Pondering Problems with Repentance

One of the key components of biblical change is repentance. The biblical understanding of repentance is to change one's mind, to abhor past sin (Thayers) and to turn away from sin and to turn towards Christ. When loved ones fail to repent of their sin and turn to Christ despite our prayers and pleadings we often wonder why. The answer is that repentance is a gift of God.  No one can repent apart from the action of the Holy Spirit in their lives. 

...with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth... 2 Tim 2:25 (NASB)

Some parents fret and worry about their children, fearing that they won't be saved "in time."  The Lord provides encouragement for us by telling us that those God has foreordained unto salvation (Eph. 1:4,5) will not leave this earth apart from Christ. 

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

Once a person has turned to Christ for salvation and by God's grace repented of their sinful life apart from Christ the expectation is that they will address long-standing sin habits and issues in their life. The issues can be easily overcome or take a lot of work and time. This is where the Biblical Counselor often comes into the picture. 

It is not unusual for a counselee to become a counselee because of an inability to overcome habitual sin. Even with biblical counseling a counselee can fail to overcome a life-dominating sin while claiming they have repented. 

What does real repentance look like in a Christian? This is a question I have asked myself many times over the years.  When a person repents, does this mean that they will never commit that particular sin again? Does it mean they will not struggle with it anymore? Does it mean they stop doing that action but are only going through the motions to satisfy others? How can I know someone has truly repented when they say they have?  I have asked myself these very questions many times over the years. 

What else does the Bible say about repentance? One important thing we see is that there is to be visible evidence of repentance (Acts 26:20). In other words, if a person claims they have repented of a certain sin, there should be actions that support their statement. 

And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Luke 17:4 (NASB)

I think Jesus said this for more than one reason; there is of course the emphasis on forgiveness but there is also the understanding that even when a person says, "I repent" they may still really struggle in changing. This does not mean a person is free to sin with abandon or to sin without any care or thought about it, for that would violate what Paul said in Romans 6. 

I believe a struggling Christian is much more like what Paul declared in Romans 7: 

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (vv. 14-21 NASB)

I know many Christians who have repented, struggle and despise the sin they cannot seem to overcome. Their sin makes them miserable and they desperately desire to conquer it.  With this in mind, what is it that holds them back? 

We will have to save that for tomorrow, for it is a longer discussion than I have space for here.