((c) The Rev. Dr. Curtis Crenshaw, Th.D.)
6 March 2018
Lent Is Repentance
We intuitively respond positively (or more so) to those who own their sin and negatively to those who hid or justify them. It is noteworthy that those who confessed their sins to Jesus received forgiveness, but those who justified themselves, like the Pharisees, were condemned by Him.
The season of Lent in the Church calendar is designed to make us think of our sins and of the grace of God in Christ. It is not that we don’t think of these the rest of the year, but there is an emphasis on God’s holiness and our sins that is healthy, for this drives us even more to the Cross of Christ and His forgiveness.
But what is repentance? In Acts 26 Paul describes repentance as “turning from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins” and “that they should repent, turn to God, and to do works befitting repentance” (vv 18, 20). Notice these things about repentance.
First, it is negative, and its object is sin—what one turns from. Belief is positive, what one turns to, and expresses trust—in Christ.
Second, repentance means a turning from something and to something else. It is as if the person is on a path leading to hell and he realizes his plight, which causes him to reverse directions, taking a U turn. Now he is walking in the opposite direction toward heaven. In changing directions, he turned from hell to heaven, from his sins to the forgiveness of Christ, from Satan to God. This “turning” necessarily involves both from and to. It is not possible to change directions 180 degrees in one’s life without turning from something and going to something else, and this “from” is repentance and the to is “faith.” Repentance and faith are like two sides of one coin: the “tails” is the negative that refers to one’s sins, and “heads” is the positive side that refers to faith in Christ. If one has the “coin,” he has both sides.
By the word “turn” the Bible does not mean that the sinner has to do so many works to merit God’s forgiveness. Repentance is a mental recognition of one’s current condition that leads one to fear God, to hate his sins, and thus to seek a solution. The faith grants the solution, which is faith in the substitutionary death of Christ for one’s sins.
Third, works are not merit to gain repentance, but the demonstration that repentance is genuine. James states that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26), but he never says works merits us forgiveness. They are the barometer that reveal if faith is alive, but not the eternal life itself. If faith and repentance are of the same “coin,” then works will be the fruit of repentance just as works are the fruit of faith.
So what is repentance? It is a change of mind about oneself, about one’s sins, and about God, especially Christ. We call this whole process conversion. As a non-Christian, one is satisfied with himself and his life. But once the Holy Spirit enters a person’s life, the sinner becomes convicted of his sins, that they are contrary to God and deserve His judgment. This in turn leads the person to consider a solution, which is to trust in Christ as Lord and Savior who died for his sins. The “process” may be long or almost instantaneous, but it is there.
To put this another way, when one comes to faith in Christ, why does He trust in Jesus (faith) if not to have his sins forgiven (repentance)? In repentance the sinner turns from himself and his sin, and in faith he turns to Christ and His righteousness. Moreover, these two go together; one cannot have one without the other.
And it is the season of Lent that brings to our attention this aspect of the Gospel; namely, our sins and the grace of God in Christ. It is decidedly not the purpose of Lent to have a Mardi Gras so that we can indulge in our favorite sins and then go ask God for forgiveness. This is playing games with God—and with our souls. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which is a service to remind us of our mortality, that we will die, and that we must be prepared. It also reminds us of what it cost God to save us: the death of His Son on the Cross.
Finally, Lent also reminds us of the battle of light against darkness, of Satan versus God. We are involved in spiritual warfare for the souls of people, and the Gospel is the weapon that brings them to surrender to the Triune God. There is no neutrality here. One is either in God’s army or Satan’s, and when one repents and believes the Gospel, he leaves Satan’s army and joins God’s. That is what St. Paul said as quoted above.
Moreover, the Lord Jesus (quote above) said He came to save sinners, not those who thought they were ok as they were. As He put it, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” In other words, we must present something to the Lord Jesus, and without this “work” on our part, we cannot be saved. IT IS WITH OUR SINS THAT WE GO TO GOD FOR WE HAVE NOTHING ELSE TO GO WITH THAT WE CAN CALL OUR OWN (Horatius Bonar). AMEN.