Mistaken Notions About Repentance

by Mike Ratliff

30 I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, so that you will not receive again the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and your abominations. Ezekiel 36:30-31 (NASB) 

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.

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

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

28 You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. 29 Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you. 30 I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, so that you will not receive again the disgrace of famine among the nations. Ezekiel 36:28-30 (NASB) 

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

32 I am not doing this for your sake,” declares the Lord God, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!” Ezekiel 36:32 (NASB) 

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

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