True and False Repentance

In Mark 1:15, Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel”. Everyone who responds to God’s offer of salvation is required to do two things – we must repent and we must believe the gospel. In previous teaching, God has had me going great lengths to explain what truly constitutes salvation, and what it really means to believe the gospel. I hope, in lieu of all the deception being worked in the name of Jesus (Matthew 24:5), you have a correct understanding of the gospel and saving faith. If so, you know that the ultimate goal of the gospel is to restore our relationship with God by regenerating us into holy people. To be holy is to fulfill the Law of love or to reflect the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29, Ephesians 4:17-24, James 1:22-25, 1 Peter 1:13-19). An individual must be made holy in order to see God (Hebrews 12:14). True repentance and saving faith will always secure personal holiness because God is faithful – “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). Read Philippians 2:12-13. When this divine work is not occurring in the life of a professing Christian, it is because he/she has not truly repented or has not believed the gospel or has done neither. It is then, not only essential to correctly understand and exercise saving faith, but to also grasp the nature of true repentance and give ourselves up to it. This study will be focused upon the subject of repentance, and I pray the Holy Sprit will use it to accomplish the will of God in the souls of many while inflicting a harmful blow to the powers of darkness.

To repent simply means “to change the mind”. As I’ve shown in previous studies, carnal man is entirely motivated by a supreme love for himself and thereby has a mind set upon his own happiness and his own good. This is the definition of selfishness. In declaring that man must repent, Jesus is saying that we must change our mind from being one that is set upon our own happiness and well-being to one that is set upon what pleases God and is the greatest good of His kingdom. Man has ability to change his mind, but has no ability to change his nature. Both our mindset and our nature must be changed in order to be saved. God initiates and completes this work, but we are given the responsibility of repenting and believing. When true repentance is coupled with saving faith, the Holy Spirit then unites with the soul to produce the new, divine nature in man. A more complete understanding of this is available through our teaching series titled “Free Indeed”.

There is an act of true repentance and there is an act of false repentance. Look at the words of apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:10 – “Godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (NKJV).From this verse, it is easy to see there are two motives for repentance. One is that of a “godly sorrow”, and the other is “sorrow of the world”. The motive determines whether the act of repentance is true or false. Please note that sorrow is not repentance, but is the stimulus that produces repentance. Many have an incorrect and dangerous notion that sorrow, or remorse, is equal to repentance. One may have sorrow or remorse and still not repent. When an individual is persuaded that his remorse is the act of repentance, he is deceived and still in sin. Repentance does not occur until the stimulus has moved the soul to act.

False repentance is the result of sorrow for sin arising from a concern for one’s own happiness or welfare. This is the “sorrow of the world”. There may well be anxiety over sin, but it is aroused by fears of injury to self such as disgrace, judgment, wrath, rejection, loss of personal property, and so on. Fear will never move a person to truly repent because in Romans 2:4 we see it is the goodness of God that brings man to repentance. False repentance produces attempts to abstain from sin by dreading its consequences. A conflict remains in the soul because there is conviction of sin and of judgment, but the individual continues to love sin. A man may change his actions and yet have the same end in mind – his own happiness and well-being. Suppose a person sees that doing good will be to his advantage in this world and for eternity. As a result, he begins to practice religion as a means to secure his happiness and well-being in this life and the next. Although outward actions and habits may now be altered, he is still pursuing his own happiness for his own sake. There is no virtue in this because the motive is still selfish. In such a case, the individual has been convicted of sin, but has not changed his mind about being a sinner. He will exhibit a strict and critical spirit toward certain sins while remaining sympathetic to others. The critical spirit is rooted in being self-righteous and self-justified by his religious activity. He is sympathetic in regard to other sins because he does not hate all sin, nor does he have any desire to eradicate all sin in agreement with God. Since he still loves sin, the disposition to sin is not broken; it is only checked and restrained by fear. He may have remorse for his sin, and a viable fear of its consequences, but he has not repented of being a sinner! False repentance produces a most miserable person because love of sin is always driving him/her to seek their own gratification while conviction is condemning all their actions. This is the “sorrow of the world” that produces death.

True repentance is a result of the soul coming into sympathy with God’s purposes. Conviction takes place in both false and true repentance, but with true repentance, the conviction produces more than awareness of sin, agreement with God’s judgment, and fear of wrath. It also produces a true sorrow for the harm one’s own sin has done to God, His kingdom, and fellow man. Most are familiar with the scripture in John 12:32 where, speaking of His death on the cross, Jesus says, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me”. Even though man has ability to change his mind, it was necessary for God to provide a stimulant that would override the selfish nature. Through the cross, God has expressed His love for sinful man in such a way as to not only produce awareness of guilt and God’s judgment, but to also break the heart and turn it to Him. With the broken heart, there is a godly sorrow which brings the soul to hate sin and despise self for the harm it has done to God, His kingdom, and fellow man. Then, by realizing God’s great love for sinful man, the sinner turns his heart to God. When a man’s heart has, in this way, been turned to God, it has turned away from himself. He is no longer motivated by a supreme love for himself, but by a supreme love for God. At this point, the goodness of God has brought a person’s soul into sympathy with God’s purposes. It is only when the soul is in sympathy with God’s purposes that it is prepared to receive the Holy Spirit, and this is the mark of true repentance. Then, by believing the gospel, the Holy Sprit comes to be one with the soul and fills it with the love of God (Romans 5:5). 

It is not just love for God, but God’s own love in our soul that is the source for personal holiness. Benevolence, or love, is choosing the happiness and well-being of others for their sake. In true conversion, a man’s nature (character) becomes truly benevolent.“God is love” (1 John 4:8). All His moral virtues are manifestations of His love. God does not seek the good of His creatures for the sake of promoting His own happiness, but because He delights in their well-being, and chooses it for their sake. He is pleased by promoting the greatest good of His creatures, but He does not do it for the sake of His own gratification. A regenerated man is like God in this respect. Benevolence is holiness – “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Galatians 5:14). The regenerated man yields to God’s law because God’s love is the dominant feature of his new nature. True conversion produces a change in the end of one’s pursuit. A regenerated man is not indifferent to his own happiness and well-being, but he prefers God’s glory because it is the greater good! He looks on the happiness and well-being of every individual according to its real value and chooses the greatest good as his supreme purpose. By this divine work in the heart, man may enter into God’s rest and experience perfect peace. People are under stress and suffer extreme anxiety because they are pursuing their own happiness and well-being. However, personal gratification can not be obtained by pursuing it. Like trying to catch your own shadow, it’s always just out of reach. When man is truly regenerated, he no longer pursues his own happiness. He pursues holiness, or love, and by this pursuit finds true happiness and gratification. His joy and peace now comes by simply loving God and his fellow man. For him, this is enough. If he is loving, he is satisfied, at rest, and in perfect peace with no need for any other form of gratification. His goal is to love, and when he has loved, he is fulfilled. This is why a child of God does not require a favorable response, recognition, or reward in order to love his enemies, turn the other cheek, and go the extra mile (Matthew 5:39-48).

I’m deeply concerned that vast numbers of professing Christians are attempting to live a moral life without having truly repented of being a sinner. A regenerated man and one who is deceived may agree on the value of living a moral life, but the difference lies in their motives. In 2 Corinthians 13:5, the apostle Paul wrote,“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves”. I humbly urge you, as I myself have done, to consider the things shared in this study and examine your motives . . .because motives DO matter! 

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