Repentance is the transformation of the heart by the Spirit of God whereby the new convert is convicted of his sinfulness upon hearing the Gospel message. Thereafter he is empowered to conform to the Word of God. This is a God-given grace which every truly born-again believer will experience without exception.
Repentance has always been an important aspect of salvation. “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3: 1-2). The message of repentance by John the Baptist was essentially identical to what Jesus had preached and commanded His apostles to continue proclaiming after His ascension: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Lk 24: 47).
Repentance involves a heartfelt conviction of sin. The penitent is filled with godly sorrow (II Cor 7: 9-10). This is not a sorrow which renders him hopeless; he runs to the throne of grace, seeking forgiveness and cleansing from his sins. This is clearly seen in the sincere repentance of King David who cried from the bottom of his heart, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me” (Ps 51: 1-3).
The repentant sinner determines not to return to his old ways nor continue in sin: “Whosoever is born of God doth not [habitually] commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot [remain in] sin, because he is born of God” (I Jn 3: 9). On occasions when he does lapse in faith, he will feel remorse and seek reconciliation with both God and man.
Since regeneration is God’s sovereign work in the heart of man, the results are certain and can never fail. Repentance is then man’s response to the irresistible work of God; it is the fruit of faith with regeneration as its root.
The new believer will desire not only to forsake his sinful practices but also to bear fruits worthy of repentance. In response to his call for repentance, John the Baptist was approached by inquirers asking: “What shall we do then?” (Lk 3: 10).
John provided answers which targeted their specific sins: “He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages” (Lk 3: 11-14). Whatever their sins, all must be dealt with and repented of. They must show forth the fruit of repentance.
Repentance is not a one-off act that happens only at conversion, but a life-long duty and spiritual exercise that begins from conversion. As long as we live, we will struggle with the flesh. This is due to man’s sinful depravity. There will never come a day in this mortal life when we are freed from temptation and sin. Even the great Apostle Paul wrote at length about the ongoing war between his fleshly inclination to sin and his earnest desire to please God (cf Rom 7: 7-25).
True repentance is the turning from our old sinful way of life to one that pursues God’s path of righteousness. Beginning with a change of mind and heart, it must result in a transformed life. The fruit of repentance must be seen in the conduct of every child of God.
Dearly beloved, have we confessed and repented of our sins? Do we mourn and sorrow over them? Let us not take our salvation for granted, for Christ has said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5: 23).
– Bro Kelvin Li