Repentance: the Lost Doctrine of the Twenty-First Century

Grant Castleberry: When I came to Capital Community Church in Raleigh, North Carolina in August of last year as its senior pastor, the elders and I thought it would be best to begin my ministry in the church with a series of eight evangelistic messages. The evangelistic sermons I preached focused on the “new life” in Christ that is offered to us in the gospel. Sermon topics specifically covered the essence of lostness, the gravity of our sin, Christ’s work on the cross, the necessity of the new birth, and justification by faith alone. After these messages were preached last fall, I came across a William Booth quote that shook me. He said, “The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.” The phrase “forgiveness without repentance” particularly convicted me. I immediately thought to myself, ‘Why had I not emphasized

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True vs. false repentance: what’s the difference?

Adriel Sanchez: According to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Louw & Nida) the word repentance means, to change one’s way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness. In repentance, a person is given a true sense of the heinous nature of sin and, hating it, they turn to God through Christ with the desire to part ways with it. It is a gift that God gives to us and true repentance leads to eternal life (2 Tim. 2:25). The Bible does make it clear that not all repentance is genuine, though. Paul said to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11, For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point,

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What Natural Disasters Preach

Jeff Robinson: My second Sunday as a full-time pastor came five days after the worst tornado outbreak in American history afflicted our city and its surrounding region. I preached from Job 1–2, and we put the sermon title on our marquee: “Where Was God?” Attendance that Sunday doubled and a couple of media members, intrigued by the existential question on our sign, interviewed me. Natural disasters and tragedies, particularly those that fall on us like a lightning bolt, provoke thoughts in all kinds of people—both the religious and the irreligious—of death, eternal realities, and deity. Many of us remember the aftermath of 9/11. There was a large ecumenical prayer service held at Yankee Stadium a few days in its wake as a shadow of fear blanketed our country. Similarly, the assassination of national leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy spawned myriad solemn gatherings for prayer and reflection on ultimate realities. In Luke 13:1–7, Jesus faced a crowd of people

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J. I. Packer’s Thoughts on Holiness

A Habitual Attitude Sam Storms: There is no holiness or Christian life that does not have repentance at its core. Repentance is not merely one element in conversion, but a habitual attitude and action to which all Christians are called. It is, argues Packer, a spiritual discipline central to and inseparable from healthy holy living. But what is it? How should it be defined? What are its characteristic features? A close reading of Packer reveals that he understands repentance to entail a number of interrelated themes. The most important dimension in godly repentance is the fundamental alteration in one’s thinking with regard to what is sin and what God requires of us in terms both of our thoughts and actions. Repentance thus begins with a recognition of the multitude of ways in which our thinking and attitude and belief system are contrary to what is revealed in Scripture. We are by nature and choice misshapen and warped in the way

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8 Steps for Real Repentance from Psalm 51

Catherine Parks: My brother and I had a nightly childhood ritual of asking one another’s forgiveness for a list of vague sins. Having been warned not to let the sun go down on our anger, we made sure to cover all possibilities of sins we may have committed during the day. “Aaron, I’m sorry for yelling at you, hitting you, being selfish with the Nintendo, and tattling on you today. Will you forgive me?” His answer, along with his own confession, came back to my room in return. Thus we slept in the peace of the slightly remorseful. When I read Psalm 51 (written by David after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin), I realize how lacking my childhood confessions were. Even many of my confessions in adulthood leave much to be desired. Often we treat repentance as a statement—an “I’m sorry, please forgive me” that checks a box and (hopefully) alleviates our guilt. But if we look closely

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Faith & Repentance

Sinclair Ferguson: When the gospel is proclaimed, it seems at first sight that two different, even alternative, responses are called for. Sometimes the summons is, “Repent!” Thus, “John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 3:1–2). Again, Peter urged the hearers whose consciences had been ripped open on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). Later, Paul urged the Athenians to “repent” in response to the message of the risen Christ (Acts 17:30). Yet, on other occasions, the appropriate response to the gospel is, “Believe!” When the Philippian jailer asked Paul what he must do to be saved, the Apostle told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). But there is no mystery or contradiction here. Further on in Acts 17, we discover that precisely where the response of repentance was

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True Repentance

Michael Lawrence: False Repentance Leads to False Conversions Repenting means exchanging our idols for God. Before it’s a change in behavior, it must be a change in worship. How different that is from how we often think of repentance. Too often we treat repentance as a call to clean up our lives. We do good to make up for the bad. We try to even the scale, or even push it back to the positive side. Sometimes we talk about repentance as if it were a really serious, religious New Year’s resolution: “I’m not going to blow up at my kids anymore.” “I’m not going to look at pornography ever again.” “I’m never going to cheat on my hours at work.” “I’m going to stop talking about my boss behind his back.” False repentance But even if we clean up our behavior in one area or another, our hearts can still be devoted to our idols. The Pharisees illustrate this problem. They

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If All My Sins Are Forgiven, Why Must I Continue to Repent?

Stephen Wellum: It’s an understandable question: If we’re justified by faith and forgiven all our sins—past, present, and future—then why is it necessary to continue seeking forgiveness? Aren’t our sins already forgiven? Both Saint and Sinner  There are at least three biblical truths that must be kept together simultaneously. First, for those who have repented of sin and trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior, God declares them right before him on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and substitutionary death (Rom. 3:21–26; 5:1; 8:1, 30,33–34). As a declarative act of God and not a process by which we are infused with righteousness, justification takes place in the believer once for all time (Rom. 5:12–21; Phil. 3:8–9; 2 Cor. 5:19–21). Although everyone will stand before Christ’s judgment seat and hear the public verdict of whether or not we are in him (2 Cor. 5:10), for believers this end-time verdict has now been brought into the present. We have already crossed from death to

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10 Things You Should Know about Repentance

Sam Storms: Repentance is a massively important spiritual issue that calls for careful study and clear articulation. Here are ten things to remember about what it means to repent of our sin. (1) Genuine repentance begins, but by no means ends, with heartfelt conviction of sin. That is to say, it begins with recognition, which is to say, an eye-opening, heart-rending awareness of having defied God by embracing what he despises and despising, or at minimum, being indifferent towards, what he adores. Repentance, therefore, involves knowing in one’s heart: “This is wrong.” “I have sinned.” “God is grieved.” The antithesis of recognition is rationalization, the pathetic attempt to justify one’s moral laxity by any number of appeals: “I’m a victim! You have no idea what I’ve been through. If you knew how rotten my life has been and how badly people have treated me, you’d give me a little slack.” True repentance, notes J. I. Packer, “only begins when one passes out

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12 Signs of Genuine Repentance

Jared Wilson: I have sinned against you. I have apologized. But how do you know if I mean it? How do you know when someone is repentant? In his helpful little book Church Discipline, Jonathan Leeman offers some guidance: A few verses before Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18 about church discipline, he provides us with help for determining whether an individual is characteristically repentant: would the person be willing to cut off a hand or tear out an eye rather than repeat the sin (Matt. 18:8-9)? That is to say, is he or she willing to do whatever it takes to fight against the sin? Repenting people, typically, are zealous about casting off their sin. That’s what God’s Spirit does inside of them. When this happens, one can expect to see a willingness to accept outside counsel. A willingness to inconvenience their schedules. A willingness to confess embarrassing things. A willingness to make financial sacrifices or lose friends or end relationships.

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Hyper-Grace and Repentance

Sam Storms: Among the many things often heard by advocates of what I’m calling Hyper-Grace is that too many Christians are focused on repenting of their sins. We are excessively “sin-conscious,” so they say, and should instead turn our attention to the finality and sufficiency of God’s saving grace to us in Jesus Christ. There is a sense in which this is a good and important reminder. Some Christians are excessively sin-conscious and have failed to recognize the glory and peace that come from trusting wholly in what God did through Jesus to remove the guilt and condemnation or our sin. But what they fail to recognize is that it is precisely because of the wonder and majesty of God’s saving mercy in Jesus that we should be sensitive to our sin and quick to repent of it. We do not repent in order to curry God’s favor or to make it possible for us to be reconciled to him.

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