesus suffering and dying for sinners.
Young people are often encouraged to make a profession of faith without any true understanding of what it means to be converted and be a follower of Christ.
So many do not know what it means to count the cost of Christian discipleship and so, when temptation arises, when people have a chance to swear, get drunk, take drugs, or swagger with a perverted view of being mature and worldly wise, they succumb.
Fourth, Legal Conviction excuses itself and claims the finished work of Christ as a basis to continue in sin, while Evangelical Repentance makes no excuses and has no reserves but cries,
“I have dishonored Thy name, grieved Thy Spirit, and abused Thy patience. Father, forgive me.”
World history was changed in part in the early years of the 19th century by a mad Russian monk name Grigori Rasputin (21 Jan 1869 – 30 Dec 1916) who taught many leading aristocrats associated with Czar Nicholas II that great acts of sexual immorality should be committed in order to receive greater grace from God.
When that idea was made manifest in the first century AD, the apostle Paul wrote a passionate letter to the Church of Roman saying,
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:1-2).
Let the word go forth. There is discernable fruit when gospel repentance is genuine.
When gospel repentance is authentic, there will be a real abhorrence of sin as sin, not merely its consequences.
“And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed” (Ezek. 20:43).
The Psalmist said,
“Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore, I hate every false way” (Psa. 119:104).
Another fruit of true repentance is a deep sorrow for sin.
“When Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice, he went out, and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75).
Again, when Evangelical Repentance is present, every known sin is confessed to God.
The Bible says,
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them s hall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
Finally, when true repentance is present in a person’s life, there is an actual turning away from doing wrong.
The gospel promise is that Jesus will save us from our sins. The Lord does not leave us in our sin.
“Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
May the Spirit of God grant each us authentic Evangelical Repentance.