Repentance

Next Sunday at Grace we celebrate the Lord's Supper. The week prior (this week) is what we call our Week of Repentance and Reconciliation. Our people are reminded again of the need for repentance toward God and reconciliation to any person they may be at odds with while preparing themselves for worship on the Lord's Day. Of course, Luther had it right 500 years ago when he wrote, "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." Repentance is not a one time event, nor is it limited to a special week. It is a life of denying self and following Jesus. We choose to call for a special week of repentance to be an aid in learning the way of repentance that should characterize the whole of our lives.

Repentance can be tricky though. Why a person repents is important. Ceasing the sinful activity is not enough. Motives matter. A change in course stemming from what Paul calls "worldly sorrow" is simply not enough. In 2 Cor. 7 Paul teaches us that there is a sorrow and repentance that is worldly and leads to death, and there is a godly sorrow and repentance that leads to life. The Puritans and the Reformed tradition speak of this in terms of "legal" repentance and "evangelical" repentance. The simplest summary of this perspective comes from Richard Owen Roberts in his book Repentance. He explained, "legal repentance [is] what a person does for himself and evangelical repentance is what he does for God." I have seen men "repent" merely because they were caught, and the consequences were severe. Their hearts did not change, though their habits did. This is not true (evangelical) repentance, for it is more about self than God.

One of the most helpful books I have read relating to personal piety is Vital Godliness: A Treatise on Experimental and Practical Piety by William Plumer. Concerning repentance he says,

He who truly repents, is chiefly sorry for his sins. He whose repentance is spurious, is chiefly concerned for their consequences. The former chiefly regrets that he has done evil; the latter that he has incurred evil. One sorely laments that he deserves punishment; the other that he must suffer punishment. One approves of the law that condemns him; the other thinks he is hardly treated, and that the law is rigorous. To the sincere penitent sin appears exceedingly sinful. To him who sorrows after a worldly sort, sin, in some form, appears pleasant. He regrets that it is forbidden. One says it is an evil and bitter thing to sin against God, even if no punishment followed. The other sees little evil in transgression if there were no painful consequences sure to follow. If there were no hell the one would still wish to be delivered from sin. If there were no retribution, the other would sin with increased greediness. Vital Godliness, pp. 215, 216

If you find that your repentance has been legal, superficial and more about you than God, then begin again by confessing this and pleading with God for greater grace. Spend this week meditating on Psalm 51. If you have the resources, pick up Richard Owen Roberts book, Repentance, and begin working through it. In my opinion it is the best work available on the doctrine.