Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Nature of True Repentance - Part 1

I have been reading a book by Thomas Watson titled The Doctrine of Repentance. Thomas Watson was a Puritan Pastor who lived from 1620 to 1686 and this book was first published in 1668. In his introduction to the book Thomas Watson writes:
The two great graces essential to a saint in this life are faith and repentance. These are the two wings by which he flies to heaven.
We all know what Faith is, but I think we are sometimes confused today as to what true Biblical Repentance is, so Thomas Watson starts by saying that in order to understand true repentance one must first understand what repentance is not, he writes:
There are several deceits of repentance which might occasion that saying Augustine that 'repentance damns many.' He meant a false repentance; a person may delude himself with counterfeit repentance.
So what does counterfeit or false repentance look like? We are given three examples, they are:
1. The first deceit of repentance is legal terror
By this he means that just seeing that you are a sinner and then feeling guilt over that sin is not true repentance; he writes:
Do not be deceived: this is not repentance. Ahab and Judas had some trouble of mind. It is one thing tho be a terrified sinner and another to be a repentant sinner. Sense of guilt is enough to breed terror. Infusion of grace breeds repentance. If pain and trouble were sufficient to repentance, then the damned in hell should be the most penitent, for they are most in anguish. Repentance depends upon a change of heart.
The next point then is:
2. Another deceit about repentance is resolution against sin
Here he is talking about people who make a vow to not do some certain act because of the consequences that arise from its practice and not because they actually see the act as a sin against God. Here he gives us two possibilities for this attitude; he writes:
Resolutions against sin may arise:

(1) From present extremity; not because sin is sinful, but because it is painful.
(2) From fear of future evil, and apprehension of death and hell
In both of these examples we see that the motivation for resolving to not continue in a sin is not that God is Holy, nor that He has commanded against it, but that its practice brings personal discomfort. The problem with this is that once the pain and fear subside the sin will return; Watson writes:
What will not a sinner do, what vows will he not make, when he knows he must die and stand before the judgment-seat? Self-love raises a sick bed vow, and love of sin will prevail against it. Trust not to a passionate resolution; it is raised in a storm and will die in a calm.
His final point then is this:
3. The third deceit about repentance is the leaving of many sinful ways

In this third point Thomas Watson is not saying that leaving sin is not important; what he is saying, however, is that one can leave a sin and think that repentance has occurred but all the while still be holding on to another sin. When true repentance occurs all sin will be forsaken - nothing will be held back. Here Watson makes three sub-points indicating how this can occur; they are:
  1. A man may part with some sins and keep others...
  2. An old sin may be left in order to entertain a new...
  3. A sin may be left [because]...a man sees that though such a sin may be for his pleasure, yet it is not for his interest
I found this point to be the most alarming and the most convicting personally. How many times have I looked at some sin and thought that I have no interest in that sin , I must be OK, and yet still overlooked a sin remaining in my own life. And there is no greater sin in any of our lives than the sin of pride - myself included.

Thomas Watson then concludes this chapter with these words:
True leaving of sin is when the acts of sin cease from the infusion of a principle of grace, as the air ceases to be dark from the infusion of light.
In other words, repentance can only occur in one's life when, through the grace and mercy of God, regeneration has occurred; it is only when one is born again that repentance can take place.

I know that there is much debate today as to whether a person is regenerated first and repentance results, or is repentance is first resulting in regeneration. I personally believe that regeneration is first, because Ephesians 2 clearly states that before regeneration we are dead in our trespasses and sins:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
Ephesians 2:1-5
Therefore, I do not believe that apart from the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives we have the ability to repent. However, one who has not repented cannot then claim to have been regenerated. Regeneration will always lead to repentance and repentance to faith. And if either of these elements is missing one can be assured that regeneration has not yet occurred.

That's it for today, next time we will look at what true, Biblical repentance looks like as we continue to work our way through Thomas Watson's book The Doctrine of Repentance.
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Anonymous said...

Amen, true repentance is through Jesus Christ not just by saying, "I'm going to stop sinning." Because we are always going to sin whether it be a lie or a curse word. But if we repent through Jesus Christ he will forgive us of all of our sin. Not only will God forgive, he will forget.

Chris said...

Hey Shawn,

Well said, brother. But don't forget that as we grow in Christ we should be sinning less and less and moving toward a life of holiness. We will not be perfect, but we must turn from all known sin and allow the Holy Spirit to mold us into the image of Christ.