Arminian Today

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What Does Repentance Look Like?

In Luke 3:8 John the Baptist preached, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.”  What does repentance look like?  How can we know if someone is truly repenting?

Luke 3:10-14 offers experiential proofs of repentance.  John stated:

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

In this text we see that repentance is not merely feeling sorry for our sins.  It is turning from them to a different life.  As one writer put it, repentance is a cosmic change of mind and heart.  This cosmic change produces a transformation in the person.  The person is no longer the same after the Holy Spirit regenerates them (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Jesus called this regeneration as being “born from above” (see John 3:3).  Salvation completely changes the person.  They are no longer dead but now alive in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Repentance then is not merely feeling regret for our sins.  Worldly sorrow over our sins only leads to death.  Godly sorrow produces salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).  Godly repentance is not wrought in our souls by mere reformation or discipline but through the Spirit of God (2 Timothy 2:25).  While God does command all men to repent (Acts 17:30), the Lord works in the human heart by His Word and His Spirit to produce true repentance.

Arminius wrote this about repentance:

According to this distinction of the various conceptions, have been invented different definitions of one and the same thing as to its essence. For instance, “repentance is a change of mind and heart from evil to good, proceeding from godly sorrow.” It is also “sorrow after the commission of sin on account of God being offended, and through this sorrow a change of the whole heart from evil to good.” And “It is a true conversion of our life to God, proceeding from a sincere and serious fear of God, which consists in the mortification of our flesh and of the old man, and in the quickening of the Spirit.” We disapprove of none of these three definitions, because in substance and essence they agree among themselves, and, sufficiently for [the purposes of] true piety, declare the nature of the thing. But a more copious definition may be given, such as the following: “Repentance, penitence, or conversion is an act of the entire man, by which in his understanding he disapproves of sin universally considered, in his affections he hates it, and as perpetrated by himself is sorry for it and in the whole of his life avoids it. By which he also in his understanding approves of righteousness, in affections loves it, and in the whole of his life follows after it. And thus he turns himself away from Satan and the world, and returns unto God and adheres to Him, that God may abide in him, and that he may abide in God.”

Arminius distingues between the first and secondary causes of repentance.  Arminius held first that repentance is a work of God.  He wrote:

The primary efficient cause of repentance is God, and Christ as he is through the Spirit mediator between God and man. (Jer. xxxi, 18; Ezek. xxxvi, 25, 26; Acts v, 31; xvii, 30.) The inly moving cause is the goodness, grace, and philanthropy of God our creator and redeemer, who loves the salvation of his creature, and desires to manifest the riches of his mercy in the salvation of his miserable creature. (Rom. xi, 5.) The outwardly moving cause, through the mode of merit, is the obedience, the death and the intercession of Christ; (Isa. liii, 5; 1 Cor. i, 30, 31; 2 Cor. v, 21;) and, through the mode of moving to mercy, it is the unhappy condition of sinners, whom the devil holds captive in the snares of iniquity, and who will perish by their own demerits according to the condition of the law, and necessarily according to the will of God manifested in the gospel, unless they repent (John iii, 16; Ezek. xvi, 3-63; Luke xiii, 3, 5; Isa. xxxi, 6; Jer. iii, 14; Psalm cxix, 71; in the prophets passim; Rom. vii, 6, 7.)

Then Arminius noted the secondary cause of repentance:

The proximate, yet less principal cause, is man himself, converted and converting himself by the power and efficacy of the grace of God and the Spirit of Christ. The external cause inciting to repent is the miserable state of the sinners who do not repent, and the felicitous and blessed state of those who repent — whether such state be known from the law of Moses or from that of nature, from the gospel or from personal experience, or from the examples of other persons who have been visited with the most grievous plagues through impenitence, or who, through repentance, have been made partakers of many blessings. (Rom. ii, 5; Acts ii, 37.) The internal and inly moving cause is, not only a consciousness of sin and a sense of misery through fear of the Deity, who has been offended, with a desire to be delivered from both, but it is likewise [an incipient] faith and hope of the gracious mercy and pardon of God.

In other words, while the Holy Spirit works on the human heart to produce repentance and without His aid, none of us could repent, the man himself must humble himself under the conviction of the Spirit to produce true repentance.  Again, true repentance is not reformation.  It is regeneration that begins the process of walking in repentance and bringing about sanctification.

Repentance and forgiveness of sins is part of the gospel proclaimed (Luke 24:47).  Peter preached repentance in Acts 2:38 and 3:19.  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16) and the gospel produces true salvation, true regeneration and true repentance.  Arminius wrote:

The instrumental causes which God ordinarily uses for our conversion, and by which we are solicited and led to repentance, are the law and the gospel. Yet the office of each in this matter is quite distinct, so that the more excellent province in it is assigned to the gospel, and the law acts the part of its servant or attendant. For, in the first place, the very command to repent is evangelical; and the promise of pardon, and the peremptory threat of eternal destruction, unless the man repents, which are added to it, belong peculiarly to the gospel. (Matt. iii, 1; Mark i, 4; Luke xxiv, 47.) But the law proves the necessity of repentance, by convincing man of sin and of the anger of the offended Deity, from which conviction arise a certain sorrow and a fear of punishment, which, in its commencement is servile or slavish solely through a regard to the law, but which, in its progress, becomes a filial fear through a view of the gospel. (Rom. iii, 13, 20; vii, 7.) From these, also, proceed, by the direction of an inducement to remove, or repent, a certain external abstinence from evil works, and such a performance of some righteousness as is not hypocritical. (Matt. iii, 8; vii, 17; James ii, 14-26.) But as the law does not proceed beyond “the ministration of death and of the letter,” the services of the gospel here again become necessary, which administers the Spirit, by whose illumination, inspiration and gracious and efficacious strengthening, repentance itself, in its essential and integral parts is completed and perfected. Nay the very conviction of sin belongs in some measure to the gospel, since sin itself has been committed against the command both concerning faith and repentance. (Mark xvi, 16; John xvi, 8- 15.)

So we end where we began.  What does repentance look like?  Luke 3:10-14 records that true repentance brings about not just change in our thinking but in our ways.  I read Galatians 5:22-23 and can’t help but see the work of the Spirit in repentance producing these results.  Repentance, again, is not feeling sorry about our sins.  It is turing from them and turning to transformation of our entire beings.  This is why this has to be a work of God.  Who can produce repentance like this other than the Spirit of God?

Our job here is to preach repentance to the lost.  Jesus Himself preached repentance as part of His first preaching (Mark 1:15).  He told the crowds to repent (Luke 13:5).  The Apostles followed the command of the Lord Jesus and preached repentance throughout the book of Acts.  Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans 2:4 that God’s kindness leads us to repentance.

I pray that the Lord would continue to work out repentance in my own heart.  I hate my sins.  I see them often.  The mirror of God’s Word has a way of doing that (James 1:22-25).  When we see the holiness of God in light of our sins, we see the need to repent.  Repentance brings about salvation, forgiveness.  I long for that.

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/21/2016 at 1:06 PM

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