Arthur W. Pink
To help the exercised reader identify true repentance, consider the fruits that demonstrate godly repentance.
A. A real hatred of sin as sin, nor merely its consequences. A hatred not only of this or that sin, but also of all sin, and particularly of the root itself: self-will. “Thus saith the Lord God, Repent, and turn from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations” (Ezek. 14:6). He, who hates not sin, loves it. God's demand is, “Ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed” (Ezek. 20:43). One who has really repented can truthfully say, “I hate every false way” (Ps. 119:104). He who once thought a course of holy living was a gloomy thing, has another judgment now. He who once regarded a course of self-pleasing as attractive, now detests it and has purposed to forsake all sin forever. This is the change of mind which God requires.
B. A deep sorrow for sin. The nonsaving repentance of so many is principally a distress occasioned by forebodings of divine wrath; but evangelical repentance produces a deep grief from a sense of having offended so infinitely excellent and glorious a Being as God. The one is the effect of fear, the other of love; the one is only for a brief season, the other is the habitual practice for life. Many a man is filled with regret and remorse over a misspent life, yet has no poignant sorrow of heart for his ingratitude and rebellion against God. But a regenerated soul is cut to the quick for having disregarded and opposed his great Benefactor and rightful Sovereign. This is the change of heart which God requires.
“Ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner . . . for godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation” (11 Cor. 7:9-10). Such a sorrow is produced in the heart by the Holy Spirit and has God for its object. It is a grief for having despised such a God, rebelled against His authority, and been indifferent to His glory. It is this which causes us to “weep bitterly” (Matt. 26:75). He who has not grieved over sin takes pleasure therein. God requires us to “afflict” our souls (Lev. 16:29). His call is, “Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful” (Joel 2:12-13). Only that sorrow for sin is genuine which causes us to crucify “the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal. 5:24).
C. A confessing of sin. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper” (Prov. 28:13). It is “second nature” to the sinner to deny his sins, directly or indirectly, to minimize, or make excuses for them. It was thus with Adam and Eve at the beginning. But when the Holy Spirit works in any soul, his sins are brought to light, and he, in turn, acknowledges them to God. There is no relief for the stricken heart until he does so: “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long, for day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer” (Ps. 32:3-4). The frank and brokenhearted owning of our sins is imperative if peace of conscience is to be maintained. This is the change of attitude which God requires.
D. An actual turning from sin. “Surely there is no one here so stupefied, with the laudanum of hellish indifference as to imagine that he can revel in his lusts, and afterward wear the white robes of the redeemed in Paradise. If you imagine you can be partakers of the blood of Christ, and yet drink the cup of Belial; if you imagine you can be members of Satan and members of Christ at the same time, ye have less sense than one would give you credit for. No, you know that right hands must be cut off and right eyes plucked out—that the most darling sins must be renounced—if you would enter the kingdom of God” (from Spurgeon on Luke 13:24).
Three Greek words are used in the New Testament which present different phases of repentance. First, metanoeo, which means a change of mind (Matt. 3:2; Mark 1:15, etc.). Second, metanolomai which means a change of heart (Matt. 21:29, 32; Heb. 7:21, etc.). Third, metanoia, which means a change of course or life (Matt. 3:8; 9:13; Acts 20:21). The three must go together for a genuine repentance. Many experience a change of mind: they are instructed, and know better, but they continue to defy God. Some are even exercised in heart or conscience, yet they continue in sin. Some amend their ways, yet not from love to God and hatred of sin. Some are informed in mind and uneasy in heart, who never reform their lives. The three must go together.
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13). He who does not, fully in his heart's desire and increasingly so in his life, turn from his wicked ways has not repented, If I really hate sin and sorrow over it, shall I not abandon it? Note carefully the “wherein in time past” of Ephesians 2:2 and “were sometimes” of Titus 3:3! “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him” (Isa. 55:7). This is the change, of course, which God requires.
E. Accompanied by restitution where this is necessary and possible. No repentance can be true which is not accompanied by a complete amendment of life. The prayer of a genuinely penitent soul is, “Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 5 1:10). And where one really desires to be right with God, he does so with his fellow-men too. One who, in his past life, has wronged another, and now makes no determined effort to do everything in his power to right that wrong, certainly has not repented! John G. Paton tells of how after a certain servant was converted, the first thing he did was to restore unto his master all the articles which he had stolen from him!
F. These fruits are permanent. Because true repentance is preceded by a realization of the loveliness and excellency of the divine character and an apprehension of the exceeding sinfulness of sin for having treated with contempt so infinitely glorious a Being, contrition for and hatred of all evil is abiding. As we grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, of our indebtedness and obligations to Him, our repentance deepens, we judge ourselves more thoroughly, and take a lower and lower place before Him. The more the heart pants after a closer walk with God, the more will it put away everything which hinders this.
G. Yet repentance is never perfect in this life. Our faith is never so complete that we get to the place where the heart is no more harassed with doubtings. And our repentance is never so pure that it is altogether free from hardness of heart. Repentance is a lifelong act. We need to pray daily for a deeper repentance.
In view of all that has been said, we trust it is now abundantly clear to every impartial reader that those preachers who repudiate repentance are, to poor lost souls, “physicians of no value.” They who leave out repentance, are preaching “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6) than Christ (Mark 1:15; 6:12) and His apostles (Acts 17:30; 20:21) proclaimed. Repentance is an evangelical duty, though it is not to be rested in, for it contributes nothing unto salvation. Those who have never repented are yet in the snare of the devil (II Tim. 2:25-26), and are treasuring up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath (Rom. 2:4-5).
A summary of what has been before us may be helpful to some.
1. Repentance is an evangelical duty, and no preacher is entitled to be regarded as a servant of Christ's if he be silent thereon (Luke 24:47).
2. Repentance is required by God in this dispensation (Acts 17:30) as in all preceding ones. 3. Repentance is in nowise meritorious, yet without it the gospel cannot be savingly believed (Matt. 21:32; Mark 1:15). 4. Repentance is a Spirit-given realization of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and a taking sides with God against myself. 5. Repentance presupposes a hearty approval of God's law and a full consent to its righteous requirements, which are all summed up in “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart 6. Repentance is accompanied by a genuine hatred of and sorrow for sin. 7. Repentance is evidenced by a forsaking of sin.
3. Repentance is known by its permanency: there must be a continual turning away from sin and grieving over each fall thereinto. 9. Repentance, while permanent, is never complete or perfect in this life. 10. Repentance is to be sought as a gift of Christ (Acts 5:31).