Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment….For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. – Psalm 51:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10
True repentance is godly sorrow for our sins against God that is a gracious work of the Holy Spirit in us. True repentance is a gospel grace of God given to believers as a gift from the Lord Jesus Christ as one of the fruits of His life, death, resurrection and ascension for us. True repentance is not what saves a person any more than faith is what saves, but Christ saves us through faith and true repentance. We do not put our hope in our repentance, but in Christ alone that grants to believers repentance. The focus of our salvation is always the grace of God to sinners received by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
But are you truly repentant? Many confessing Christians are not truly repentant. Many confessing Christians may be sorry for being troubled for their sins, but are not so sorry for troubling God with their sins, and offending His Holy character by their sins. We must be aware that there is still a self-centered focus that characterizes our lives, even when it comes to repenting before God. If we are not repentant, if repentance is not what defines us, then how can we say we are true Christian? The fullness of the Gospel era in the full revelation of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ begins with this proclamation:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”- ESV Mark 1:15
How do we know and recognize true repentance in us? Notice the Psalmist in Psalm 51 in our scripture above; when repenting of sin, the Psalmist knows that the offense if first a sinful offense against a Holy God: “Against, you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” Repentance is produced by “godly grief” according to the Apostle Paul. In Psalm 51, David had sinned against others when he sinned with Bathsheba. He had both committed adultery and he had murdered. But his sin was first against God.
The Apostle Paul had written a letter to the Corinthians for their conduct and behavior that was unbecoming to the gospel of Jesus and their response was a realization that they had sinned against God first, even though they had also sinned against the Apostle Paul and others in the congregation. The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 7 contrasts true godly repentance produced by godly grief and what he describes as “worldly grief” that produces NOT repentance, but death.
What is worldly grief? Simply, it is being sorry for having to suffer the consequences for sin, but it is not godly grief that leads to repentance. True repentance is sorry for offending our Creator and God.
Every sin strikes at the honor of God, the being of God, the glory of God, the heart of Christ, the joy of the Spirit, and the peace of a man’s conscience. A truly repentant person strikes against all sin by the power of the Spirit, as the Spirit wars against the flesh, so the repentant person allies himself daily with the Spirit’s work to kill sin by drawing strength from a crucified Christ to crucify all (not merely sins in general, but sins in particular!). Christ has not only paid the penalty of our sins, but in our union with Him by faith, he has granted us power over our sins.
When you sin are you first sorry for offending God? Are you saddened first NOT with the fact that this sin could cause others to disrespect you, or that you might be found out, or that you might have some consequences to suffer, or that it would really hurt your family if they knew what you had done, or that the sin has made you feel guilty and like you’re not a good person, etc.? If this is your first concern, it is usually your only concern.
Sadly, this is what is called repentance many times in Christian churches. But the Bible teaches very clearly throughout redemptive-history, that repentance is first sorrow for grieving God; repentance is sorrow for sinning against God your Creator, and Lord who redeemed you.
This is why the Reformers, particularly Luther and Calvin spoke of repentance being a daily activity as a Christian and what should characterize the true Christian each and every day. As the Psalmist wrote: ESV “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3). Repentance is to “know your transgressions against God” and that daily you sin is ever “before you”. To truly know the saving work and power of Jesus Christ, one must know from the sinful depths which they have been saved. Repentance is a continual turning from sin and folly to the grace of God found in Christ alone.
True daily repentance should be some of our first words out of our mouths to God when we get out of bed each morning. A truly repentant person can never content themselves with one act of repentance any more than they can be content with one act of faith or one act of love in the Christian life (Thomas Brooks). If you want to learn to pray more, then ask God to help you to have a deeper repentance, a deeper knowledge of how much you offend Him in words, thoughts and deeds that sin against Him and are abhorrent to Him in both your committing of certain sins and the omission of certain duties.
True repentance can make you pray more, and it can help you to be filled more with Christ’s joy. Why? Because you will more deeply realize the truth of what Jesus says: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and so you will seek the grace from Christ alone to live for God. As you learn to depend upon Christ more, you will more and more realize that He is your Savior from sin and your closest friend who teaches you to be obedient to His commands, and fills you with His joy: “My joy may be in you, and your joy may be full” (John 15:11b).
But don’t get too confident in your own self to repent. Repentance is not something you do first, it is something God does in you; repentance is a gift from Jesus Christ. Repentance is something that God gives to you by the working of His Spirit. This is another reason boldly to approach the throne of grace to find help in your time of need (Heb. 4:14-16). You need to be repentant in order to grow, you need repentance in order to be full of joy and walking with God, but you can’t produce repentance on your own. Call out to God for a greater repentance! This too, will keep you in your prayer closet seeking God as he has promised to reward you (Matt. 6).
Jesus gives repentance: ESV “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”- Acts 5:32. Jesus grants repentance. Do you seek Him for it?
Our forefather in the faith, Thomas Brooks reminds us of the fact that we should never fool ourselves into believing that repentance is an act of our own ability: “There is no power below that power that raised Christ from the dead, and that made the world, that can break the heart of a sinner or turn the heart of a sinner to God. You are as well able to melt hard metal like adamant as to melt your own heart; you are as able to raise the dead and to create a world, as to repent….Repentance is a gift that comes down from above….It is not in the power of any mortal to repent at pleasure” (Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices).”
How do you know that you’re truly repentant and that Jesus has granted you repentance? There are a few main ingredients of true repentance: A sight of one’s own sin, sorrow for sin, confession of sin, hatred of sin, and turning from sin.
A sight of one’s own sins before God. As we learned above, we are to have a sight of our own sinful condition before God, as well as our specific sins we commit against God (this is one important use of the Law of God and the Ten Commandments for the Christian life; the Law is never to be used as a way of gaining salvation, because it only aggravates sin and makes one hopelessly realize their sinful helplessness and need of grace to do anything good for God, but as commands in the Christian life, it helps us to see more clearly our own sins and our need for constant repentance and grace). Many of us are good at spying the sinful faults in others, but we can see no faults in ourselves. Our own sins are veiled with ignorance of our sins due to pride and self-love.
A sorrow for your sin. Godly sorrow is sorry for one’s sin against God. It is not first concerned with the trouble that the sin has brought to the sinner, but the pain that it has brought to the heart of our loving Savior. Remember the penitent tax collector before God; this should be our daily prayer of repentant and act; he “beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13). Psalm 38 (various verses) says: “There is no health in my bones because of my sin…My iniquities have gone over my head, they are a burden to me, they are too heavy for me…But for you, O LORD, do I wait; O Lord my God, you will answer.” Anyone who can repent without sorrow must suspect if he is truly repentant. Notice in Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
What characterizes true repentance is a broken heart, and deep sorrow for sin because as a Christian particularly your sins have been against grievous to God who loves you in Jesus. Our Lord Jesus tells us that the Christian is characterized by repentance and “blessed” as he teaches in the sermon on the mount: ESV “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The Christian is repentant and sorry for sin because the Christian is poor in spirit before God, mournful for one’s own sins as well as the sins of others, and meek.”
Remember the promise of Psalm 126:5: “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy!”
Confession of sin. As our sins are ever before God, so God’s promise must be ever before us: ESV “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). An unrepentant person is basically living a lie because they are living as if they have no sin; a unrepentant person is calling God a liar as well (1 Jo. 1:10). But a truly repentant person knows not only our sins before God, but knows that when they confess, God is faithful to His promises, and He is just in that He will never demand another payment for sin, when Jesus Christ has already borne your curse, your sins and your sorrows on the cross for you (Isaiah 53; 1 Peter. 2:22-25).
Confession is self-accusing. Confession brings a sinner before God as one’s own accuser to find a Savior ready and willing to forgive and to cleanse from all unrighteousness. By self-accusing we prevent Satan’s accusations against us. This is what the Apostle John means when He reminds us in confession of our sins to God that we have an Advocate, or a Mediator, or a “Defense Attorney” to stand for us against any Accuser (1 Jo. 2:1-2; Rev. 12:10). Confession should be voluntary and immediate once Jesus has given repentance. As the prodigal son was quick to come to his father and say: “I have sinned against heaven and before you” (Luke 15:18). Remember that if you draw near to God in repentance, he will draw near to you in forgiving mercies and loving grace.
Hatred of sin and turning from sin. This is a recognition that Christ is your Savior from sin, and that the struggle in the Christian life is what the Apostle Paul wrote in seventh of Romans: “What I want to do , I do not do…That which I do not want to do, that I keep on doing.” The Apostle Paul’s hope and our hope is found in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 7:25), but we no longer love sin as we once did, now we hate sin. When you realize that although you are guilty and culpable for your sins before God, but in some mysterious way you hate them so much before God that you can say with Paul that it is “not I but sin living within me” then you know that you have a true hatred of your sins. Paul wrote: ESV “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” A sinful, unrepentant person cannot agree with God’s law and believe it is holy, righteous and good. A truly repentant person can love the law of God and hate their own sins in such a way that they (although are culpable) feel like that it is not them doing the sin, but sin dwelling within. This proves that there is no more enmity against God (Romans 8:7-9) because the Spirit of God is at work in the believer’s heart. Our confession (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. 15) states this clearly:
“…Upon the apprehension of God’s 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 endeavoring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments.”
If you still love your sins, you are not repentant, and you cannot claim assurance of faith. You should really seek God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to examine yourself to see if you be in the faith; if you love your sins, you should seek to make your calling and election sure (see 2 Corinthians 13:5; 2 Peter 3:9-11). If you sin, and hate your sins, that is one thing; but to sin, and love your sins, that is another. Be careful here that you keep your focus on the dying Savior on the cross and that in your self-examination you don’t get lost within your own bosom and belly! Your hope, our Gospel hope is held out to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. Run to Jesus, run to Jesus, run to Jesus and find in Him forgiveness- -tell Him you love your sins, and need repentance and call upon His name for grace.
Also, be careful with forms of pseudo-repentance, like when you do something really sinful and heinous and you just feel guilty about it because it was such a thing that you should have never done. Watching certain films, listening to certain music, and looking at certain images on the internet can make you feel after the fact guilty for doing such a thing, but there is also a bit of a thrill. You must understand that this is NOT repentance, but a pseudo-repentance. This is more of a shame and guilt because you know that what you have watched, listened to, or done was wrong, but it doesn’t mean you have truly repented and that you are sorry for your sins because you sinned against God’s great holiness, Jesus’ love and the grieved the Holy Spirit. Be warned.
In your hatred of sin, you also turn from your sins. The Christian life is a constant turning from our sins, folly and idolatries to God; the Christian life is a constant, prayerfully watchful turning from flesh to the Spirit of God, to walk by the Spirit and not gratify the flesh (Gal. 5:16-26); the Christian life is a constant turning from worldliness to godliness to live the way you were created in Christ Jesus to live (Eph. 2:10). Is your life described as the Apostle Paul describes the repentance of the Thessalonian Christians?
ESV 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10: For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
Do you know the sweetness of Christ in His forgiving love for you? Do you know that if you confess your sins, He is faithful to forgive you and to cleanse you from all of your sins.
Be not unbelieving. Be not unbelieving in your accepting the righteousness that God requires of every man by faith alone in Christ alone. Be not believing in accepting God’s forgiveness as you confess and abhor your sins because of your love for Him; be not believing in that you continue in your sins thinking that there are no consequences. For the repentant, there is grace and love and mercy found in Jesus Christ; for the unrepentant there is only condemnation and the wrath of God. And remember, do not think that repentance is something like your allowance that you “save for a rainy day” later on in life, as if you could repent when you desired to repent. Like Cain, Pharaoh, and Esau before you, don’t kid yourself into believing that you will somehow repent “one day”; your ongoing unrepentant heart before God is actually hardening you, and will eventually damn you as those unrepentant souls before you. Beware.
Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand…Seek the LORD while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. Today is the day of salvation; today is the day of repentance; repent and believe the good news. Jesus says: “Come to me all of you who labor and are heavy-laden with your sins, and I will give you rest; my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Prayer of John Calvin: “Now let us bow before the majesty of our gracious God in acknowledgement of our faults, praying that He will make us more sensitive to them. And as long as we have to walk in this world, let us learn to grieve daily over the weaknesses we are subject to. And after we ask him for forgiveness and pray that He will accept us in His infinite mercy, may He, despite our unworthiness, be pleased to strip us so completely of all our fleshly corruption and so renew us by His Holy Spirit that we will bear His mark and image. And may we be strengthened in the hope of life in heaven, and may we, illuminated by the mind and spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, learn to bear patiently the reproaches of this world and scorn all the arrogance and pride of those who have contempt for God and would seduce us and turn us from the right path.”
For further reading: Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 15: ‘Repentance unto Life’
In Christ’s love,