We must understand this subject of “Repentance Unto Life and Salvation” through the whole teaching of the Holy Scriptures, just like our forefathers and framers of our 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. This chapter is not to be understood separately from God’s Decree (Chapter 3), Of God’s Covenant Grace (Chapter 7), Of Christ the Mediator (Chapter 8), Of God’s Effectual Call (Chapter 10) and its inseparable twin - Of Saving Faith (Chapter 14).
Repentance is a God-given grace to all believers and what the gospel demands from sinners. This grace of repentance marks all believers of Jesus Christ. However, not all believers will experience or need to experience repentance as a crisis. Just like the rest of the world, all of us fell into sin and fell short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). However, not all of us had the same experience and degrees of sinfulness. The Old Testament provides an example of the wickedness of Manasseh in 2 Kings 21. He re-established polytheistic worship, reversed the religious changes made by his father Hezekiah, burned his son as a sin offering and dealt with mediums and necromancers by which he was condemned. In the New Testament, Apostle Paul himself testified that formerly he was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent (Acts 9:1-19, 1 Timothy 1:12-17). Also, there is the Philippian jailer who was a heathen Roman. All believers, regardless of their sinful past, have experienced God’s effectual call and grace of repentance in the fullness of time.
The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly question 87 asks, “ What is repentance unto life?” It answers that “repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, a new obedience.”
A true Christian before a thrice holy God deeply understands the gravity of his or her sins and the mercy of God the Father in Jesus Christ. They do so with great sorrow and loathing of his or her sins, turns away from them and wholeheartedly obeys God. Nevertheless, there is counterfeit repentance that does not result in salvation. It is a worldly kind of sorrow that probably fears punishment, but deep within the heart, there is no real hatred and renouncing sin (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
Repentance is a gift of God. It is a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a believer that he or she confesses and abandons his or her sins. There is a changing of one’s heart away from sin and purposely steer it toward God and holiness. The biblical illustration of this includes David’s wholehearted confession of his sins to God (Psalm 51); the Psalmist understood and admitted his utter sinfulness and guiltiness (Psalm 130:1-3); Job’s sense of abhorrence of his sin before God (Job 12:5-6); the sense of wretchedness of the prodigal son (Luke 15:18-19) and the deep conviction of men upon hearing Peter’s sermon on the death of Christ (Acts 2.36-38).
True repentance produces genuine confession (Mark 1:4,5, Luke 17:3,4) and renunciation (Matthew 3:8; 1 Thessalonians 1:9,10) of all private and public sins before God. When sin is truly forsaken, it does not mean that a person lives a perfect life of obedience to God. However, there is a real motive in the believer’s heart to continually always obey God.
This new lifestyle then is not seasonal or dependent on the believer’s mood and circumstances. Paragraph four asserts that “Repentance unto life and salvation is a lifetime task ‘of mortification of sins’ in every true child of God. The very first point in Martin Luther’s 95 theses was: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Matt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Adding to this, Calvin said: “Repentance is not merely the start of the Christian life it is the Christian life”.
Charles Hodge writes that “no man has any right to presume that he hates sin in general unless he practically hates every sin in particular; and no man has any right to presume that he is sorry for and ready to renounce his sins in general unless he is conscious of practically renouncing and grieving for each particular sin into which he falls.” Our whole life then is to be a life of continual repentance from sin and turning toward God (Matt 6:12, Rev 3:19; cf 2 Cor 7:10).
The challenge to us all is this: “Is repentance, confession and renunciation of sin, turning from it with grief and hatred for it, your constant, even daily, experience? If you are a true Christian, it is. A Christian life which is totally positive and knows nothing of the negative, gloomy reality of sin is an illusion and a delusion. Sadness and sorrow are part of the Christian life, because they are part and parcel of repentance.” (Waldron)
The reformer Martin Luther said that the believers are “Simus Justus et Peccator.” It means that we are righteous and sinners. Thus, we need repentance unto salvation. Our God and Saviour Jesus Christ sacrificed His life on the Cross, rose again and sits at the right hand of God. Now, Christ actively intercedes for all His people 24/7 so that we may persevere to the end (Luke 22:31-32. Heb 4:14-16; 8:1).
The chapter’s last paragraph says that “Such is the provision which God hath made through Christ in the covenant of grace for the preservation of believers unto salvation; that although there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation (Psalm 130:3, Psalm 143:2, Rom 6:23) yet there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation on them that repent; which makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary. (Isaiah 1:16-18, Isaiah 55:7, Acts 2:36-38).”
God repeatedly called the Old Testament people to believe and return to Him. It continued with the same precise pattern in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus Christ began His ministry and preached repentance with all urgency. “I tell you unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 11:32; 13:1-5; 15:8-24; 24:45-47). Christ called and commissioned the Apostles who preached repentance unto salvation by faith in the gospel constantly. (Luke 24:46-47; Acts 2:36-38; 17:29-30; 20:17-31; 26:16-20). To tell people, “Repent and believe,” is the gospel message. “The nature of the gospel ministry itself, the requirement for obedience to the command and example of Christ, and the absolute necessity of true repentance, alongside faith, for the salvation of lost sinners, all demand that we preach a full-orbed and Biblical gospel: that means that repentance must be preached.” (J.Walker)
The two-thousand-year history of the Christian church is the history of the church’s obedience to Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). Churches should tell people to repent of all their sins against a holy God and believe the gospel. Do we see then that this is the consistent task of true churches of Christ, including ours? If God should only mark the sins of churches today like the seven churches in Asia then (Rev 2-3), do you think these churches would stand unless they repent? Moreover, if God should only mark individuals’ sins, who could stand unless they repent? “Repentance is of such importance, that there is no being saved without it” (Thomas Watson)
Walter Chantry has written an excellent little book called Today’s Gospel. He says, “It is no wonder that repentance is not being preached today. How could a man turn to a God of whom he is ignorant? How can a sinner turn from a sin to which he is blind because God’s law is unknown to him? … modern preachers must overhaul the principle requirements made of sinners ... They wholly ignore an essential element of the gospel, namely repentance. And that necessary ingredient of gospel preaching is swiftly fading from evangelical pulpits though the New Testament is filled with it.”
May we all repent of all our sins, apprehending the mercies of God by faith in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and the promise of His eternal Covenant. May we all be found faithful followers of the Lord Jesus Christ till the end by His amazing grace. Soli Deo Gloria!
Saturday 31st July 2021