Biblical repentance is an important discipline of the Christian life, but it can only be properly understood within the larger work of sanctification. God’s goal is to remake us in the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). In Christ, we died to sin and were made alive unto God and received the righteousness of Christ as a gift of grace (Rom. 5:17; 6:10-11). However, the outworking of our new position in Christ requires the ongoing work of putting off sin and putting on practical righteousness (Eph. 4:17-32; Col. 3:5-10; Heb. 12:1-2).
In John 17, Jesus prays that we will be sanctified by the truth of God’s Word (John 17:17). So, as the Holy Spirit uses Scripture to reveal our heart to us and convict us of areas of our lives that need to change, we will need to repent. We will need to change our mind about our sin and change the direction of our walk. That’s essentially what repentance is. It is a 180 degree turn in the other direction. It’s an about-face.
When the Spirit shows us our sin then we need to seek a fresh supply of God’s forgiveness. That’s what the promise that 1 John 1:9 speaks of, which we need to understand in its context.
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.1 John 1:8-10
“If we say we have no sin,” that is, if we don’t think we need repentance then we are deceiving ourselves. Verse ten says essentially the same: We are self-deceived and making God out to be a liar. However, if we honestly address the sin in our lives through repentance and confession then verse nine is a promise for us to claim: God is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us.
Repentance Is Sometimes Neglected
The discipline of repentance is sometimes neglected because some Christians wrongly assume that it’s merely a one-time event at the moment of salvation. But, if that were true then many Scriptures would not make sense.
Psalm 51, for example, is a prayer of repentance and confession from King David who was already a man after God’s own heart. But he had sinned. He had acted wickedly in God’s sight and his fellowship with God was broken and needed to be restored. Therefore, he prayed:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!Ps. 51:1-2
Repentance is also neglected because many Christians don’t understand the difference between judicial punishment and fatherly discipline. Punishment for our sin took place at the cross when Jesus endured the penalty for our sin. Therefore, God does not punish us when we sin as Christians.
However, our heavenly Father does discipline us. He corrects us, so that we will be trained in righteousness. When He does this, we need to repent and confess our sin and return to peaceful fellowship with Him.