After chastening some of the believers in Corinth for allowing sin into their midst and then not addressing it in a God-honoring manner in what appears to have been a very “harsh” letter, the apostle Paul sent a follow-up letter in which he was able to commend those who had responded in faith and obedience:
For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. (2 Cor. 7:8-11)
Everyone is born with a conscience that brings sorrow, i.e., guilt, when he sins whether or not he fully understands the sin…at least until repeated, willful, rebellious sin hardens his heart and scars his conscience. But that sorrow, “the sorrow of the world,” does not save. It only produces pain and misery. However, “the sorrow that is according to the will of God” saves the repentant sinner from both the bondage of sin and the misery of its consequences. So what produces this holy repentance? How can the woeful sinner “get it” or, better, “do it” and find the deliverance and the peace that only God can give?
To begin, we must understand that the repentance that leads to salvation is not self-generated. In other words, the sinner cannot “work it up” in himself. Rather, saving repentance is a gift or “grant” from God! Paul makes this very clear in his instructions to the young minister Timothy regarding how he is to minister to willful sinners under his charge.
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26)
David’s instructions to his son, Solomon, expressed this truth in a slightly different way…
“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever. (1 Chronicles 28:9)
as did Azariah’s exhortation to king Asa.
Now the Spirit of God came on Azariah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: the Lord is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. (2 Chronicles 15:1-2)
The key to understanding saving repentance is found in the truths in these passages that immediately precede the conditional statements which I have placed in bold type. Specifically,
What produces the repentance that saves is love, both the love of the sinner for God, and the love of God for the sinner. When a sinner comes to truly love the Lord his God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength, he will abandon his love of self, and quit “opposing” the Lord’s word (His truth) and rule over his life. To put it differently, when the sinner’s heart issue is resolved in the Lord’s favor, the Lord, who “searches all hearts,” will see this change of heart and “let” the sinner find Him via His “grant” of the repentance that leads to salvation. The sinner’s willing appropriation and exercise of the holy gift of repentance “opens” the door for his entrance into God’s glorious presence. Here he is gathered into His loving arms where he will enjoy the peace and security of the omnipotent grace of His now pleased heavenly Father.
IN A NUTSHELL
When the sinner comes to love the Lord with all his heart, he will submit to the Lord with all his will and turn from all his sin. This is true repentance. Upon true repentance, all sin is forgiven, the breech that sin had caused is eliminated, and blessed peace and fellowship with the Lord is fully realized.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.” (Hebrews 3:12-15)
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
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