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Repentance (3)

H A Barnes, Westhoughton

Repentance is always for the better [Thayer's Greek Lexicon], being directed towards God, and is simply seeing things about us from His point of view as revealed in the Scriptures. It is accompanied by faith directed towards our Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance is often associated with deep regret, but is always followed by a change of life (Acts 26.20; 2 Cor 5.17-18), and is never regretted afterwards (2 Cor 7.10, JND)! "[Repentance is] such a virtuous alteration of the mind and purpose as begets a like virtuous change in the life and practice" (John Kettlewell (1653–1695), quoted by Archbishop Trench in Synonyms of the New Testament).

Such repentance is important, since I cannot come to proper faith in Christ until I have come to a proper spiritual estimate of myself, whatever I thought of myself previously, thus sweeping away any obstacles whereby I might have had thoughts of my own worthiness or virtue before God. I cannot have done this without the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart, since it is He alone who provides adequate and convincing proof of the reality, truth and seriousness of sin, righteousness and judgment (Jn 16.8). Without such proof I could not repent. Repentance is not how I feel, but what I think!

Repentance and faith

True repentance is not an end in itself, but is followed by faith in Christ and a turning from sin and self to God, as we read, "Repent…and be converted" (Acts 3.19; 26.20). (Repentance and faith are the two sides of the one coin of salvation.) Commenting on Acts 20.21, one author noted that "there is only a definite single article ('the') connecting both the words repentance and faith, the two are inseparably joined as together forming one truth; where repentance is, there faith is!" Although repentance is not faith, it clears the way for faith in Christ by removing any obstacles and hindrances to it such as self-belief, complacency, procrastination, etc.

So, if repentance is a change of mind about one's self, salvation is then the subsequent change of one's ultimate destination – heaven and not hell; justification is then a change of reputation, status and standing before a holy God, and, lastly, adoption is a change in position, rights and privileges associated with sonship! The story of the prodigal son is an excellent example of true repentance: remorse alone would have left him starving among the pigs, but repentance brought him home to the father, the ring, new clothing and the fatted calf (Lk 15.11–24).

Believers' repentance

There are a number of instances in the New Testament where we read about repentance with reference to believers, and it is clear that even they can get wrong thoughts into their heads and therefore need to change their minds straightaway. These wrong ideas can come from the usual enemies of the truth - the world, the flesh or, of course, the devil, the great deceiver (Eph 4.14). Those spoken about in this condition needed to be shaken out of complacency, self-deception, pride of their liberal position, or even the snare of the devil.

As indicated above, the carnal assembly at Corinth was one example of believers needing to repent. In considering 2 Corinthians 7, we have already, in part, dealt with their repentance. The Corinthian assembly, in general, had been proud of their easy-going, open-minded attitude to immorality, but Paul had told them that "your boasting is not good" (1 Cor 5.6, JND). This admonition had produced godly sorrow, which in turn had brought them to repentance and hence deliverance from their false pride. However, although the apostle had noted their repentance on this specific matter, that is their arrogance had been replaced by "what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge" (2 Cor 7.11), he nevertheless feared that it was possible that others might still be practising similar sins. He said that perhaps many had not repented about such things, and that he would be the one doing the grieving and not them – "I shall grieve [mourn, RV] over many of those who have sinned before, and have not repented as to the uncleanness and fornication and licentiousness which they have practised" (2 Cor 12.21, JND). William Kelly comments: "Doubtless the corruptions were characteristic of heathen Corinth; and old habits soon revive, even in young converts, when the heart turns from Christ to other objects…they were overcome with evil, not overcoming it with good".

In his second epistle to Timothy Paul wrote about the worsening spiritual situation that Timothy would have to face alone after Paul's death, when, by and large, there would be a serious deterioration and departure from the truth, and people would actually oppose the truth as taught by Timothy, who would be simply communicating what he had heard from Paul (2 Tim 2.2), as had many others. Timothy for his part was patiently to preach the truth in meekness (v.24). The possible effect on those who would oppose Timothy could be "if…[perhaps] God may give them repentance unto acknowledgment of truth, and they may wake up out of the snare of the devil, taken as they are by him, for His [God's] will" (W Kelly's literal translation of 2 Timothy 2.25-26). So, those who opposed the truth had been ensnared by the devil and were presently slumbering while trapped in his snare, but they could be woken up as to their sad condition and repent, i.e. change their mind about their attitude to Timothy's teaching, acknowledge the truth, escape, and once again be available for God's will. What an encouragement to Timothy to carry on teaching the truth, in spite of the opposition!

To be continued.


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