True repentance involves our entire personality in a confrontation with sin. We must first see our sin through God’s eyes for the abhorrent thing it is; only then will we be able to hate our sin with a righteous passion. Given our tendency to hold on to sin we love, this thorough hatred of sin must precede a genuine forsaking it.
To begin this process, one must take a long and thoughtful look, first, at what sin has done to God and, second, at His loving and merciful response to us in spite of the abuse He has suffered. The Bible tells us that it is “the goodness of God (that) leadeth thee to repentance” (Rom. 2:4), not fear or force. The love of God displayed on Calvary was the greatest possible force to subdue the human heart, and for those who fail to receive the knowledge, the message of scripture is solemn.
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. —Hebrews 10:26-27 (NASB)
SEEING OUR SIN—”Repentance is always difficult; not only because we must cross the threshold of self-love, but also because our own sins are not easily visible to us.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “Repentance and Self-Limitation,” From Under the Rubble (Bantam), p. 128. However, when we release ourselves to the control of the Holy Spirit, He releases us from our subjective shells so that we are able, perhaps for the first time, to view sin—from God’s objective vantage point.
Once job had a vision of himself in relation to God’s loving kindness when he declared:
I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees Thee; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes. —Job 42:5-6 (NASB)
From this elevated perspective we are able to see the true nature of sin and its fraudulent pleasures.
But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” —Luke 5:8 (NASB)
HATING OUR SIN—While it is virtually impossible to hate our sin before we see it exposed, once we do see and recognize its diabolical qualities and truly repent, we actually do detest that for which we once held a strange fascination.
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning.” —Joel 2:12 (NASB)
During the course of his investigation into the causes of the religious superficiality in many of the churches of his day, American revivalist Charles Grandison Finney noted this characteristic of true repentance:
The individual who truly repents, not only sees sin to be detestable and vile, and worthy of abhorrence, but he really abhors it, and hates it in his heart… You do not now abstain from it through fear, and to avoid punishment, but because you hate it… in relation to God, he feels towards sin as it really is. And here is the source of those gushings of sorrow in which Christians sometimes break out when contemplating sin. The Christian views it as to its nature, and simply feels abhorrence. But when he views it in relation to God, then he weeps. Charles G. Finney, True and False Repentance (Kregel), p. 14.
This seems indeed the sorrow which produces a genuine repentance.
For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret… —2 Corinthians 7:10 (NASB)
FORSAKING OUR SIN—As mentioned earlier, the entire personality is involved in the act of repentance. Our minds, enlightened through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, are able to perceive sin stripped of all pretense. Emotionally we respond to this understanding with considerable revulsion, pain and sorrow. But the final and crucial stage involves our will in the actual severance and forsaking of sin. This stage will always follow if repentance is genuine. If we have not truly seen our sin, or if we have seen it and yet love it, there is little chance that it will be forsaken.
If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and do not let wickedness dwell in your tents. —job 11:14 (NASB)
The scope of our repentance must be infinite. We cannot run away even from ancient sins; we may write off other people’s sins as ancient history, but we have no right to do it for ourselves. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “Repentance and Self-Limitation,” From Under the Rubble (Bantam), p. 128.
Restitution in all applicable cases is an important corollary of repentance and is usually a fairly reliable indicator that a genuine repentance has occurred. See Luke 3:8, 19:8; Acts 26:20.