A Fresh Look at Repentance: Part 2
By: Frank Tunstall, D. Min.
How important that we rethink our doctrine of repentance and rediscover sin is sin precisely because it violates God.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love,” King David pled following his tryst with Bathsheba that ended in her pregnant and her husband murdered. “According to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:1-4 NIV).
David had it right in his repentance. His sin first-and-foremost was against God; he had grossly violated the heart of God. I must admit, dear reader, I struggled a long time with the “you only” in David’s prayer. Then one day I realized it was David’s sin against God that made his acts such wicked sins against Bathsheba and Uriah her husband.
- Have we come to believe our sins are only against the people we harm?
- Does our doctrine of the love of God communicate we do not need to repent, as David did?
- Do we reason because God is love it means our sins do not hurt God?
How important that we rethink our doctrine of repentance and rediscover sin is sin precisely because it violates God. We must then let that understanding inform our doctrine of repentance. David prayed, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” We must never forget sin has made a huge gap between us and God, and it can be healed only when we cry out in repentance because we have violated God. God is justified when He speaks and judges, precisely because our sins are against Him. It is then, when we repent before God, that He can forgive us and is justified doing it because of His brutal sacrifice on the cross – His death in our place.
We are only making the gap wider when we try to deal with our sins by asserting our own self-righteousness – the idea that God is love, and He will welcome me into His heaven because of my own works of righteousness. How offensive before God that kind of thinking must be! If our righteousness can save us, Jesus was a fool to go to Golgotha and sacrifice His life for us.
“We Jews know we have no advantage of birth over ‘non-Jewish sinners,’ wrote the Apostle Paul to the Galatians. “We know very well we are not set right with God by rule-keeping, but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it — and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen [613 commandments, italics mine]. Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good” (Galatians 2:15-16, MSG).
Justification is a legal term. The indictment asserts I was in rebellion against God, dear reader, and you were too. In fact, all people everywhere, with no exceptions, are guilty of rebellion against God. We have no plea to make. We can never even do enough works of righteousness to mount a defense. The Law makes clear we are guilty as charged. No option is left. We must take the penalty, die in our sins, and face the judgment of eternal punishment in the devil’s hell, with the record of our sins kept forever on the court ledger.
It is at precisely this point the gospel of Jesus Christ is such good news. It offers one way out. When in genuine repentance we get right with God, then we can place our trust in the sacrificial death of Jesus to keep His promises and forgive and forget about our sins. But the Holy Spirit is no fool, as Ananias and his wife learned (Acts 5:1-8). The Spirit knows our hearts, including when we have genuinely repented and confessed Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus, not us, defines the meaning of ‘meaning it.’
Honestly it is almost too good to be true, but it is true. This is what Calvary was all about. As the gift of God, our Messiah did indeed love us enough to go to the cross with our sins on His heart. It’s amazing. When we repent and mean it, Jesus forgives us and erases all the charges against us in the court records of heaven. Jesus lets us walk out of court as free people – justified – with our record wiped clean of all present and past sin.
Such love; such wondrous love.
This plan of redemption was achieved with a new covenant built around the sacrificial death of God’s only Son. Jesus’ blood atones for every person who in heartfelt repentance accepts Him as the Son of God. This transaction takes place in a person’s heart with the blessing of “credited righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
When this repentance occurs, Jesus deposits His righteousness in the heart of the justified believer. This launches a new beginning of peace and holiness between God and man that endures for a lifetime, and lasts thereafter as long as eternity rolls.
The English Magna Carta is remembered in history as a written agreement between England’s King Henry III and the barons of England (the large land-holders). It was signed in 1215 at Runnymede in England. Magna Carta was a first effort by the barons to put some limits on the powers of the English monarchy.
The term Magna Carta, or ‘Great Charter,’ as used in this article symbolizes the magnificent gift of God that resolves the huge gap, not between a land holder and a king, but between a Holy God and sinful man. This is achieved with a new covenant built around the sacrificial death of God’s only Son in our place. Jesus’ blood atones for every person who in heartfelt repentance accepts Jesus as the Son of God.
This is the justifying grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. “All of us… can have the promised Holy Spirit through this faith” (Galatians 3:14, TLB).