One of the ways that a faith that is full, alive, and vital will manifest itself is in what the Scripture refers to as repentance.
(I’ve borrowed significantly from J.W. McGarvey on the first three points).
1. Repentance is more than being sorry about your sins. In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul is discussing an earlier letter he wrote to the Corinthians. The letter had brought them sorrow but Paul does not regret that. In fact, he is glad because their sorrow led to repentance (v. 9). He tells them that while some sorrow leads to death, “godly sorrow brings repentance,” (v. 10). Sorrow then is not the same thing as repentance, but the right kind of sorrow is a precursor of repentance.
2. Repentance is not a change of life. It was John, seasoned by the wilderness and confronting a generation of wayward Israelites, who told his audience to, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” (Luke 3:8). Just as godly sorrow precedes and leads to repentance, behavior changed for the better is something that follows repentance.
3. Repentance is a change of mind. As the Hebrew writer is encouraging us to pursue holiness (wholeness) in 12:14ff of his letter, he points to the negative example of Esau. Esau had no appreciation for the spiritual, going as far as selling his birthright for a single meal. He later deeply regretted this and asked Isaac to change his mind, but he wouldn’t (Genesis 27). The phrase, “change his mind” (v. 17), is from the same word, metanoia, that is translated “repentance” in 2 Corinthians 7. This same interchange occurs in Matthew 21:29,32, where once again the same word is translated as “changed his mind” (v. 29) and “repented” (v. 32).
4. Repentance is a change of mind, caused by godly sorrow, that leads to a change of life. Again, 2 Corinthians 7 is helpful where Paul discusses what happened when the Christians at Corinth experienced sorrow leading to repentance. He writes in verse 11, “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.” I think the terms he uses here (earnestness, eagerness to clear yourselves, indignation, alarm, longing, concern, readiness to see justice done), aid us in understanding what’s involved in the process of a mind change for God.
5. Repentance is a change of mind involving the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Repentance is more than a general resolution to do good, it must embrace Jesus if it’s to be biblical and Christian. Peter declares to his audience on Pentecost (Acts 2),that God has made the Jesus they crucified both “Lord and Christ” (v. 36). When he tells his audience to repent (v. 38), it is with this in view. Entrance into the kingdom of God cannot come without dethroning self and enthroning Jesus. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” (Luke 9:23). Repentance is when, through God’s prompting, we make the decision to stop living for self and start living for God.
6. Confession is when we verbalize that change. Romans 10:9-10 says:
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,”
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the
dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you
believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you
confess and are saved.
To confess Jesus as Lord is to not only acknowledge who He is, it is also to recognize the relationship that we are committing to—we’re accepting Him as the sovereign master of our lives (see Luke 6:46; Matthew 7:21).
7. Repentance (and confession) are states we enter, not isolated acts we perform. Initially, we repent when we change our mind about Jesus being Lord of our life – we didn’t accept Him as sovereign before but then we do. But it begins rather than ends with this decision. Because Jesus is our Lord, we change our mind about ourselves. We become open to all changes that need to be made in our life. Thus, we live in a state of repentance (see 1 John 1:8-10).8. It will help to keep in mind that repentance is rooted in both grace and faith.
While repentance is the toughest thing we’ll ever do (because it deals with putting self to death), we must avoid thinking of it in terms of just gritting our teeth and getting on with it (though we’re tempted).
How should we think of repentance then? We should remember that it is a grace based act of faith. It is sharing the yoke of Jesus.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Christ calls us to take His yoke. Repentance is no solitary undertaking it—is joint participation with God in opening our lives to Him. It is the hardest work we’ll ever do but we do absolutely none of it by ourselves!