Spiritual Formation

The Need, the Nature, and the Nourishment of Repentance

June 26, 2013



The Need of Repentance

The word repentance has become misplaced in the modern church.  Because of its unpopular tone, many have discharged it from their preaching; and those who do preach it perhaps do so with negativity and uncertainty.  We must know that repentance is not only a biblical concept; it is an essential truth for the regenerative life.

John the Baptist preached repentance to the religious crowd of his day.  Jesus preached repentance as the means of entrance into the kingdom.  Peter preached repentance on the day of Pentecost as the church was birthed.  It is the remedy against the judgment of sin; Scripture teaches us that it is not God’s will that ANY should perish but that ALL should come to repentance.

Repentance is not just a one-time occurrence that secures our eternal state (it is that); but it is also an on-going, continual part of the believer’s walk with Christ. It is the turning away from our sin, our world, our flesh, and turning to Christ by faith.  Paul refers to this in the third chapter of Colossians.  We are to “put off” the things of the world while at the same time “put on” Christ Jesus.  In essence that is the heart of repentance-changing your heart and mind to the point that you allow God to change your ways. I believe repentance is one of the greatest needs of the church.  Jesus Himself told the church of Sardis, “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou will not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.”  The great need of repentance is discovered in light of the return of Christ.


The Nature of Repentance

In his book, The Disciple of Grace, Jerry Bridges says this about the nature of repentance, “The solution to staying on the right side of the fine line between using and abusing grace is repentance.  The road to repentance is godly sorrow.  Godly sorrow is developed when we focus on the true nature of sin as an offense to God rather than something that makes us feel guilty.”

True repentance is more than feeling bad about what we have done; it is about being repulsed at the way our sin affects God.  Recognition of how sin grieves the Father should be the ultimate cause of repentance, not just the guilt it brings.  A good example of this is found in Luke 15.  The prodigal son initially wanted to return (repent) to his father because of the consequence of sin in his life (guilt).  He said, “How many hired servants of my father’s house have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!” But upon his arrival back to the father he confessed, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight.”  Somewhere along the journey his guilt turned to grieving.

As Kevin DeYoung contends, “It is one thing to sin your heart out, mumble a few sorrys, and get on with life.  It is quite another thing to hate your sin, cry out to God, and make a spiritual U-turn.”  Ultimately the nature of our repentance should be in line with the concession of the prodigal son.  It should not derive from our guilt but from our grieving.  Guilt is inward, grieving is Godward. Grieving Godward is the very nature of repentance.


The Nourishment of Repentance

Repentance accentuates grace, and causes even the most spiritually mature believers to be awakened to their indifference.  John Owen, the great Puritan writer declared, “Even the choicest of saints who seek to remain free from the condemning power of sin need to make it their business, as long as they live, to mortify the indwelling power of sin.” Repentance ultimately nourishes the soul of the saint.  The process may seem uncomfortable and sore to the spirit but its end ultimately brings joy, growth, and faith.

Going back to the prodigal son-when he finally came to terms with how his sin affected his father, it was then his father lavished upon him the graces of his fortune.  This of course cannot be our motivation for repentance, but it is the reality of repentance.  “It is the greatest and dearest blessing that ever God gave to men, that they may repent,” said Jeremy Taylor, “and therefore to deny or to delay it is to refuse health when brought by the skill of the physician – to refuse liberty offered to us by our gracious Lord.”


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