Our relationships are marred by our sins. This truth should not surprise us because of the corruption of our natures. Yet Christ, in his word, calls us to be discontent about and turn away from our sin (Cf. Luke 13:1-5). As part of the gift of our salvation, Christ provides us with the grace to respond to our sin. This process is summarized in the doctrine of repentance and it is a gift from God.
When God converts us he causes us to deal with our sin. In our families, our children sin against each other and under duress they may mutter and grumble, “I’m sorry,” as unintelligibly as possible to get dad off his back. We may try to handle our transgression against our wife this way. Let me suggest that this process is not a manifestation of repentance. At best it is an expression of regret, but it is not repentance. So what does repentance look like? To help us we will look at Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 15.2. There the Biblical doctrine of repentance is summarized as:
- Recognizing sin for what it is. When God saves us, the scales over our spiritual eyes are removed. We see our sin for what it truly is: rotten fruit that is born by our rotten souls (Cf. Luke 6:43-45). This recognition will rightly cause us to cry to God for forgiveness. However, repentance not only makes us sorry for sin, but also causes us to hate it. This hatred is not simply regret, guilt, or dislike. We know we sinned. And we know our sin is intentional, filthy and odious before the Lord. Repentance leads us to acknowledge these things. Muttering a half-hearted “Sorry.” communicates neither regret nor hatred of sin. Do we ask God to help us hate our sin? Do we humble ourselves by acknowledging our guilt by asking for forgiveness? Let us not minimize our sin by simply saying we are sorry. Let us acknowledge our sin what it is: intentional and filthy.
- Fleeing to Christ for mercy. In repentance we learn to recognize that, though our sin may have consequences in our relationships, it is primarily sin against God. Our sin makes us guilty in his sight, deserving his just punishment. When God shows us this truth he, though his Spirit, enables us to flee to Christ for forgiveness. More significant than reconciliation with the people we have offended is reconciliation with the God. Let us not skip over confession of sin in our private prayers with a generic acknowledgment that we have sinned. Let us name our sins and confess them (Cf. Psalm 32:3-5). Let us ask the Lord to remember steadfast love, that he would shower his mercy on us.
- Committing to new obedience. Repentance is not a daily revisiting of the same sins so we can get off the hook. We may struggle mightily with sin, even besetting sin, but part of repentance is learning to love sin’s opposite. Sin is lawlessness (Cf. 1 John 3:4), and its opposite is obedience to God’s law. If we struggle with pride, repentance teaches us humility. If we struggle with lust, repentance teaches us purity. If we struggle with greed, repentance teaches us generosity.
We should never trivialize our response to sin in repentance. Expressing passing regret is not repentance. We must learn to see the filth of our sin, to hate it with all our hearts, to flee to Christ for his mercy, and to turn then to a new obedience.