“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” Hebrews 6:1 NKJV
Repentance is the first of the elementary principles of Christ. It is so foundational to our faith that any other principle taught and applied without being preceded by repentance would lead to a faulty foundation.
This repentance is our turning from the law and from sin before we, by faith, turn towards God. Churches of Asia Minor were told several times in Revelations 2 & 3 to repent (and they were believers of course). This means even after salvation, where we stray from the path of holiness, repentance will always be the way back to God.
Between 1977 and 1984, I cannot count how many times I verbalized my repentance from sin as I was never sure God had forgiven me enough for my salvation. The strong emphasis on repentance and holiness at the time meant every Christian message in the then Scripture Union revival in High Schools, Colleges and University campuses in Nigeria were intended to make people forsake their sins and be deeply sorrowful about it.
This main focus, while seeing to it that many were saved, also left many in doubt of their salvation. Hence, people like me answered the altar call over and over again, never assured of salvation. I can imagine the frustration felt by many who gave up on faith due to their inability to ever feel forgiven. The guilt and sense of condemnation resulting from the sermons led to a continuous sense of inadequacy and coming short of God’s standards of approval.
The word repentance simply means a change of mind resulting in a change of attitudes and actions. In the scriptures, we would discover a few things associated with it.
- Godly Sorrow
“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” II Corinthians 7:10 NKJV
The world must see the evil of sin and acknowledge the need to change. There must be that realization of the evil effect of sin on our lives, on others and on the heart of God. We cannot truly come to God for salvation while we gloat over our wrong doing. While the context of the above scripture refers to believers, the element of emotional remorse cannot be divulged from true repentance.
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” John 16:8-11 NKJV
The Holy Spirit convicts of the sin of not believing in Christ Jesus. Without that, the need for salvation through Him will not be realized. The Holy Spirit through the scriptures works that in us.
- A change of mind and attitude
I shudder at the attempt to water down repentance in recent teachings in the body of Christ. In an attempt to correct the excesses of the Holiness movement, we have made lightness of repentance. Some even claim it is not a necessity for salvation, yet it is described as the first of the ‘first principles’ of the doctrine of Christ.
It is the very first of the building blocks of the foundation because salvation is not just about forgiveness of sin but life transformation. For the power of Christ to transform, there just must be a turning away from sin towards the new lifestyle of holiness which is the fruit of our freely received gift of righteousness.
While righteousness is an imputation in the New Testament, it is also clearly an impartation when the life (Zoe) of God is imparted to our spirits, from where it affects our entire lives.
“But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” Romans 6:22 KJV
- Confession of sin
This has become controversial due to the belief by some that 1 John 1 was written to Gnostics. As sensible as that argument is in the light of John’s statement that ‘if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,’ the Gnostics claimed they had no sin. To claim that the letter is truly written to the Gnostics here lacks biblical veracity due to a lack of a clear segmentation of the book of 1 John.
In addition, James encourages us to confess our faults one to another also.
“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5:15 NKJV
It is obvious that sin thrives in secrecy and the confession of sin helps weakens its grip. Also, when done in an accountability relationship, it leads to mutual support and encouragement towards victory. Transparency and honesty before God opens us up to the transforming power of His Holy Spirit.
- Change of Action
Change of action is why this foundational doctrine of repentance is connected to and followed by ‘Faith towards God’. True repentance leads to behavioural change by the inner workings of the grace of God, leading to the emergence of new conduct and character. Notice the emphasis of Christ’s message on doing the ‘first works’ to the church at Ephesus;
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” Revelation 2:5 NKJV
I must however stress that turning repentance to the objective of every sermon and every time of prayer only leads to a sense of guilt and condemnation. The Holiness movement of the 70’s and 80’s seemed to thrive on making repentance their objective all the time, leaving believers with ‘sin consciousness’. The believer ought rather to live in ‘righteousness consciousness’, giving him boldness to approach the presence of God at all times.
I remember being in a service and doubting my salvation due to the guilt and condemnation resulting from the message I heard that night. Did it make me holier? No!
I have tried continuous repentance and it didn’t work. Tried vows, no results. Tried fasting with no lasting help. I have discovered only faith is the victory that overcomes a world full of the lusts of the flesh, of the eye and the pride of life.
“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” I John 5:4 NKJV
This faith is a product of a firm grasp of what was accomplished on Calvary’s cross, where our sins were not only accounted to Christ but its authority was destroyed over our lives. This, coupled with the revelation of God’s glory in Christ, leading to new images of ourselves , transforms our character.
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” II Corinthians 3:18 NKJV
This transformation is a pure work of grace, changing our souls and strengthening our spirits to resist temptations.
What repetitive and ceaseless repentance cannot achieve, a daily look into the mirror of the Word by the revelation of the Spirit accomplishes in our lives without human effort and will power. I have found such a life more peaceful and satisfying as my pursuit of holiness continues.