Chapter 4: What repentance is not

In the previous chapter, we saw that repentance is a requirement for salvation. Since repentance is a requirement for salvation, it is important to have a clear understanding of what repentance is, and what it isn’t. Such an understanding will help us determine whether we are in a state of repentance. This in turn will help us determine whether we are saved.

Sometimes, the best way to define something is to first describe what it is not. Therefore, before I explain what repentance is (in the next chapter), I will first explain what repentance is not (in this chapter). This will help us eliminate some of the common misconceptions about repentance, and clear the way for a true understanding of the nature of repentance.

Repentance is not this

It is that time again – the time to see what you are made of. Temptation knocks at the door of your heart. The sweet pleasure of sin beckons you. The memories of past pleasures cloud your thinking. You are being urged to give in.

But then your conscience awakens. It senses what is happening. It realizes that it must do something. So it dials up your heart and begins to speak to you. It pleads with you, "Don’t do it. The pleasure is not worth the eternal consequence. Fight the temptation to sin."

You struggle. The battle rages on for a while. You wish it will stop, but it continues. It rises and falls. It makes you feel uncomfortable and torn apart. Finally, you give in. You ignore your conscience and sin.

Conviction. You now experience conviction of sin. Your conscience groans, "You have sinned." The Holy Spirit within you offers quiet, but firm judgment, "You have sinned."

"Did I really sin?" you ask yourself. You wonder. You vacillate. You are not sure. You check the Bible. You talk to others. You listen to the preachers. You read books. The question burns within you, "Did I really sin?" Finally, you agree. You know it deep within you. Sin has made its mark. You agree that you have sinned.

You are found out! Your sin is exposed. The penalty is great. Your loss is substantial. Judgment will be meted out. You realize the depth of your foolishness. You realize the greatness of the penalty. You are sorry that you did it. You wish you hadn’t done it. The pain of the punishment is too much to bear. Regret swells up within you.

As the days go by and you suffer the punishment for your sin your regret turns to remorse. It burns deep within you. You wish you had another chance. You wish that things were different. But it is over. You can do nothing about it. Life goes on. There is pain. There is sorrow.

Temptation. Conviction. Acknowledgment (that you have sinned). Regret. Remorse. Are any of these elements of repentance? Does repentance include any of these?

No. None of these are elements of repentance. All of them are closely associated with repentance, but none are a part of repentance.

We are all tempted (Jas 1:14). If temptation was repentance then all repent, in which case it would be superfluous to ask anyone to repent.

Being repentant is not the same as being convicted of sin. To convict a person of sin is to point out to the person that he has sinned. Our conscience and the Holy Spirit convict us of sin (Rom 2:14-15; Jn 16:8,9). Everyone is convicted. When convicted, a person needs to acknowledge that he has sinned. If, when convicted, a person does not even acknowledge that he has sinned, then his conscience dulls (that is, it stops convicting him) and the Holy Spirit stops convicting him. In other words, God gives up on him or gives him over to the sin (Rom 1:24,26,28).

If a person acknowledges his sin when convicted he has done well. However, he has still not repented. It is possible to agree that you have sinned and then decide to continue in sin for the rest of your life.

Repentance is also not the same as regret or remorse. In remorse, the sorrow is due to the inconvenience or pain to you because you got caught and are made to pay for your wrong. Regret is just a milder version of remorse. Neither regret nor remorse includes the desire to stop doing the wrong. In repentance, the sorrow is due to the realization that you did something morally wrong, and includes the desire to stop doing the wrong.

In summary, neither temptation, conviction, acknowledgment (that you have sinned), regret nor remorse is repentance.

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