A Repentant Life


On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther lit the fuse to the Protestant Reformation when he nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg. His understanding of Scripture had led him to oppose the Roman Catholic practice of indulgences, which involved paying money so that you could be absolved from your sin without doing the assigned penance. Luther rightly observed that such nonsense was contrary to true repentance. Thus, number one of his ninety-five theses was:

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said "Repent", willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

In today’s culture, repentance is a much neglected subject in most churches. We have become much too casual about sin and consequently too neglectful of repentance. But given the New Testament’s teaching on the subject, mature believers recognize the need for consistent, daily repentance. To determine if you’re living a repentant life, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do I regularly confess my sin?

Mature believers regularly confess their sin to God. Solomon wrote, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13) The New Testament word for confession means “to agree with.” Confession is agreeing with God that what you did or failed to do was, in fact, sinful. This implies getting specific and naming the sin before the Lord in prayer.

2. Do I truly grieve over my sin?

Mature believers come to mourn over their sin. One of the reasons we do not often grieve over our sin is because we fail to perceive it for what it is. In his 1973 book, Whatever Became of Sin?, psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote:

"In the lifetimes of many of us, sin has been redefined: first, as crime—that is, as transgression of the law of man rather than transgression of the law of God—and second, as symptoms. Since 'symptoms' are caused by things external to the individual, they are seen as effects for which the offender is not responsible. Thus it happened that sin against God has been redefined (and dismissed) as the unfortunate effects of bad circumstances. And no one is to blame."

Sin is rebellion against God. R.C. Sproul called it “cosmic treason.” Sin is the reason Jesus had to suffer, why he was nailed to the cross, and why he was abandoned by the Father. Sin is at the root of all suffering and pain in this world. In its essence sin is idolatry--worshiping something other than God and robbing him of his glory.

3. Do I outward express my repentance?

Mature believers manifest evidence of repentance. When the Pharisees came to be baptized by John, he demanded they “bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8) Repentance has been defined as a change of mind that inevitably results in a change of conduct. This may involve removing something out of your life, putting safeguards on your computer, ending a relationship you know to be wrong, making yourself accountable to a friend, or replacing a bad habit for a good one (like getting up earlier in order to spend time in God’s Word and prayer). It may also involve reconciliation with an offender brother or sister in Christ. True repentance will always produce “fruit” in a person’s life.

4. Do I make restitution?

Mature believers make restitution when it's appropriate. It's evidence of a transformed heart because it shows a desire to undo the tangible impact of sin--even at great cost. Perhaps the most famous example of this is found in the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus (see Luke 19:1-9). Believing in Jesus as Messiah, this infamous tax-collector vowed to “restore four-fold” anyone whom he had defrauded. In today’s culture, many of those caught cheating, stealing, embezzling, or defrauding simply apologize, express regret for their actions without ever making restitution. True repentance, wherever possible and whenever called for, will lead to restitution.

I hope these questions will help you discern where you are spiritually in terms of living a life of repentance. Many times in my own life, I’ve been convicted of sin and though I confessed it to the Lord, there was a serious lack of grief over it. As we mature in our faith, the desire to deal with sin scripturally will grow. To that end I leave you with a wonderful hymn by Charles Wesley.

    I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear,
    A sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
    I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire,
    To catch the wand’ring of my will, and quench the kindling fire.
    From Thee that I no more may stray, no more Thy goodness grieve,
    Grant me the filial awe, I pray, the tender conscience give.
    Quick as the apple of an eye, O God, my conscience make;
    Awake my soul when sin is nigh, and keep it still awake.
    Almighty God of truth and love, to me Thy power impart;
    The mountain from my soul remove, the hardness from my heart.
    O may the least omission pain my reawakened soul,
    And drive me to that blood again, which makes the wounded whole.
    Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
To determine if you’re living a repentant life, ask yourself the following questions