The believer in Christ Jesus is a lifelong repenter. He begins with repentance and continues in repentance (Romans 8:12-13).

David sinned giant sins but fell without a stone at the mere finger of the prophet because he was a repenter at heart (2 Samuel 12:7-13). Peter denied Christ three times but suffered three times the remorse until he repented with bitter tears (Matthew 26:75).

Every Christian is called to be a repenter. The Bible assumes the repentant nature of all true believers in its instruction on church discipline. A man unwilling to repent at the loving rebuke of the church can be considered nothing more than “a Gentile [an unbeliever] and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17 esv).

Repentance is a change of mind regarding sin and God. It is an inward turning from sin to God which is known by its fruit: obedience (Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20; Luke 13:5-9). It is hating what you once loved and loving what you once hated, exchanging irresistible sin for an irresistible Christ.

The true repenter is cast on God. Faith is his only option. He will have faith or he will have despair; conviction will either deliver him or devour him.

The religious man often deceives himself in his repentance. The believer may sin the worst of sins, it is true; but to remain in the love of sin, or to be comfortable in the atmosphere of sin, is a deadly sign. The deceived repenter would be a worse sinner if he could, but society holds him back. He aspires to a heaven of light-hearted ease and recreation, but a heaven of holiness would be hell to such a man. Yet God is holy, and God is in heaven.

So what are the substitutes for true repentance?

  1. Have I reformed my actions without repenting in my heart?

  2. Have I experienced the emotion of repentance without the effect of it?

  3. Have I spoken the words of a repenter without truly repenting?

  4. Have I repented for fear of the consequences of sin alone, rather than for hatred of sin?

  5. Do I talk against sin in pubic while failing to repent in private?

  6. Have I repented more for temporal gain rather than the glory of God?

  7. Have I repented of lesser sins while avoiding my greater sins?

  8. Do I repent so generally that I fail to repent of specific sins?

  9. Have I repented for love of friends and religious leaders rather than for the love of God?

  10. Have I confessed past sinful actions while failing to repent of the continuing habit of sin?

  11. Have I professed to repent of my sin, while still leaving open the door to return to that sin?

  12. Have I made an effort to repent of some sins while failing to repent of all the sin of which I am aware?

Repentance and faith are bound together. A repenting man has no hope for obedience without faith in the source of all holiness: God Himself. In repenting of sins, he loses his self-sufficiency.

Repentance is a gift of God (Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25) as well as a duty of man (Acts 17:30; Luke 13:3). Do not wait for it—run toward it! Pursue repentance, and you will find it.


Adapted from “The Unrepenting Repenter” by Jim Elliff.