Three Truths about Biblical Repentance
Just like any other area of addiction, those who are trapped in sexual sin often hold out hope for a “miracle cure.” People enslaved to sin want someone to provide them with a quick-fix. They search for solutions like thirty-day programs or ten steps to freedom. What they are really seeking is the “easy-button” fix to their situation. Although there are many approaches to dealing with addiction in the psychological world, what Pure Life Ministries has discovered is that there is only one biblical response to sin in the life of a man or woman, and that is repentance.
In many modern church circles, the concept of repentance has all but disappeared from our preaching. Sometimes it is taught as the entrance into the Kingdom of God, but then it is ignored, as if repentance has no relevance in the life of a believer beyond salvation. This lack of biblical preaching on repentance leaves people who are ensnared in a lifestyle of sin looking elsewhere for answers. But true repentance is the key to life-transformation.
When my own sin came out into the open over seven years ago, it sent our life into immediate turmoil. Suddenly, our career in missions abruptly ended and we had to change our living situation. That began the darkest eight months of my life. During that time, I sought the help of psychologists and psychiatrists, hoping they would be able to “fix” me. But regardless of the analysis, the counseling sessions and the medication, the hardness of my heart remained untouched. As a last resort, I went to Pure Life Ministries. During my time in the residential program, God dramatically broke through in my situation. As I look back, I can clearly see that before entering the program, I was willing to do anything that did not require true repentance. It was only after walking through the process of repentance with the Lord that I finally found the freedom I longed for.
Let us consider three important truths about biblical repentance.
1. Apologizing to God is Not the Same as Repentance
Repentance is not merely apologizing to the Lord, asking forgiveness and then continuing in sin. I once found myself trapped in this endless cycle. After giving into my sin, I would beg God to forgive me and always promised to do better. I always swore, “That was the last time I’ll ever give into that sin.” But the next time the temptation would present itself, I would commit the same sin all over again. I equated repentance with merely confessing to the Lord. While confession is one ingredient, there is much more to the repentance process than simply making an apology to God.
2. Feeling Sorrowful Does Not Necessarily Indicate True Repentance
The Apostle Paul gives us some insight about repentance in his second letter to the Corinthian church. In chapter seven, he describes two types of sorrow. In this passage, Paul is discussing a previous letter he had written to the church, in which he had rebuked them. But the apostle rejoices because their sorrow caused them to repent. He explains that godly sorrow produces repentance which leads to salvation. (2Cor. 7:9-10)
However, Paul also refers to another type of sorrow in this portion of Scripture. He called it worldly sorrow. This is the emotion most people feel when they get caught doing something wrong. Worldly sorrow can be sincere, but it is sincerely the wrong kind. It is extremely deceptive because it feels like legitimate remorse. But worldly sorrow will not cause any change in our lives. In fact, Paul tells us that it leads to death. (v. 10)
Just feeling sorrow over our sin is not a definite indicator that we are experiencing biblical repentance. Which leads us to the third point:
3. Repentance Looks like a Changed Life
In Luke 3:8, John the Baptist commands the people to, “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” True biblical repentance will have fruit as a result. If we are asked, “How do you know you’ve repented of sexual sin?” we should be able to show evidence of that repentance in our lifestyle. If you are wondering whether a trip you took to the altar was true repentance or merely lip-service, just look for the proof of it. True repentance should cause a desire to rid your life of sin. The sin should not be something you can run right back into without a second thought. Although temptation may still come, there should be a godly fear that prevents you from giving in, and a vehement desire to stay in good standing with the Lord.
When I was in Bible College, I was bound in pornography. I went to a school that would invite people to the altar if they wanted to respond to the Lord in a tangible way during chapel services. My solution was to respond to every altar call that was given and cry out to the Lord. The problem is that I was not really prepared to do what was required to rid myself of the idol. I thought I was sincere, but the fact that I continued in that besetting sin proved that sincerity was not enough. There were plenty of practical steps that I could have taken to eliminate the sin, but I refused. My repentance was proven false by the fact that there was no fruit from it.
The reality is that if you really mean business with God, you will do whatever it takes. People who have wet eyes on Sunday—but no change on Monday—need to examine the sincerity of their repentance.
Charles Finney once said it this way:
“Many suppose that remorse or a sense of guilt is repentance. Then hell is full of repentance because it is full of unutterable and eternal remorse. Others feel regret that they have sinned, and they call that repenting. But they only regret their sin because of the consequences, not because they abhor sin. This is not repentance… Repentance is a change of mind toward God and sin. It is not only a change of views, but a change of the ultimate preference or choice of the soul and of action.”
Repentance is more than confessing to the Lord with an apology. And it entails more than just a feeling of sorrow for what we have done. True biblical repentance involves a turning away from our sin and toward God. And our lives will reflect the fruit of our repentance. This does not mean that we will never be tempted in this area. Far from it. It does not necessarily mean that we will never slip into the sin to some degree in a moment of weakness. But the overall picture of our life will show that we truly have repented before the Lord and therefore have become changed people.
Dustin Renz is a graduate of Pure Life Ministries and currently the Associate Pastor of Kettering Assembly of God in Ohio. He is the founder of Make Way Ministries and the author of Pile of Masks: Exposing Christian Hypocrisy. Dustin has a passion to see the Body of Christ awaken, mature and arise to its full potential in these last days..
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