Repentance and the Conscience (2)
“I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13.5
An evangelical grace
Perhaps the best definition of repentance comes from The Westminster Confession of Faith, that great 17th-century document which sets forth the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.
Chapter XV of The Confession deals with repentance, calling it “an evangelical grace” which should be preached along with faith in Christ by every minister of the Gospel. Those pastors and theologians who composed The Confession understood the importance of this discipline for the life of faith.
The Confession declares of repentance, “By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments.”
Here we can see that, as repentance is working, the conscience is directing both the mind and the heart in thoughts and affections appropriate to turning away from sin and toward Jesus Christ. The purpose of repentance is to set us in good stead with the Law of God, according to His holy purpose for our lives.
Repentance only comes into practice when certain conditions are met. Let’s observe the following conditions for repentance as they are set out in The Westminster Confession of Faith.
First, to repent one must acknowledge that he is a sinner, that is, that there are in his life things which offend against the holy character of God and the requirement of loving our neighbors as ourselves. Repentance is thus the starting-point of saving faith, as we have seen, and the touchstone of saving faith, as we grow increasingly into Jesus. Repenting is what sinners do, and we’re all sinners. Certainly, we’re not going to make much headway in this evangelical grace until we identify, confess, and begin to have a changed mind about the sin in our lives.
Second, we recognize, as Jesus indicated, that the presence of sin in our lives puts us in danger of the judgment of God. God hates sin so much that He moves to eradicate and destroy it; if we happen to be harboring sin in our lives, therefore, it’s quite possible that we may find ourselves in the divine sights unless we repent. Repentance, in other words, has a fear motive back of it – fear of the judgment of God, or, if we are believers and therefore delivered from judgment, of the discipline He may bring against us for our sin (Heb. 12.3-11).
Next, to acknowledge our sin we will need to see it as such, and thus be specific before the Lord in our repentance. This requires exposure to the Law of God, for anything that is contrary to the Law of God is sin, and the Law of God helps us see the sin that we have ignored, rationalized, or otherwise harbored in our lives (Rom. 7.7-9). Where there is no Law, the apostle explains, there is no guilt for sin. But once we begin to bring the Law of God into our daily lives, sin will become evident all around.
Third, we will not repent until we apprehend the mercy of God, shown to us in the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we see ourselves as responsible for His suffering, we will grieve that our sin could do this to Him, and we will begin to hate sin as God says we must (Ps. 97.10). Until we destroy the love of sinning in our hearts, we will not be ready to repent of anything before the holy God.
Finally, real repentance seeks another path to walk, one that follows “all the ways of His commandments.”
Admit you are a sinner, specify the sin you need to repent of before the Lord, call upon His mercy to forgive and revive you, hate the sin you have identified in your life, and determine and resolve on the path marked out by God’s Word instead (Ps. 119.59, 60). We will not repent of our sins until all these conditions are met. And, as often as they are met, we will repent, and thus discover again the starting-point of saving faith.
Repentance does not earn salvation; however, there is no salvation without it. Moreover, as The Confession goes on to say, “As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.” Repentance is thus an avenue for great hope, relief, and joy, and a new beginning each day for knowing the salvation of the Lord. And so, The Confession continues, “Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man’s duty to endeavour to repent of his particular sins, particularly.”
When, out of a purified conscience, we practice repentance like this, then the salvation we have in Jesus Christ will begin to flourish.
1. Why is repentance necessary both for unbelievers and believers?
2. How can we prepare our minds for repentance?
3. How can we prepare our hearts for repentance?
For reflection – Conversation: Talk with some Christian friends about the place of repentance in their walk with the Lord. What can you learn from them?
T. M. Moore
This is part 8 of an 8-part series on Purifying the Conscience. To download this week’s study as a free PDF, click here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.