“Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations” (Ezek. 14.6). This turning from sin is called a forsaking of sin (Isa. 55.7), as a man forsakes the company of a thief or sorcerer. It is called a putting of sin far away in Job 11.14), as Paul put away the viper and shook it into the fire (Acts 28.5). Dying to sin is the life of repentance. If a man will be saved, sin must be given up. That is indispensable. As Luther said, when a man turns from his wicked ways, he has performed the best repentance. As Thomas Watson said, “True repentance, like aqua fortis [nitric acid], eats asunder the iron chain of sin.”
True repentance involves a turning from all sin in principle.
When a man or woman truly repents, they must not have reservations about the direction to which they are turning; they must have no secret sin that is an exception. True repentance must have no reserves or inmates. No rebellious lust must be hidden and harbored so as to escape submission to Jesus our Lord. Again Watson says, “He that hides one rebel in his house is a traitor to the Crown, and he that indulges one sin is a traitorous hypocrite.”
How can a perfectly holy God accept one who holds fast to his transgressions? A French officer, whose ship had been captured by the English, advanced towards Nelson, and offered him his hand. “First give me your sword,” said the admiral. There can be no true reconciliation with God while we retain the weapons of our rebellion. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts,” then the Lord “will have mercy upon him, and He will abundantly pardon.”
Conscious and deliberate wrong-doing must be abandoned, or we cannot be absolved.
Here we find many stumbling. They understand the doctrine of justification by faith alone. But when they hear that men are preaching the necessity of repentance, they feel that such men are preaching a legal method of salvation. Let us be clear on this matter. Repentance is not something a person must do before God will accept him or her. It is simply a description of what seeking the Lord looks like. In other words, cleaning up one’s life is not a precondition for acceptance by God. The person who genuinely seeks the Lord and calls on His name has come to grips with his or her sin and is willing to turn it over to the Lord. After all, an unsaved person cannot forsake sin-or even desire to do so-without the Lord’s help.
By promising pardon to sinners, God “indicates what direction men should proceed if they wish to obtain grace.” In this way, pardon or forgiveness is set before sinners as an incentive to repent.
As Calvin notes, “No man can be stirred up to repentance, unless he have salvation set before him.” One is goaded, induced, and provoked to repent “with hope of pardon.” Again, he says, “Men cannot be led to repentance in any other way than by holding out assurance of pardon.” Summing up repentance’s relationship to forgiveness, Calvin states:
“God by way of free favour pardons our sins, but only when we renounce them. Nay more, God accomplishes in us at one and the same time two things: being renewed by repentance, we are delivered from the bondage of our sins; and, being justified by faith, we are delivered also from the curse of our sins. They are, therefore, inseparable fruits of grace, and, in consequence of their invariable connection, repentance may with fitness and propriety be represented as an introduction to salvation, but in this way of speaking of it, it is represented as an effect rather than as a cause. These are not refinements for the purpose of evasion, but a true and simple solution, for, while Scripture teaches us that we never obtain forgiveness of sins without repentance, it presents at the same time in a variety of passages, the mercy of God alone as the ground of obtaining it.”
Have you put down the weapons of rebellion? Is there is a decided change in direction and attitude toward God? Has there been a reorientation within your soul? Unless you can answer these questions in the positive, then you are in grave danger! Let no man deceive you with vain words. The Gospel never holds out forgiveness, but to those who repent and give up their weapons of rebellion.
By Timothy A Williams