Monday 24 March 2014

The nature of repentance


Repentance is hard for us moderns to understand - and in fact repentance is typically grossly misunderstood.

What happens is that repentance - which is primarily between one person and God - gets mixed up with emotions such as regret, and more-or-less well-meaning and perhaps helpful inter-human (or 'social') actions such as apology and restitution.

I would say that:

Repentance is the acknowledgement that I have sinned; which includes understanding that what I have done is indeed a sin; and the asking of God's forgiveness for my sins with a contrite and sorrowful heart.

In the above circumstances, this forgiveness will always be forthcoming.


What repentance is NOT includes the emotion of regret for what I have done, focused on wishing I had not done it; nor is it to apologize to someone for what I have done - nor is it to ask another person to forgive me  - nor is repentance about trying to undo what I have done, to set things right or repair the damage, nor is it to striving to make amends for what I have done.

All these may be (and often are) good things to do in and of themselves, but they are not repentance.


Repentance is essentially between myself and God; and God's forgiveness is a washing-clean, to allow a fresh start - but a spiritual fresh start; and not a fresh start in this-worldly matters, because - sin can never be undone.

God cannot ever make it as if there never had been sin.

But what God can and does do - what repentance can and does do - is to heal us from the effects of sin.



Bookslinger said...

Full story here:

MC said...

In some languages, "repent" and "regret" are denoted by the same word, which causes some confusion:

Bruce Charlton said...

@MC - Maybe it's like 'sorry' which contains both sides of this equation. It doesn't matter if the distinction is recognized.

GeoffSmith said...

I would also add that repentance, as the Greek word indicates in the New Testament is the changing of our minds. It includes the resolve to conform our thoughts and thus our actions to God's revelation in Christ. I think that's why Jesus gives the call to repent in conjunction with the phrase, "for the kingdom of God is near."

Bruce Charlton said...

@GS - I think that may be asking the impossible - repentance must be (and is) within the reach of the slave, the simple and children.

GeoffSmith said...

Surely it is, it doesn't mean perfect repentance. Jesus says that the repentance of the man who simply accepts that God is merciful and he is himself evil is acceptable. But I'm just saying that repentance as a lifelong act of obedience is implied in the very definition of the Greek word which is often translated in other literature as changing one's mind or rethinking things.