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What is Evangelical Repentance?

  • Second, evangelical repentance necessitates that a man or woman have a true sense of his or her sin. There must be recognition of what sin truly is in all its heinousness. True repentance begins with the acknowledgment that we are guilty of transgressing all of God’s commandments. As Colquhoun put it, a person must be “deeply sensible of the exceeding sinfulness and just demerit of his innumerable sins.” There will be no true repentance apart from this.
  • Third, evangelical repentance is animated by “an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.” Any true repentance will only ever be borne in our lives when we come to see that Christ was crucified for sinners and that He freely receives and welcomes sinners. A sight of God’s great mercy in Christ fuels saving repentance. It sees, as Richard Sibbes so eloquently put it, that “there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.” Without this, anything that goes by the name “repentance” is nothing more than a legal attempt at moral reformation that falls short of the saving grace of God in Christ.
  • Fourth, evangelical repentance includes a grief and hatred for sin in the soul of the redeemed. There is what the Apostle Paul calls a “godly sorrow” brought about in the soul. We are to be more grieved that we have sinned against God than we are over the fact that we suffer temporal consequences on account of our sin. The former produces sorrow unto life; the latter produces death (2 Cor. 7:10).
  • Finally, evangelical repentance enables us to “turn from our sin unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.” True repentance involves a turning away from sin and to God. As the Prodigal Son came to his senses and thought to himself, “I will return to my father’s house,” so a repentant sinner flees from sin and into the arms of his loving and merciful Father in heaven. When the grace of God in Christ comes to a sinner, he responds to the call of God to return (Ezek. 18:30, 32). The fruit of evangelical repentance will be true, grace-motivated, gratitude-driven obedience before God.

Evangelical repentance is not a one-time experience in the life of those who come to Jesus Christ in faith. Rather, as those trusting in Christ, we will spend the rest of our lives repenting of indwelling sin (Rom. 7:15–201 John 1:8–2:2). If our initial repentance actually prepared us to be received by Christ, then we would have to conclude that it must perfect in nature. But repentance is not a legal condition that disposes Christ to receive us; it is an ongoing grace of God in the souls of those who come to Christ for pardon and power.

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