We have been asking What is the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ? (207) In another article (216) we looked at the two conditions for being forgiven: repentance and faith. Because we can never cover all of the bases in any one article, we find ourselves coming back again and again to the concepts introduced in articles preceding. So it is in this one. I want to return to the issue of repentance.
It is necessary to consider repentance in a bit more depth because of the flawed notions of repentance that many people entertain. Recently I had a person tell me of two habits that they indulged in that they considered somewhat sinful and then they raised their hand toward heaven and said, God forgive me. But it was clear that the desire for forgiveness was simply a desire to be permitted to continue in the behavior without having to pay the price for so doing. This is not repentance; this is simply saying insincere words.
This raises the question of the real essence of repentance. What does it mean to repent? When Jesus came preaching the Gospel in Mark 1:15, He said, "...repent ye, and believe in the Gospel." (ASV). Before Jesus did this, John the Baptizer came on the scene preaching, "Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2; ASV). What did they intend for their audiences to do in response to their command to repent?
Fortunately for us we have a biblical definition of what repentance is. When John is cast in the mode of preaching, his message is summarized by the word repent, but it is illustrated by his identity as the voice crying in the wilderness. This identity is given by the prophet Isaiah, and in the place where Isaiah predicts John's coming, he claimed that this voice would be calling for the building of a level highway for God in the wilderness. John calls this commission to build a level highway a commission to preach repentance. In this we have the essence of what he understood repentance to be. For John, people's hearts are like the terrain of the wilderness--filled with mountains of pride and valleys of despair. To build a level highway requires that the mountains be brought down and the valleys be filled up. So, repentance means to bring down the pride and fill up the holes of despair. In other words, repentance is coming to a particular attitude; an attitude in which there is no pride nor any despair. In two words, repentance is humble confidence, or confident humility. This translates into two interconnected concepts. The first is humility, which is the absence of self-confidence; and the second is confidence, which is the presence of confidence in God as willing and able to help us. The person who comes to repentance is one who has come down from the mountain of pride (the attitude of self-reliance and self-confidence) and ascends out of the pits of despair (believing that God is willing and able to help). Repentance is the twin declaration: "I need Him and He will help me." Can you say that honestly? This is true repentance, but what of faith? Another article. (218)