Mistaken Notions About Repentance

by Mike Ratliff

I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. (Ezekiel 36:30-31 ESV)

The following is partially adapted from a sermon by C.H. Spurgeon titled “Mistaken Notions About Repentance.”

Some have defined repentance as, “a change of mind.” Others add, “with resultant change in actions.” Others believe it is anguish and grief over sin. Others believe it is the same thing as belief. What is repentance? Repentance is wrought in the heart by a sense of love divine. In other words, it is the product of a work of God in the heart. If we hold this view of repentance we see it in its true light. This helps us to meet a great many mistakes which have darkened this subject. Many are kept from Christ and hope by misapprehensions of this matter.

If this is so then a right understanding of repentance is crucial to people coming to faith in Christ. Some confound it with morbid self-accusation. This is the fruit of some mental infirmity in which guilt has gotten out of control in the afflicted one’s heart. This is more a medical condition in which a physician may here do more than a preacher. Others mistake repentance for unbelief , despondency, or despair. These things are of no use in repentance, but in fact, tend to harden the heart. Others mistake repentance for a dread of hell, or a sense of wrath. These may go with repentance, but is is no part of it. True repentance is a hatred of evil, accompanied by a sense of shame and a longing to avoid sin. This repentance is wrought only by a sense of divine love.

Some also make a mistake in their understanding of the place which repentance occupies. These look upon it as a procuring cause of grace, as if repentance merited remission. This is a grave error because it would make salvation the result of a work. It is also wrongly viewed by others as a preparation for grace; a human goodness laying the foundation for mercy a meeting of God half way; this is a deadly error. Why? This denies the existence of original sin which bars all from being worthy of grace. It is also treated as a sort of qualification for believing, and even as the ground for believing: all which is legality, and contrary to pure gospel truth. Others treat it as the argument for peace of mind. They have repented so much, and it must be all right. This is to build our confidence upon a false foundation. I fear that many of us are in this camp right now.

There is also great misunderstanding of the way repentance is produced in the heart. It is not produced by a distinct and immediate attempt to repent. Nor does it come by strong excitement at revival meetings. Nor by meditating upon sin, and death, and hell, et cetera. No, it only comes as the God of all grace produces it. He does this by His free grace, which by its action renews the heart.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26 ESV)

It comes by bringing His great mercy to our mind and then He makes receive new mercy.

You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. (Ezekiel 36:28-30 ESV)

It comes by Him revealing Himself and His methods of grace.

It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. (Ezekiel 36:32 ESV)

There are no arguments like those that are drawn from the consideration of the great and glorious things Christ hath done for you; and if such will not take with you, and win upon you, I do not think the throwing of hell-fire in your faces will ever do it. – Thomas Brooks.

Repentance is the tear dropped from the eye of faith. God’s favor melts hard hearts sooner than the fire of His indignation; His kindness is very penetrative, it gets into the hearts of sinners sooner than His threats and frowns; it is like a small soaking rain, which goes to the roots of things, whereas a dashing rain runs away, and does little good. It was David’s kindness that brake the heart of Saul (1 Samuel 24) and it’s God’s kindness which breaks the hearts of sinners.

The milk and honey of the gospel affect the hearts of sinners more than the gall and wormwood of the law; Christ on Mount Zion brings more to repentance than Moses on Mount Sinai. – William Greenhill

My brethren, the law is our teacher of God’s standards and reveals our utter inability to keep it. We must preach it, but always followed by the sweetness of the Gospel of Christ. There is mischief afoot to say Hell is empty and Heaven is full based only on the work of Christ with no resultant repentance on the part of any person. This is a grave error with its roots in Satan’s lie to Eve in Genesis 3. There are also some who decry any preaching of the necessity of repentance in salvation. How can any one know that they need Christ unless they first know they are a sinner? Once this is known don’t these being called turn from their sin in belief that they have apprehended their saviour only by the grace of God? Also, don’t those saved this way by God giving them a heart of flesh to replace their heart of stone, turn from their past sins and walk in progressive sanctification through a lifestyle of repentance in the joy of the Lord?

Soli Deo Gloria

31 thoughts on “Mistaken Notions About Repentance

  1. I see repentance as a continuation of a single concept started at our spiritual birth in Christ. A continuation of surrender to God in light of what Christ did for me on the Cross.

    Repentance is then repeated continuously throughout our earthly lives.

  2. amen paul and luann,,…

    good article mike…it was a great blessing to read…

  3. The word means change of mind. A true change of mind (heart) will be manifested by actions. When I believed on the Lord Jesus Christ in 1975, that act carried within it repentance of 23 years of unbelief. I was given the mind of Christ (Holy Spirit) and the unpacking of that repentance has continued until today.

    I have seen three generalizations of professors of religion.

    1. A sinner trusts Christ and his life is never the same. He struggles but his journey is remarkable.

    2. A sinner trusts Christ, but he has many struggles. He lapses from time to time, but God’s grace gets him back up again and he pursues Christ with vigor. His life seems to struggle periodically.

    3. A sinner professes Christ and after an intial change, he lapses back to his former life again.

    #1. I have a great deal of assurance about that man’s faith.

    #2. I have a good deal of assurance.

    #3. I have no assurance.

    Why? Because if there is metanoia (change of mind/heart) there will be a lifestyle evidence. I did not know I was repenting, and I did not weep over my sin. There were things I did not know were sin until later. But I no longer desired to sin and God helped me overcome my sins as I live out my faith.

  4. This is a life and death topic today in the USA.

    Today our nation has evil men using the very authority and trust of the government to harm our citizens and nation.

    Repentance is not a topic of Christians patting ourselves on the back.

    Rather than hide and boast blessings among the faithful speak the word in the street to those who mock the laws of God and man.

    That Grace only comes with hearing the Word, conviction of sin, and receiving the forgiveness that repentance provides.

    It is a process, a “God deal”.

    You and I have an active part in it.

    This nation is in deep trouble in every respect.
    Don’t sit on your rear in a pew, speak the word in public at the very point of contact with the people around you.

    God judges nations just as He judges men, only nations are not judged after this life rather in this world.

    If you want to ride the USA going down the toilet, sit in your pew and play church, if you do not, speak the word boldly.

    That is where we are today. Revival comes from the Word, Conviction comes from the Holy Spirit working on men’s hearts. Without this there is no repentance. We need national repentance individually and as a nation in the worst way today.

    Don’t just sit there. Act.

    Let’s start with ourselves asking forgiveness for what we have allowed this nation to become today and go from there.

  5. jon,

    Yes and no. I agree that it is, but as we mature it changes dramatically and goes much deeper. And again, yes we must still look to the cross as what makes our salvation possible, but we must move on with God in growing more holy, more godly, etc.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  6. bg,

    I agree with your analysis of the country and the government, etc. However, our focus must be on the church, making her holy and repentant. Not all believers are given the role by God of evangelism or preacher or “prophet.” Yes, we must all be ready to give an account, but that does NOT mean that we all stand on street corners doing the job of an evangelist. God has His men who do this. Our job is to do the role, the job, that God has given the Church and each of us individually. That is it be salt and light as we walk in repentance. Lastly, the Church’s role is, as I stated above, to be salt and light and that does not mean taking over governments or being involved in politics, etc. We change the world by being the church not by being politically minded. We are to be good citizens, but submissive in every way to what the civil authorities demand of us except when it violates what God has commanded us to do or not do.

    I hear your heart, but I suggest that you should pray more about the spiritual bankruptcy of the church.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  7. Here lies my main issue on the BLOG here. It sounds like a Christ plus scenario all the time and this is always a very wide door for people to follow.

    Christ did the work. for me on the cross Therefore I always need to live in repentance and in view of the Cross. Thats the starting and ending point of our sanctification and humility. Any set of rules (religious or otherwise) becomes a trap for us to live in even if we consider them the truth and Gods word if we do not keep Jesus, the cross, and the Gospel in focus.

    Fear and trembling is always in view of Gods Mercy on the cross…. as a matter of fact our view of the cross and Jesus is the main cause of our fear and trembling as we work out our sanctification.

    JS

  8. A pastor once asked me if a sadistic serial killer gave his life to Christ 1 millisecond before he died would he go to heaven and would everyone rejoice in this.

    I think the answer is a resounding YES! Even though this gentlemen never had the chance to work out his sanctification.

    Mike your close to the area that had the BTK killer captured. He went to a Lutheran Church. How about a discussion on this for a future topic? Might be interesting. :-).

  9. Jon,

    All we are doing here is trying to explain our salvation and what we must do after that. Salvation is BY GRACE through FAITH not of ourselves. It is a gift of God. Now, is repentance part of this? Absolutely because without repentance there is no salvation. Therefore, repentance is involved with that “through Faith” part. The actual act of turning from self to God by Faith is Repentance and Belief together. No one is saying we are saved by works.

    It only sounds like a Christ plus scenario to those who are looking only at grace. Don’t those who believe have to believe? Don’t those who become Christians have to go through the narrow gate? Can anyone be saved who does not do these things Jon?

    You said: “Christ did the work. for me on the cross Therefore I always need to live in repentance and in view of the Cross. Thats the starting and ending point of our sanctification and humility. Any set of rules (religious or otherwise) becomes a trap for us to live in even if we consider them the truth and Gods word if we do not keep Jesus, the cross, and the Gospel in focus.”

    Sure He did. No argument from me. And yes, we live in repentance in view of the Cross. How else can we walk in repentance? It is all by His grace, yet how many professing Christians do you see out there who NEVER do any of this? Those who live in sin and never feel the need to repent? Jon, the cross is where it begins, but we are called to TAKE UP OUR CROSSES and follow Christ and that means we die to self and walk in repentance for the rest of our lives. This means there will be personal holiness being developed in those hearts or there is no repentance and, therefore, probably no salvation.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  10. Jon,

    You said, “A pastor once asked me if a sadistic serial killer gave his life to Christ 1 millisecond before he died would he go to heaven and would everyone rejoice in this.”

    This part here, “gave his life to Christ” is repentance.

    It is the product of this command from our Lord Himself: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV)

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  11. I will take a look at Thomas Watson. Actually, I just googled him I dont see anything I would disagree with with the repentance summary I am looking at. I think what I would disagree with is the mode of operation of sanctification that people tend to use as they describe sanctification as opposed to the definition of it.

    However, I still feel like we as people separate out our justification and sanctification whereas sanctification is really just a continuation of our justification and a continuation of the work of Jesus sacrifice on the cross.

    They really aren’t separate but part of a continuous whole would be my words to describe it.

    By making them separate will almost “naturally” lead us to leave the Gospel behind and start leaning toward a works based righteousness where we start externalizing sin to others and quit internalizing it to ourselves.

    We then use scripture to control others as opposed to creating inner change in ourselves and the others around us. This scenario is almost everywhere we look.

    So what I might disagree with is how sanctification plays its way out. Is it a joy where we live in freedom of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross or is it something we use to add to ourselves.

    Both look like they are struggling with our “flesh” but one sees how futile it is without a savior. This is why Luther describes his first thesis as “All of Life is Repentance” because for Luther scripture was always understood through the lens cap of the Cross and Jesus. No calvinist would ever say they are not Cristocentric. However, what I have seen is that Jesus Christ often gets demoted to 1/3 the way down the page in many Churches in an attempt to hang on to their true theological distinctives. As we do this we will always enter some sort of Christ plus scenario and our mode of operation is forced to become religions as opposed to Christ-like. This religion sees Jesus as the means. A Gospel mindset sees Jesus as the end.

    This is such a common and wide door for all of us and its so subtle.

  12. Jon,

    Justification is a declaration that we are righteous by God imputing Christ’s Righteousness to us. Sanctification is God working in us to make us holy. I don’t see what is so hard to understand about that.

    Personal Holiness is the outflow or outcome of our sanctification, not the other way around. You have accused me of teaching rule keeping as if that is what I meant by our pursuit of Personal Holiness. Well, I have never taught that. I have taught that we pursue it by our surrender to the sanctifying work of God in us. This is how we walk in repentance.

    You said,

    “No calvinist would ever say they are not Cristocentric. However, what I have seen is that Jesus Christ often gets demoted to 1/3 the way down the page in many Churches in an attempt to hang on to their true theological distinctives. As we do this we will always enter some sort of Christ plus scenario and our mode of operation is forced to become religions as opposed to Christ-like. This religion sees Jesus as the means. A Gospel mindset sees Jesus as the end.”

    I have no idea what you are talking about. You obviously haven’t been to the church I go to. It is all about God. I suggest you stop the innuendo and attacks on things you know nothing about.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  13. I might have a simplistic view of repentance, from I Thess. 1:9. “…how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;”

    Turning to God = turning away from idols. That’s repentance in a nutshell, no?

  14. Thats kind of a thing of mine Mike. I see two strains of calvinistic churches. One centered on Gods sovereignty and one that seems to be a bit more Cristocentric, Lutheresque, centered on the Gospel.

    IF you asked one side they would definitely not deny Gods grace and the other side would not deny being Cristocentric (or Gospel oriented). However, the difference is in what each side holds as centric to how they view scripture.

    Piper, for example, has at his core has Gods sovereignty whereas Keller has at his core has the Gospel message thereby showing his Lutheresque Cristocentric interpretation of scripture. Piper and the people around would never say he is not Cristocentric and Keller and the people around him would never say he denies Gods sovereignty — because neither one of them do.

    The difference is what they hold at their core and what is central to them. Piper has to almost go out of his way to discuss the supremacy of Christ and lots of the pages in his book are centered on the idea of Gods sovereignty. Whereas Keller for Keller the Gospel message permeates all of this interpretation of scripture and almost every paragraph he writes.

    Both of these guys are 5 point calvinists.

    I have listened and read lot of Piper and a lot of Keller but they speak in two different tones to me. After giving Piper about 300 pages of his book I found out Piper only speaks to my theological head, wherease I find Keller to have a piercing truth that gets to my head and my heart.

    Hope that explains what I was trying to say. My point was that some of the soverignty of God strain Churches seem to have demoted the message of Christ 1/3 the way down the page. Christ does not permeate all of their worldview theology.

    Keeping the cross central to all my thinkology is an important part of me and my worldview since I have been a part of services where Jesus does not get mentioned until the end of the service and that may only to say the benediction “In Jesus Name’. I fear if I dont keep this central to me then the idea of obedience and sanctification becomes man-ordained obedience and sanctification as opposed to God-ordained obedience and sanctification.

    http://www.internetmonk.com/ discusses a Christless Christianity on some of his topics.

    Make sense?

    JS

  15. The one paragraph should have said

    Change grace to sovereignty

    IF you asked one side they would definitely not deny Gods Sovereignty and the other side would not deny being Cristocentric (or Gospel oriented). However, the difference is in what each side holds as centric to how they view scripture.

  16. If a man goes to court because he punched the judge, the court , as well as the judge will find him guilty. Suppose the judge says, “Ok, I forgive you and I will let you go free.” The man says, “Thank you,” and then he leaves. A week later, he punches the judge again. And again, the judge sets him free. Then the week following, he punches the judge again. Now think about this… is that man sorry for his sin? Do you think a wise judge will continue forgiving this man? If you say, “Yes,” then ask yourself three questions.

    1.) Is the judge a fool?
    2.) Is the judge just?
    3.) Is the man sorry for his sins?

  17. Jon,

    I would suggest that you spend more time in your Bible and less time listening to or reading people like Keller. He may be a fine theologian, but this argument is creating a false division where one doesn’t really exist. You claim there is a vast difference between Piper’s theology and Keller’s or yours. Is there really one?

    Is God sovereign? Yes He is. Should we serve Him within His Sovereignty? Yes! What about being Christ centered? Well, if we are truly His then we will be Christ centered in all we do and that within the Sovereignty of God.

    There is no division here at all. Our cross centeredness and Christ centeredness will be totally out of control and prone to error outside of an understanding of the Sovereignty of God and how all this fits together. If we don’t then we make the error of believing that we are the ones making evangelism work or that it is up to us to bring people into the Kingdom. No, those are works of the Holy Spirit as we obey God in sharing our faith, preaching the Word, etc.

    Also, we can err in the opposite direction in going full after the Sovereignty of God to the extent that we do not give the Gospel freely. This is a heinous error and far be it from us to go there!

    The proper evangelistic perspective or approach is one that is Christ-centered WITHIN the Sovereignty of God.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  18. I think I actually said or referred that Piper is a guy that is very theological centered.

    I am actually very close to Pipers Church here in the twin cities — at least the one in Burnsville. I just prefer Keller. I just find Pipers Church to be one for destination based Christians. People that already have Church homes but are looking for something more theological.

    I tend to prefer Churches that are both Rich in Gods word and simultaneously attract hurting people.

    Mike, I do spend time in scripture every morning.

    I apologize for bringing out such deep thoughts of mine. But I have worked with people on Keller’s staff and actually wanted to work with people on Pipers staff as well. Some of this is the result of my research we engaged in on a stint of 2 years on a Pastoral search committee. Our job was to pick apart and analyze a LOT of sermons and the centeredness of pastors. Nitpicking if you will

    Once again I apologize.

  19. The proper evangelistic perspective or approach is one that is Christ-centered WITHIN the Sovereignty of God.

    I agree with this statement 10000%. At the same time I also believe Gods sovereignty loses its punch if you leave behind the cross and the centrality of the Gospel.

    Gods sovereignty ……. IN Christ.

    Amen?

  20. No need to apologize Jon. You did bring out something that I see people overlooking a lot. God does have different pastors and preachers, His servants, who all have different talents and abilities and LEARNING. God is using them all so I believe it is a mistake to create these divisions as if one who is pastoring a church that ministers one way because of the people in it while another one pastors differently because God is working there differently. We do not have the intellectual capacity or spiritual ability to understand how or why God does what He does the way He does it.

  21. Carrie M said:

    Turning to God = turning away from idols. That’s repentance in a nutshell, no?

    Amen!

    God, grant me the wisdom to see all the idols in my life. Idols that are both worldly and religious.

    In Jesus Name,

    Amen!

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