A Close Look at Repentance

CTTA recurring lament in our DiM posts is that of a lack of a call to repentance. Repentance is one of those things we all talk about as though we understand what it is. Some break it down to simplistic vocabulary definition of “changing of mind or direction”. Does this help the Christian understand what it means to repent of sin in our daily lives? I don’t think so… not without risking making repentance something Christians have to do on their own. Let’s take some time to review what Repentance is in Scripture.

The Law

Whenever we read in God’s Word a commandment to do (or abstain from) something or to think a certain way, we recognize them as Law. The high mark in the Old Testament is the 10 Commandments. In the New Testament, Jesus summarized the all of the Law and the Prophets into 2 Commandments:

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

We’ve mentioned before that this is not a Gospel passage. It is the summation of the Law. We don’t live up to the Law of God. We don’t. We fall short. We sin. The Law exposes our sin and sentences it to death. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that He offered His flesh and blood as payment for our sin, so that in Him we might be forgiven and sealed by the Spirit of God until the Day of Resurrection.

2 Corinthians 3:4-11 (ESV)

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

This is where we try to focus our attention on the preaching of both Law and Gospel. For the Law of God is vital for exposing sin in our lives, and for putting to death what is fleshly and sinful in our lives, but without the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are doomed, condemned in our sin and shame. Or worse, we might start to soften the Law we preach placing too much focus on the Laws we think we don’t break and inappropriately credit ourselves with some level of righteousness of our own. No, whenever we preach Law it must be full-strength and unbridled… but we must be quick to preach the Gospel as the only solution to the problem of sin. How does this work? Believe in Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God and Repent.

Repentance Preached

Let us begin with where we see Repentance first preached in the New Testament.

Matthew 3:1-12 (ESV) | John the Baptist Prepares the Way

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Matthew 4:12-17 (ESV) | Jesus Begins His Ministry

12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
    on them a light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

John the Baptist preached “Repent!” and his baptism was for repentance. When he was arrested, Jesus moved to Capernaum and preached “Repent!” also. Now, Jesus is the one with the authority to actually forgive.

Matthew 9:1-8 (ESV) | Jesus Heals a Paralytic

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

This (among many other things) makes Him far greater than John, and the baptism into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit far exceeds that of John’s baptism for repentance. Still, repentance is required.

Contrition is the first part of Repentance

That feeling you get when the Law of God is preached, and the sin of the listener is laid bare in his own eyes, that is contrition or conviction. The listener stands guilty, convicted of his/her sin. This is an important place to be for Repentance to come about. There is another feeling that is similar, but doesn’t bear the fruit of Repentance. Feeling sorrow after having been caught in your sin, or lamenting just punishment for your sin isn’t always the same thing if it isn’t the sin that is the focus of the sorrow. Our sinful flesh loves itself so much, that it will lament its own comfort, desires, “broken dreams”, and ruined schemes. But sorrow alone is not Repentance. My dad used to ask us from time to time, “are you sorry about what you did, or sorry you got caught?” Understanding the difference is important here. Being sorry for what you did can lead to real repentance… being sorry you got caught might lead to repentance, but it could also lead to more crafty, unrepentant, sinning in the future. The difference between the outcomes falls to the second part of Repentance, that is, Faith.

Repentance Takes Faith

Okay, so we talked about how sorrow alone isn’t repentance. That gut-feeling of doom isn’t fully repentance. Even if we rightly understand that we’ve committed sin against our neighbor and against God, it is not yet repentance. We’ll start with a very dark example, and then we’ll talk about how Repentance is made complete by Faith.

Matthew 27:1-10 (ESV)

27 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor. Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

Did Judas repent? He “changed his mind” and confessed that he had sinned. But he went to the murderous chief priests and the elders seeking forgiveness, and they told him to “see to it yourself”. So Judas hung himself. Judas lacked Faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness. Without the hope of forgiveness, man is left to face the destruction and condemnation of his sin alone.

When we sin, and are convicted by the Law, contrite in our sin, we need to hear and know and trust in the Promise of God to forgive us of our sin. We need faith.

Romans 10:5-17 (ESV) | The Message of Salvation to All

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

 This is the message of salvation, this is the promise of forgiveness of sin by the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is where we get our faith to Repent from sin.

We Grow in Repentance

As Christians, sinners forgiven by grace through Faith in Jesus Christ, we are called to grow in Him. We find ourselves struggling with our sinful flesh, the sinful desires of our hearts. There are faithful churches who hold a high-view of Scripture and preach the Law faithfully week in and week out. We need the Law of God to expose our sins, it is active in our sanctification by faith in Christ Jesus. Sadly, we’ve tended to allow the preaching of the Gospel to become something we only preach to unbelievers who have already indicated they believe (by raising their hands or walking to the front or “agreeing to joint he club”) so that they can “be saved”… and then we treat it as an assumed “they know the Gospel because they are saved”. No. In the same way we don’t assume Christians know the Law “because they’ve repented once and been saved” we cannot assume that Christians don’t need to hear the Gospel faithfully preached to them and for them for their faith for their repentance and the forgiveness of their sin in Jesus’ Name. Repentance does not come naturally. It’s not a reflex action. Our flesh would rather justify our actions/statements, and exonerate us by reason and loopholes. Repentance is a gift. By faith in Christ Jesus, we can turn away from our sin and cling to the Promise of forgiveness.

Dear Christian,

as long as you walk this earth, living in this tent of fleshly sin, you will sin. Your heart is sinful, and seeks itself above your neighbor and above God. We are to grow in our understanding of the Law of God and also in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ’s finished work on the cross began a good work in you. He will finish His work that He began in your heart when He regenerated your spirit by the Power of the Holy Spirit. Your flesh is at war with the Spirit, and we are called to take up our crosses daily, putting to death the sin that remains in our flesh.  As we grow in understanding of the Law, let us also grow in our understanding of the Gospel of Christ, in our faith in the cross, in the resurrection after the Last Day. For we who are in Christ have been adopted into the household of faith, sealed by the Holy Spirit for the Promise of everlasting life in Christ Jesus. Amen.


There are two parts to Repentance: Contrition and Faith. The Law convicts us of our sin unto contrition… the Gospel of Jesus Christ grants us faith to repent and be forgiven. As we grow in understanding of Law and Gospel, we will grow in faith, and the Holy Spirit will continue His sanctifying work in us that He began. David understood repentance, probably better than anyone. Probably the most powerful Psalm of repentance is Psalm 51 (read it with 2 Samuel 12:1-15). We’ve reviewed it before, but today I’d like to close with a look at Psalm 32. Beginning in verse 8, the LORD is speaking His promise to instruct, teach, and counsel.

Psalm 32 (ESV) | Blessed Are the Forgiven
A Maskil of David.

32 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Therefore let everyone who is godly
    offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
    they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me;
    you preserve me from trouble;
    you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
    but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Amen. May you bear fruit in keeping with Repentance, and in the knowledge and fullness of Christ.
In Christ Jesus,

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