God Grants Repentance
In humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance,
so that they may know the truth,
2 Timothy 2:25 NKJ
Question 76 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “What is repentance unto life?” It gives the answer, “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God's mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavouring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.” Last week we saw how God, in repentance, gives sinners the grace to see their sins as they really are. This week we will look at how God, in giving the grace of repentance, also enables sinners to see the Lord Jesus Christ as He really is.
God saves sinners by grace. We talked about this truth last time. Jesus Christ earned our salvation and the means through which God has ordained that we receive that salvation. These means are referred to by the Catechism as saving graces, because through them God saves the sinner. In salvation the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believing sinner, even as his sins (by the secret election of God) were imputed to Christ on the cross. God sovereignly brings the sinner into the salvation purchased by Christ when the Spirit, has “wrought” justifying faith and repentance unto life into his heart by the Word of God (see above and WLC #72). Once again, we notice the similarity of faith and repentance. In question 72, “What is justifying faith?” the Catechism’s answer included the sinner “being convinced of his sin and misery,” even as here in today’s question, part of the Catechism’s understanding of “repentance unto life” includes the sinner’s “apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ.”
Before the saving grace of repentance has been wrought into his heart, the sinner does not see Christ as He truly is. He may academically understand that God will forgive penitent sinners through Christ. He may even perceive that he is a sinner in the sight of God and deserves God’s punishment and that the Lord Jesus Christ earned the righteousness God requires and shed His blood to pay for the sins of God’s elect. He may apprehend these things in his mind and he may even agree that they are true. But unless or until God, by His Spirit and Word, has wrought repentance into his heart, he is not repentant. He is not sorry for his sins, though he may be sorry for the pain they have brought him, or for the judgment he finds himself liable to. He does not grieve over his sins, though he may grieve over his hurts. He does not hate his sins, though he may hate those on whom he blames them. He does not turn from his sins to God, though he may turn from one kind of sin to another. And finally, he does not seek to walk with God in obedience to God’s commands, though he may try to more outwardly conform to them to deceive himself and others.
True repentance must be sincere. It must be real. In repentance the sinner sees God’s mercy in Christ, and he sees that this mercy is only to those who are penitent. That is, only to those who are truly sorry for their sins. To be truly sorry for your sins is to fully take responsibility for them. The repentant man does not blame his sins on others or on his circumstances. He will not allow his sins to be excused for any reason. He refuses to minimize them or quibble over words in order to hide or deny them. The truly repentant sinner searches his heart to find his sins. He wants to find them! He wants to find them precisely because he sees God’s mercy is in Christ only to those who are penitent. And he is penitent! He is sorry for his sins. He is not sorry for the evils, pains, sufferings, and hurts they have brought to him. The penitent man does not consider how much he has suffered, for he knows his suffering is far less than he really deserves. No, his sorrow is entirely over the fact that he has offended God. The God who is worthy of all obedience, honor, and worship, he has disobeyed, dishonored, and blasphemed! And so he grieves over his sins for what they are to God. And he hates his sins because of what they would say about God. The truly repentant man wants to please God more than himself because, by the grace of God, he sees sin in all of its ugliness, and God in all of His beauty. His love for God compels him to keep God’s commandments. Praise God for the grace of repentance!