Repentance Unto Life

My thanks to James Grant for this excellent piece on repentance. A neglected and misunderstood doctrine. I would only add, that true repentance is also accompanied by joy; a joy from being in agreement with God.

The  Shorter Catechism has a helpful definition of repentance in question Q. 87, “What is repentance unto life?”

Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

I think there are several important main points here concerning repentance. First, we acknowledge that we are a sinner: “we have a true sense of our sin.” Some people cannot get past this first point because they will not admit that they are sinners. We do not want to admit that we are law-breakers and are in deep trouble with God.

Second, you have a sense grief and hatred of your sin, a sense of sorrow. Sin is wicked. It is not only an offense to God, but it also does damage to the human soul, both in the person committing the sin and the person who is sinned against. There should be moments in your life when it comes crashing down on you how much your sin has dishonored God and caused damage to others, and it should create a sense of sorrow and grief. Now it doesn’t mean we shed tears, but we have a deep sense of how wrong sin is.

Third, we turn from our sin unto God with an understanding of mercy. There is a movement from the idol of sin toward the true and living God. You realize that the idols that you hold dear are dead, and the only hope is in the mercy of God in Christ.

Fourth, in the turn towards God, you also have a new purpose of obedience to God. You desire to practice righteousness and please God. This last aspect of repentance, the desire to obey, or as the Catechism says, a “new purpose of obedience,” is called the fruit of repentance.

One of the helpful aspects of the Catechism’s definition of repentance is its depth. This is not a one time event, but something that takes place throughout the rest of our life as Christians. When Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” on the church door at Wittenberg Cathedral, the issue of repentance was in the very first point: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” As Tim Keller likes to say, “All of Life is Repentance.”

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

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