Repentance is hailed by legalists as the last, best, good work. When they have run out of rules and regulations and have to concede that the old covenant is over, they wave the repentance flag in the desperate hope that someone will remain bogged down in the mire of the law to keep them company.
What exactly is repentance ? Repentance is a change of heart – a turning in the opposite direction – a letting go of the old, to embrace the new. It is to believe in something you previously didn’t. It’s turning toward Jesus.
What is not repentance ? A heart that wants to please God by its remorse. A determination to walk away from sin. A committment to live a more honourable life. A decision of the will to do better. It’s not turning toward my self own improvement.
There is only one last, best, good work ~ the death and resurrection of Christ in payment for our sin debt, we do not participate in the process, nor do we do anything that brings us into God’s favour. Prior to becoming Christians we were dead in our sins, dead people can’t be remorseful, make commitments, or decide to follow God. All dead people can do is be brought back to life, repentance is simply the acknowledgement that Christ breathed new life into us at the cross “I no longer live but Christ lives in me”.
Repentance has nothing to do with how you intend to live now that you’ve chosen to believe, but is has everything to do with realizing that Christ purchased your freedom from sin, death and satan ~ and accepting this new condition.
Repentance becomes sin when we shift the focus off the work of Christ and onto the work of myself, (my decision to do better). Repentance is all about Jesus, and not at all about me. When I shift the spotlight on to my own effort to respond, my own choice to live better, my own ambition to give it all ~ then I am entering into a work of the flesh, and every work of the flesh has it’s origin in sin.
I guess that’s the tragedy of it all ~ repentance is supposed to be all about realizing the wonder of Christ and falling into His grace and love, unfortunately legalists have turned repentance into a work of man ~ the result being that many Christians remain bound-up by the law, too scared to trust in the goodness of Christ alone to lift them out of the mire of sin.
The sin of repentance is the compulsive need of mankind to do something for himself. The grace of repentance is the realization we can do nothing for ourselves, so we fall into the goodness of the cross of Christ. Our repentance is not a gesture we offer God ~ but a gift He offers us.
It reminds me of the time Jesus dressed-down the Pharisees for keeping the people under bondage in Matt. 23:15 “…you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” – sobering stuff…