“When is my repentance enough?”
“How do I know that my repentance is sincere?”
“Why do I repent and then sin again?”
“Is this really repentance?”
The Christian life is a life filled with repentance. The Christian life begins with repentance and the continuation in the Christian life is through repentance. The Westminster Confession of Faith reminds the believer that there must be specificity in one’s repentance. The repenting Christian must not “content themselves” with “general repentance” but “it is every man’s duty to endeavor to repent of his particular sins, particularly.” (WCF 15.5)
Repentance ought to accompany a knowledge of sin, particularly. But there is more to repentance than just sorrow for particular sin and a turning from it. Hopefully you have seen growth in that area of the Christian life. But the nagging questions continue, don’t they?
“What if my repentance is not good enough?”
“What if my repentance is not sincere enough?”
“What if my repentance does not produce permanent change?”
Most that I have talked to about repentance—including my own soul—have asked similar questions concerning repentance and its relationship to growth in the Christian life. Success in the battle against sin requires a fullness of the elements of repentance; as there are occasions where the repenting Christian has not grasped certain aspects of repentance.
So there is a caution that the elements of repentance must be present when one is repenting. All have had the experience that says, “but I repented” only to continue on in sin, offending God and neighbor. The Confession is helpful in this question as elements of repentance are described:
By [repentance], a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments. (WCF 15.2)
The Christian life is a life filled with repentance. For the disciple of Jesus, the more familiar one is with the elements of repentance, the more successful one will be in examining one’s soul and continuing to have a circumspect conscience before God.
Thomas Watson, the English Puritan, wrote a helpful little treatise on repentance which has proven to be useful for the repenting believer. These “ingredients” to godly repentance perfectly accompany the Confession’s own teaching on repentance.
The Sight of Sin
The believer must be able to see his or her sin. There are times when the Christian downplays sin or makes excuses for sin rather than “calling a spade a spade” as some are used to saying. David was unable to repent until he actually saw his sin, and this required Nathan’s confrontation. The Prodigal Son was unable to repent until he came to the end of himself and realized that being a servant in the house of his father would be more valuable than eating the pods of swine in a distant land. Do you know yourself? Do you know your sin? Can you name your specific sin? We must have a sight of sin rather than a general sense of sin.
Sorrow for Sin
Does your sin grieve you? As the Confession said, do you understand that this thought, word, or deed is not only against God’s holy law but against his nature as well? Do you hate your sin because it is agains a holy God? The psalmist says, “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” Watson applied this to repentance by saying, “The penitent has a wet seedtime, but a delicious harvest.”
But there is a warning in this. The penitent may be so discouraged by his or her sin that sorrow leads to depression and an inability to repent. Watson warns that, “Spiritual sorrow will sink the heart unless the pulley of faith does not raise it up.”
Accompany your sorrow by faith that repentance is for your good.
Confession of Sin
Watson goes on to say that repentance must be accompanied by confession of sin. Confession is not just a superficial, “Yeah, I was wrong, I sinned.”
1. Must be voluntary: men and women cannot be compelled by others to confess if it is true repentance.
2. Must be with sorrow: confession ought to have a sadness for sinning against God.
3. Must be sincere.
4. Must be particularized: confess specific sins rather than mere generalities.
5. Must acknowledge “the fountain:” one’s sinful nature and original sin should be acknowledged.
6. Must include the circumstances: how has this sin been a sin against knowledge, grace, vows, experiences, etc.?
7. Confess that God is clear of consequences and responsibilities: God is good and free to chastise as he pleases.
8. With a resolve to not repeat the sin.
Shame for Sin
Repentance ought to have shame involved. Watson said, “Blushing is the color of sorrow. When the heart has been made black with sin, grace makes the face red with blushing.” Repentance causes a new sensitivity to sin and a renewed sense of shame and a throwing off of hardness. Why? Watson says, “Our sin has put Christ to shame.” Sin is a shameful thing and repentance renews that shame.
Hatred of Sin
Do you hate your sin? When sin is brought to light through repentance, sin ought to be hated as contrary to the name “Christian.” Sin damages our relationship with Christ and damages our relationship with neighbor. That is to be hated.
Turning from Sin
Repentance means turning, right? Turning from sin begins at the heart and the believer must turn away from sin and towards God’s mercy in Christ. True repentance turns towards him.
Continue to repent repenters. Be encouraged in the Christian life that your repentance will produce godliness as you look to Christ and continue to grow in the Christian life. “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance…” Matthew 3:8