The cross, repentance, and sin make up the trifecta of redemption. These are similar to the legs on a three-legged stool. If one of them is shortened or removed the remaining legs will be affected. For several years now it appears that the cross of Christ is not discussed much anymore; this change has been gradual and subtle. But the cross’s power has not been downplayed in a vacuum. Other victims have been our understanding of sin and the need for repentance. All three (cross, sin, repentance) have been absconded and replaced with a gospel which does not expect or require sanctification, a transformation of the soul or personal holiness. A full treatment of this subject is beyond the scope of this article so my goal is simply to present a few observations.
The cross was a brutal, agonizing and horrible death for the Son of God, but it was necessary to expunge the wickedness of my moral and volitional failures. Repentance is the remedy by which I appropriate the work of the cross to the sin of my soul. Webster’s dictionary describes repentance as:
“turning from sin and dedicating oneself to the amendment of one’s life; feeling regret or contrition, or to change one’s mind“.
Imagine what life would be like if I worked in a dirty, dusty and humid factory. After getting home from work I am not able to shower or clean myself. What if that scenario went on for days or weeks and I longed for a cleansing shower? Well, is that not what repentance is to the soul? My life has a way of getting polluted with the world, my poor choices and the sin which so easily besets me. Repentance is a cleansing rain, re-calibrating my relationship with God.
Bear with me while we go a little deeper. Someone might say, I repented when I first came to Christ and since all of my sins (past, present and future) were dealt with at the cross I no longer need to humble myself in this act of contrition.
We can make the mistake of solely linking repentance to the Old Covenant, namely the Law of Moses. Repentance and sacrifice were required when the law was violated – this was the Old Testament sacrificial system of the atonement of sin. Now that we live under the New Covenant of grace – what is the remedy when we step outside the bounds of this New Covenant? It’s quite true that Christ has already paid for these sins but I have violated this covenant of grace in which I now live. My repentance then is my turning and agreeing with the Spirit of grace that my lifestyle does not agree with what I say I believe. So repentance is both an Old Covenant blessing as well as New Covenant blessing, not something to be shunned but a gift to be embraced.
In the modern world, it seems as if speaking about repentance or proposing it as a biblical mandate carries a negative connotation and should be avoided at all costs. On the contrary, I believe the grace to repent is a tremendous blessing which God provides. When I understand that my heart is sick and desperately wicked (Jer.17:9) and left to my own devices I am doomed, then the gospel truly is “Good News”. Without repentance how am I to appropriate the work of the cross when I grieve the Spirit of God?
During the process of spiritual rebirth, my spirit is transformed but unfortunately, my soul and body do not immediately line up with the conversion experience. Sanctification (which takes a lifetime) is the process of bringing my spirit, soul, and body into conformity with the image of Christ. So repentance is both the entry into this new life as well as a discipline to be embraced along the journey and should be practiced as a vital spiritual discipline. We should be careful not to diminish the grace to repent, the work of the cross or the reality of sin as these three form redemption’s trifecta for lovers of God.
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17
I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32) Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. – Luke 13:3-5
Why does God devote an entire chapter to David’s (man after his own heart) prayer of repentance if we are not to learn from it and follow his example? – Psalm 51
Why does God speak through Isaiah compelling his people to come and reason together; though your sins be a scarlet they will be white like snow? – Isaiah 1:18
Perhaps you are tempted to think that repentance is only for the unbeliever or for the Jews under the Mosaic law; consider the message to the church in Ephesus or Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. In both cases is he not writing to Christian converts?
Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.
“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the prodigal was still a family member while estranged from his father. In spite of his insolence and audacious behavior, he was nevertheless still a son. When this son repented, it was cause for great feasting, joy, and celebration. As a member of the body of Christ, should I not celebrate the repentant heart, regardless of whether the individual is born again or not.
Lastly, while repentance begins with changing my mind about who God is, that he is not just another good teacher or prophet but the Son of God, it doesn’t end there! While it is true that I need a correct understanding of the nature of God, I also need a correct understanding of my own nature and the means of dealing with it at the cross. If I doubt that repentance and sin have to do with personal behavior, then please reference the scriptures at the end of this post.
A beautiful portrayal of having a correct understanding of Christ Jesus and recognition of my own sinfulness is found in Luke 5. After the miraculous catch of fish, Peter fell to his knees proclaiming, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Luke 5:8. This clearly portrays one of the goals of discipleship; to know God and to know myself.
The goal of repentance is in turning away from my sinful, carnal nature, agreeing with the spirit of grace, and walking with God in the revelation knowledge of his magnificent Son. When I do this with sincerity, there is a great mercy to be received at the cross. So I see that repentance is the exit path out of my fallen nature but also a practice of great value in my journey with Christ. So I will celebrate the blessing of repentance when I was first “born again” and I celebrate it each time the spirit of God convicts my heart.
Mark 1:4; 1:5
Luke 3:3; 5:32; 15:7, 15:10; 17:4; 24:47; 11:4; 15:18
John 5:14; John 8:11
Rom 3:20; 7:5