We can admit our sin trusting that Christ Jesus came into this world for the explicit purpose of saving sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). The worst sinners receive more grace. Only fools live as if they have no need to repent. God’s children know they are sick. But they also know that God has sent Christ to be their great physician. So tell God how your sin has made you sick, commit to pursuing spiritual health, and expect Jesus to make you well.
At the start of his ministry the Lord Jesus used just two verbs to summarize the good news of his kingdom: “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Paul condensed his ministry in a similar way: I testified “both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Only by this kind of preaching was Paul “innocent of the blood of all” (Acts 20:26). He had delivered the essential message that had been committed to him.
Repentance, along with faith, belongs to the “elementary doctrine of Christ”—it is foundational for the Christian (Heb. 6:1). By faith we accept, receive, and rest upon Christ alone for salvation. By repentance we turn from sin to God with a commitment to new obedience.
We must repent. So we need to know how to do it. But lest we try to do something we don’t understand we need to first know what repentance is.
What Is Repentance?
Repentance is “an evangelical grace.” Like faith repentance is a gift from God. Only God can “grant … repentance” to those who err (2 Tim. 2:25). Church leaders summarized Peter’s evangelistic crusade like this: “God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). Jeremiah understood this same truth. He prayed, “Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old” (Lam. 5:21 KJV). We are naturally enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:17). No one turns from sin apart from God’s energizing work.
Still, you and I must repent—“none may expect pardon without it.” “If a man does not repent God will whet his bow” (Ps. 7:12). Repentance isn’t meritorious. We don’t repent in order to gain God’s kindness. Penance isn’t how we pay for our sins. It isn’t the depth of our sorrow for sin, or the strictness of our turning from it that makes God favor us. Only the sacrifice of God’s sinless Lamb can do that. But to be pardoned you must repent.
To truly repent you must know sin’s misery. Penitent people see and sense sin’s danger. Some sins are patently dangerous—a life of violence is likely to end violently (Matt. 26:52). But a life of any iniquity will ruin you; it will kill you spiritually and eternally (Ezek. 18:30–31). Sin is dangerous because it violates God’s rules for your happiness. No sin can provide lasting joy—only ruin and destruction (1 Tim. 6:9). The wicked will “fall into their own nets, while” the godly “pass by safely” (Ps. 141:10).
Penitent people also see and sense sin’s filthiness. Sin is repulsive to the believer. It is contrary to God’s holy nature and violates his holy law. This is why every sin, even the smallest sin “deserves damnation.”