In these bulletin articles, we’ve been going through a list of questions and answers contained in the Westminster Larger Catechism, published in the 17th Century. Recently, we’ve been looking at the mediation Christ makes for his church and we’ve seen that part of Christ’s mediation is granting repentance. We learnt that repentance involves sensing the danger and filthiness of sin, apprehending God’s mercy, grieving over sin and hating it. But what else does repentance involve?
Repentance also involves a turning from sin to God. The Greek word in the New Testament that we translate as ‘repentance’ literally means ‘change of mind’. So repentance means to turn from something to something else.
Thus, for the Christian, repentance means you make up your mind to stop doing wrong. But it also means you make up your mind to start doing right. It is not as though you stop sinning and therefore you have repented. That would be a 90 degree turn to some sort of neutral territory. True repentance is a 180 degree turn from sin to serving God. Before the Christian repents, he is always walking toward sin. Once he is converted, he walks toward God.
Jesus himself teaches this fundamental understanding of repentance when he speaks to Saul on the Damascus road. Paul recounts this when he testifies to King Agrippa. Paul says: ’14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ ” ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have
Appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’ (Acts 26:14-18). Paul is sent to the Gentiles to turn them. But not just to turn from darkness. The Gentiles must also turn to the light.
And this is what the church in Thessalonica did. Paul says that everyone knew about the repentance of the Thessalonians: ‘7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia–your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath’ (1 Thessalonians 1:7-10). The Thessalonians turned from idols. Yes. But they also turned to serve the living and true God.
So repentance is a 180 degree turn. And then you stop. What you don’t want is to turn 360 degrees and return to sin!
So have you repented by turning your mind from sin to God?