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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Godly Sorrow, Repentance, and Faith

Not only will godly sorrow and true repentance be evidenced by the characteristics mentioned in 2 Cor 7:11 (as outlined in my previous two posts, here and here), they will always be accompanied by faith. Repentance can never exist by itself. This is true whether it is the initial repentance that takes place at salvation or the ongoing repentance that takes place in sanctification. There is always the turning from sin and toward Christ. Spurgeon once said that repentance is “the twin sister to faith.” This is clearly the case as 2 Cor 7:10 says that godly sorrow produces a repentance without regret, “leading to salvation.” Salvation is by faith (Eph 2:8), so if repentance leads to salvation, then repentance must be accompanied by faith.

In Matt 11:28-29b, Jesus says, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me…” There cannot merely be the unloading of one’s sin burden in repentance. The sinner must also take up the yoke of Christ by faith, which includes being subject to Him and obedient to Him. Commenting on this passage, John MacArthur observes in The Gospel According to Jesus, “The invitation applies only to those who know they are at the end of their own resources, people desperate to turn from self and sin to the Savior.” This makes perfect sense in light of biblical teaching on the subject of heart worship. Rom 1:23 teaches that when man rejected God, he did so to turn to idolatry. The heart of man was designed to worship and it must worship something. If it is not worshiping Christ, it will worship idols of sin.

This concept is shown in the life of the nation of Israel in Jer 2:13: "For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” The sinful rejection of God always involves two components. First, it consists of the turning away from Him, and second, the turning toward sin. Repentance and faith can be viewed as the reverse. Godly sorrow leads first to the turning from sin, and second to the turning toward Christ in faith.

That is why we frequently find in the New Testament the two-pronged method of dealing with sin, commonly referred to as “putting off and putting on.” Rom 13:12-14 shows this pattern: “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Put off sin, put on Christ. Similar passages can be found in Eph 4:22-24, Col 3:8-11, and 2 Tim 2:22.

This faith that accompanies repentance trusts in Christ for the power and grace to overcome sin. Eph 3:20 speaks of the power of God that works within us. This does not mean that one should sit back and wait for God to expend all of the effort required for sanctification. Rather, he should take to heart Paul’s words in Phil 2:12b-13: “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Conversely, with worldly sorrow and penance there is no such faith. This kind of person has not despaired of his own strength. He feels no sorrow for having offended God, but rather feels sorrow for having suffered the consequences. Because there is no faith, the sinner can only try in his flesh to deal with his sin. We find this very thing in the life of Judas Iscariot in Matt 27:3-5. He felt genuine sorrow over his betrayal of Christ, but it was not godly sorrow that turns to Christ in faith. Instead, Judas attempted to deal with his sin in his own strength by hanging himself, the ultimate act of penance.

The unrepentant man attempts to turn from his sin without turning to Christ in faith. But his penance does not work because it is founded upon self-trust. Col 2:19 speaks of this kind of individual. In his “fleshly mind” he does not “hold fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” Because he is not attached to Christ the head, there is no spiritual growth. Therefore, not only will the unrepentant person show no progress in defeating his sin, he will show little affection and striving after Christ.

Godly sorrow that leads to repentance is always accompanied by faith in Christ. Next time, we’ll look at another essential element of godly sorrow: heart change.

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