Repentance is what results when godly sorrow meets a godly response. It comes about when we change our attitude and our action toward sin. Thayer’s Bible Dictionary defines the Greek word for repent in this way, “To change one’s mind; to change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.”
Repentance is a life-changing event and it begins when sin in our life is pointed out to us by the gospel. When we are convicted in our hearts of that sin, we are made sorrowful. This is Godly sorrow. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of…” (2 Corinthians 7:10) Godly sorrow is what brings about the desire for change and the proper actions that demonstrate that change in our lives.
In contrast to Godly sorrow, worldly sorrow “worketh death” (2 Corinthians 7:10) and comes about not as a response to the gospel, but as a response brought on by the consequences of sin. Worldly sorrow results when a person “gets caught” or is made to suffer the consequences of his sin. Only when the consequences become severe enough does worldly sorrow lead one to change his life. This model of repentance does not reflect a positive response to the gospel but a negative response to stimuli, not unlike a cow being shocked with an electric cattle prod. True repentance, on the other hand, can only come as a positive response to the gospel.
Repentance, along with faith can only be demonstrated by a positive response to the gospel. It is this positive response that “worketh salvation not to be repented of…” (2 Corinthians 7:10). We respond positively to the gospel when we confess Christ and submit ourselves to His will and are baptized. Once we have been baptized, we must continue to pattern our lives after the gospel. This is the “process” of repentance for the alien sinner, but what about repentance for the Christian? One who is already a Christian, when he commits sin, he must also repent. This is accomplished when his godly sorrow brings him back into contact with the blood of Christ, through admission of guilt and fervent prayer.
Simply changing our attitude and action toward sin and being immersed is not enough to affect true repentance. True repentance requires that amends or restitution be made. If we stole money from a person, in order to truly repent, we must do our best to make restitution and return the money. All right thinking people can plainly see the need to make restitution when it comes to theft, murder, or any other crime.
But often the same people that recognize this need for restitution regarding crime and punishment do not see a need when it comes to moral issues. When a man and woman who are not scripturally married are exposed to the gospel and godly sorrow results, some times they are told that they can “repent” without dissolving their unscriptural marriage. (See Matthew 19:3-9) But this type of “repentance” is not scriptural because it leaves out restitution. If a robber breaks into a man’s home, steals his TV, his DVD player and his wife and later repents, all can see that he must return the TV and DVD player. But when it comes to “wife stealing,” many people say that it is OK, because the robber was not a Christian at the time. Restitution is necessary every time our sin affects another person.
What about murderers? How can they make restitution? Can they bring back the one they killed? Sometimes full restitution is impossible. The Bible illustrates this in Ephesians 4:28 “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” The thief must stop his thieving ways; he must to find a way to make an honest living; and he must use what he earns to give to those in need. That is restitution – he is no longer a taker, he is now a giver.
This is exactly what John “The Immerser” was speaking of when he said, “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance…” (Matthew 3:8) In other words, he was telling them to show or demonstrate their repentance by their works. Just as James challenged with regard to faith, “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:18). John was saying to the scribes and Pharisees, “Show forth works that demonstrate your repentance!”
Have you repented, truly repented, of your sins?