Where Did That Come From?

Where Did That Come From?

Psalm 51:5-6
by Bob Burridge ©2012

When we do stupid or sinful things, and we begin to feel the guilt or suffer the consequences, we often look back on it and wonder, “Where did that come from?” “Why did I do that?”

Our fallen nature does not like to admit the truth of it, so it comes up with some very creative attempts to explain it away more acceptably.

One very popular excuse is the “blame the teacher” approach. Perhaps we do wrong things because we were taught to behave that way by our parents, school teachers, friends, and those nasty movies and television shows to which we were subjected. So it’s not our fault. We blame it on those who have influenced us.

Then there is the “blame laziness” approach. We say, “I’ll just have to try harder next time.” There is a little more personal responsibility in this explanation for our transgressions, but it also minimizes the seriousness of the matter. It is as if we are saying, “I am better than it appears. I just slacked off a bit. I just needed a little more effort is all.”

A nice dodge of accountability can be found in the “blame the circumstances” approach. This is where we convince ourselves we had no other choice but to do something technically wrong. Since God is sovereign over all his creation, it amounts to a “blame God” approach.

Another very creative set of excuses is found in the “It’s not really wrong” approach. Blame is placed upon the church, overly strict parents, or a society with unrealistic standards. It is very common and acceptable to the fallen heart to say we only seem to sin because the standards are unfairly set too high.

These tragic misunderstandings of where sin comes from leave us locked in its grip and discouraged. They never deal with the cause. They only attempt to cover up the problem, and explain away the consequences.

Rather than acting surprised or victimized when we do wrong, a better question to ask is, “Where does God say our sin comes from?”

King David had sinned horribly in his lust and adultery with Bathsheba. He made repeated efforts to cover it up, including risking Israel’s national security by having his troops pull back in battle to leave Bathsheba’s faithful husband to be killed. David paid a heavy price for that one night of sin.

When God’s prophet confronted him with it, we see how a true believer responds to his sin. David admitted that what he did was wrong. He grieved and humbly repented before God. He did not make excuses or put on a display of sorrow to win the sympathy of the people. His heart was broken. He repented, and wrote this moving Psalm from which we all can learn.

We have already studied the first four verses.

Psalm 51:1-4
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me.
4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.

Then David continued by owning up to the real source of his sin.

Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.”

When a verse begins with the word “behold” we know we are about to look at something important. He was not telling God to behold something his all-knowing Lord had not noticed. He was humbly saying to God that he was no longer going to try to hide the depth of his own depravity.

The poet Robert Burns around the end of the 18th century was in church when he noticed a bug crawling on the bonnet of a well dressed lady in front of him. He wrote his famous poem To a Louse. It was about how differently we might come across to others while thinking we look quite impressive. In old English he wrote: “Oh wad some power the giftie gie us; To see oursels as ithers see us!” Today we would approximately translate it, “Oh would some power the gift he give us; To see ourselves as others see us!”

Here David sees a greater gift, to see ourselves as God sees us. David had seen the awful corruption of his own human nature. He knew that it had infected his heart from the moment he was conceived in his mother’s womb.

David admitted where his sin came from. God assigned Adam to represent all the humans who would naturally descend from him. When he sinned, guilt and moral corruption spread to everyone who would be ever born. The only exception is the birth of Jesus who was specially conceived by the Holy Spirit. We call this inherited condition original sin.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes this biblical fact in Question 16, “The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.”

More simply, the old New England primer said, “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”

The Bible is clear about this. Paul summarized how we got to be sinners in his letters to the early churches. In Romans 5:12 he wrote, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men …” Then in 1 Corinthians 15:22 he explained, “For as in Adam all die …”

Our guilt and the corruption that moves us to sin are inherited. Sin is a congenital disease of the soul, and a universal infection of all souls. Psalm 58:3 says, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.”

By saying that he was a sinner from his conception, David was not excusing his sin as if he could not help it. David was confessing that he had done wrong because he was responsibly corrupt from the beginning and in need of a Savior.

Original sin leaves our souls morally inclined to displease God. We are born in sin. We all know that the fruit of a tree reveals its true nature. Apples being produced proves we have an apple tree. Sin being produced, proves that we have a corrupted heart.

Some are quick to say, “But, I’m a Christian! Isn’t that corruption taken away now?” It’s true that believers are forgiven for their sin because Jesus paid the penalty for it in their place. He clothes them with his own perfect righteousness by crediting it to those who have not deserved or earned it. He also renders them able to have truly God-honoring motives, and to be able to honor God both outwardly and inwardly, but always imperfectly in this earthly life. The infection of sin is not yet fully removed. Even redeemed hearts still sin. Only in our glorification after death is sin’s power eradicated from us. Until then we struggle as did King David when he wrote this Psalm.

We have conflicting moral desires. On the one hand we want to do good because of God’s love at work in us. But there is that not yet eradicated evil present within us too. We sometimes do what displeases our Savior. This reminds us that we are only sinners saved by Grace. This was Paul’s experience as he explained in Romans 7:23, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”

David realized that his recent flood of sins exposed what had been there all along. It was only God’s merciful restraint that had sometimes put chains upon his depravity. God never withdraws our salvation, but he does at times leave us to ourselves to see what we would be without his constant provision.

In this life, there remains some corruption in our hearts no matter what we do. No one can perfectly remove all selfish motives and purely do all for God’s glory alone, or always keep from wavering in times of stress or temptation. So sometimes God lets us see those remains of sin at work in us.

One of the hardest things for parents to do is to let their children make their own mistakes. Certainly they never let them do dangerous or fatal things. However, there are times when they lovingly step back to let them learn the limits of what they can do. God as our loving Father sometimes lets us see how much we need to rely upon his grace.

When we discover the depth of sin in us, it drives home the truth that all the good we do is purely a result of his merciful work in our hearts. We learn that since sin is in us from birth, we cannot blame our circumstances, our upbringing, or our human choices. This also means that our victory over it does not come by the efforts of men. For God’s children it is more sure than that.

No one has a natural advantage or disadvantage before God. Those brought up in a godly surrounding are greatly blessed, but no less corrupt from birth. Those deprived of good surroundings, are no more depraved in their souls. Refinements do not make a Christian. If you refine a depraved sinner with all the culture and manners imaginable, all you end up with is a very cunning and skillful sinner who believes he doesn’t need a Savior.

Our depravity is not overcome by our efforts or refinement. It is conquered only by grace through God’s application of the work of Christ.

In that inner place where we have in-born sin,
God desires to insert his truth and wisdom.

Psalm 51:6, “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.”

Again, here is something David calls God to behold. This time it is not the fact of his original sin that David so humbly holds up before God. Here it is God’s own holy expectation which is satisfied in us only by grace.

What God desires is what ought to be found in man’s innermost being. The place he speaks of here is where our desires and motives lie. God is not impressed merely with our outward show, or our words.

To Israel, David looked like a godly king all the while this cover-up was going on. But the king knew that what he appeared to be was not what he really was. We can often fool those around us for awhile, maybe for a long while. We may even fool ourselves for a time. In 1 Samuel 16:7 God warned Samuel not to look at a man’s appearance or stature, “… For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

That’s where the corruption lies, deep under the appearances we put up to make us look good. It is the heart that is corrupt, and that continues to tempt us even as believers. While we remain imperfect in this life we are potential sinners even as David was. James 4:1 asks, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” The desires deep inside us are what cause the moral conflicts that often snare us and hurts others.

David shows us an important contrast in these two verses. First he confesses the problem of his inherited iniquity and sin. Then he turns the spotlight to what ought to be there in its place, God’s desire for truth in our hearts. He does not want to find imaginings or false beliefs there.

We need to have in our hearts an awareness of our real inner nature. If we do not admit that we need a Savior, we are lost in hopelessness. Even as believers we need to admit our need to continually rely upon God’s grace. Otherwise we are living a lie.

Truth is that which agrees with what God knows. For us, it is that which conforms with what has been revealed to us by our Eternal Lord. We need to replace the lies with honesty. If we hope in fantasies about our moral nature, or rely upon mere wishes of what we would like to be true, we will never find real solutions. If we look to our own imagined abilities to overcome our problems, we will never discover God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and deliverance in Christ.

Next David pleads with God that he would come to have wisdom. He does not mean that he wants his IQ to increase, or to improve his memory. He does not mean he wants a more analytical mind or a more creative genius. The wisdom he means here is of the heart, not of just the head. One ancient writer spoke of a “full head and an empty heart.”

David wanted God to improve his ability to accept the truth and to follow after the right path. On that night of temptation he thought that a moment of sin with the beautiful Bathsheba would give him a good moment of pleasure. Godly wisdom would have judged that there is no real pleasure in things that displease God.

Moses showed this wisdom when he sided with the calling of God in Hebrews 11:24-25, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,”

Wisdom is found in those desires which conform to what God says is true and good. God does not want outward show. He wants inward truth, holiness, and devotion to moral purity. So we must have our hearts united with Christ if our outward behavior is to be enabled to truly honor God. When obedience is externalized the most we can hope for is to put on a good act.

Because of the inner origin of sin, an inner cure is needed. God wants truth and wisdom in there where sin tries to dominate our lives from birth. Though in Adam we were created in holiness, ever since his fall humans are conceived as sinful beings. We must be redeemed to inward holiness if we are to enjoy God’s blessings in this life and forever.

Our fallen nature’s answer is like the plan of a cheap handy-man. When the wood of a wall or fence is rotten and brittle, it can sometimes be covered over with heavy coats of paint. Though that might make it look acceptable or even beautiful from the outside, the fence or wall is rotten at its very core and will not hold up when it is stressed.

In the same way we can often put on good outward behavior, even religious behavior, while inwardly the heart is deceptive and self-centered. There can be no hope or confidence before God until there is a changed heart. This transformation by grace will show itself in humble confession and repentance and by seeking God’s provision in Christ.

There is an important and encouraging message for us in this Psalm. Though the setting is one of tragic sin and its discovery, David points us to the wonderful cure.

Before we get to the remedy, we need to realize that there can never be real spiritual progress or confident inward assurance until we are brought to see the real problem. By understanding the source and nature of our inward corruption we can begin to deal with it at the source. A polluted stream cannot be cleaned up if the source of pollution is not stopped.

Our own behavior and that of those around us can be confusing and discouraging. We do things we know are neither wise nor moral, and when the fleeting moment of imagined pleasure is gone we ask ourselves, “Where did that come from?” “Why did I do such a stupid thing?” When our eyes are opened to see where sin originates in us we can finally understand the moral struggles we face daily without searching for foolish excuses.

When we understand the impossibility of moral progress on our own, we can begin to understand the amazing work of grace in our lives. We can also have hope for those around us who seem irretrievably lost. The most evil people on earth can be transformed by the work of our Redeemer. Believers who fall deeply into sin as did King David, can also discover a sense of complete forgiveness when the appreciate what our Savior accomplished on the Cross of Calvary.

We learn from this Psalm to own up to our sin, then to deal with it effectively by coming to the Lord, our only hope for restoration, forgiveness, and the promise of victory.

John Calvin began his Institutes of the Christian Religion with these words, ” … We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him. On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced. …” (Institutes 1:1:1-2)

Paul wrote in Romans 6:17-18, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Does God Repent of Things He Has Done?

Does God Repent of Things He Has Done?

by Bob Burridge ©2012, 2023

Some texts in the Bible can seem confusing when taken by themselves. To overcome the confusion we need to remember some important principles.

1. What did the words mean to the original readers?
2. How does the text fit into the flow of thought in the Bible?
– first there’s the local context: What’s the flow of thought in the rest of the book where the passage is found?
– then there’s the theological context: What God had revealed about this in the other inspired books?
– and there’s the historical context: what had God made known up to the time of that writing?

In about 30 places in the Bible
it says that God was “sorry” about
something, or that he “repented”.

Genesis 6:6-7 is a prime example. The English Standard Version translates it this way:

6. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
7. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

The King James Version translates verses 6-7 this way:

6. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
7. And the LORD said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.’ “

Did God regret something he had done? Did he really repent as if he had made a mistake? Did God wish he could change what he had formerly done? First we need to take a look at the larger context. What do clear Bible passages teach about God’s nature?

God’s nature is “immutable” (he does not change).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism answer to question 4 is, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”

If this is true, God can never regret, make errors, or change his plans. God’s knowledge includes everything that will ever happen. There can be no reason for him to wish he could change or modify what he does.

James makes a direct statement in his epistle in James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

With God the Father there is “no variation”. The original Greek word there is “parallagae” (παραλλαγη). This is an astronomical term. From it we get the word “parallax”, a term still used in astronomy. In ancient times they could see that constellations appeared in different places as the seasons changed. Some dots of light in night sky moved into different constellations. They called them “wandering stars” (planets). Some objects in the night sky change their brightness regularly. With God there’s no variableness like what we see in the night sky.

With God there is “no shadow due to change” (tropaes aposkiasma, τροπης αποσκιασμα). This is another astronomical term, It has to do with changes in shadows cast by the sun and moon. As the sun and moon change their positions in the sky during the day or night, there is an observable change in the length and direction of the shadows they cast. This expression was used in reference to the eclipses of the sun and moon. Darkness took over parts of them. With God the Creator there is no such change. He is a steady and reliable light.

There is a direct statement in Psalm 102:26-27 about the earth and the heavens, “They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.” This reminds us that though the earth and heavens change with time. Their Creator doesn’t change.

There are many texts where God’s inability to change is made clear. For example, Numbers 23:19, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” And Malachi 3:6, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”

God has all things under his sovereign control as it says in Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the LORD pleases,
he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.”

Ephesians 1:11-12, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.”

God even controls the plans of humans. Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.”

Open Theism teaches that God is open to change and adjusts his plans to new circumstances. Those promoting this view reject the biblilcal attributes of God (immutable, omnipotent, omniscient …). They say it’s wrong to view God as infinite and unchangeable. However, their view is based upon total misunderstandings of what the Bible actually says. They misuse the verses about God repenting or changing as if he regrets things he’s done.

So then, How Does an Unchangeable God Repent?

The Hebrew word here for “repent” or “change” is nakham (נחם). It’s translated many ways in the Bible depending upon the context. Most often it is translated either “to be sorry”, “to repent”, or “to comfort”, seemingly very different ideas.

The Brown Driver and Briggs Hebrew Lexicon (BDB) defines it this way: “to be sorry, to be consoled, to be moved to pity, to have compassion, to be comforted, to be relieved.”

Uses of this Hebrew word show that it describes the reaction of a person to some sorrowful event. The person grieves over the tragedy of some event or situation. The person longs to find comfort from those sorrowful feelings. The focus of the word is upon the impact some disturbing thing has had upon him. The word doesn’t fit with our English words “repent” or “regret” as we commonly use those words today.

When we repent over our sins, our response is grief over the offense they cause to God. When God “repents” he has nothing to regret in himself. He has nothing for which to be sorry. God answers to no one but himself and to his own perfect and eternal plan. The sins of mankind offend him deeply. These sorrowful occurrences are used by God as means to accomplish all he’d purposed to happen. When God observes these tragic outworkings of evil, he is grieved over the sin, but he turns them into occasions to reveal his justice in his judgments, and his mercy in redemption. The word nakham (נחם) beautifully conveys this response.

To communicate to us the offense toward God which is produced by the sins of his creatures, the Bible uses a human response we all understand. We often experience grief, sorrow, and a need for consolation. When a human emotion is used to explain how God responds to something, we call it an “anthropopathism”, a human feeling.

We are probably more familiar with the term, “anthropomorphism”, a human-like physical thing. That’s when some physical part of man is used to represent something about God. The Eternal God has no physical body. He is revealed as spirit. However, the Bible speaks of God’s hands, eyes, feet, wings, feathers, … etc. These communicate to us that he controls, sees, comforts, and such things.

In an “anthropopathism” some emotion or feeling of man is used to explain something about God. God’s spirit nature is very different in comparison with our human nature. Yet to know how much God is offended by sin and rebellion, these human terms are used to communicate to us his response in a way we can understand. Changes in how God treats people are based upon changes in them, not upon changes in God. It shows how God reveals his unfolding decrees to us in our timeline.

In Eden before the fall, God is seen blessing man in his innocence. Then he casts man out for his sin and deep offense. In the time of Noah he warned that the whole human race deserved destruction. By grace he chose Noah and preserved the human race beyond the flood.

All of these events of history were carried out according to God’s decree. The plan included allowing man to sin. God’s judgments show no change neither in God’s mind, nor in his plan. His sorrow shows us the affront of sin to his holiness.

The changes in human relationships with God reflect the Creator’s eternal and immutable decree as it unfolds. His plan takes into account human rebellions which accomplish his goal, even though that means enduring great offense from men’s sins.

Now we apply this to the text in Genesis 6:6-7

6. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
7. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (ESV)

Regret has no place here at all. God cannot regret or make mistakes. Even the grief of God in verse 6 is not the same as human grief. God’s eternal blessedness is never interrupted even though in time God permitted sin. In Romans 1:25 God is said to be “blessed forever.” Dr. Charnock points out that grief as we know it is inconsistent with undefiled blessedness. God’s blessedness can’t be impaired or interrupted. This language is an accommodation to our “limited creaturely capacity” to understand.

Genesis 6:6 reflects a change in God’s treatment of mankind, not a change in his plan. It fulfills his unchanging resolution to punish justly, and it shows how he detests sin. If God regretted, or admitted that his plan did not turn out as he intended, it would be contrary to direct statements where God tells us that he is totally Sovereign, and that he’s foreseen all that will come to pass.

Our unchangeable God can never regret what he’s done. Passages that appear to say otherwise need to be more carefully examined to understand the point being made.
1. Consider what God has directly stated elsewhere. This rules out what the passages cannot mean. God is perfect. His plan is unchangeable. No Bible passage can teach that God regrets or repents as we do.

2. Discover what the original words mean, and how they were commonly used. The word translated as “repent” or “sorry” is not equivalent to our word “regret”. It’s mainly about his discomfort connected with sorrowful things.

3. Consider the attitude of God described in these passages. We need to understand what the human emotion represents in the infinite and unchangeable being of God. God is offended by sin. It appalls him. It causes what was created in a blessed state to be treated at a later time with judgment and contempt.

God’s immutability is both a sober warning, and a comforting assurance. God’s true nature is an uncomfortable fact for those who remain unredeemed by Christ. For those brought into the family of God by grace, it is a wonderful truth. God can’t go back on his promises, nor can his plan fail in any way. His blessings and judgments are sure.

Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

Repentance and Godly Sorrow

Repentance and Godly Sorrow

by Bob Burridge ©2011
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 87)
(watch the video)

People are often very regretful about having done something wrong, particularly when they have to pay the consequences. However, just wishing they did things differently, and regretting the results, is far from truly repenting for what they had done.

While sitting in jail, a convicted felon might be filled with regrets. He might wish he had planned and executed his crime better to avoid getting caught. He might wish he had been able to get away from the police better when they came after him. He might regret hiring the lawyer that got him convicted. When a person is sorry for his sins in this way, he is not repentant. It is nothing more than self-centered regret.

There is a godly kind of sorrow for sin.

Real repentance is not just concern about the personal consequences of mistakes we make. It centers upon the offense to God which our sins produce. 2 Corinthians 7:10 makes a contrast between these two kinds of sorrow. It says, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

The world sorrows over the inconveniences caused by sin. This is a selfish kind of grief. The fact that it offends God only enters the picture in how God might punish the guilty party. When discipline in a society or home is only a matter of rewards and punishments, it trains people to weigh what they do against the cost of the personal consequences. So crime is avoided simply because it “doesn’t pay.” They figure that if they get caught and have to go to jail, it might not be worth taking the chance.

That is the attitude that makes people drive over the speed limit when the police are not around. They easily lie if they think they can get away with it, and if it helps them out in some way. They steal from their taxes, steal from God’s tithe, or shoplift things in stores. It’s why children often risk the consequences to break the rules their parents make.

There is a far greater reason to avoid doing what’s wrong.

Moral judgments should not be based upon what benefit we get from them. They should be measured by how they either please or offend God. We are not here for our own advancement. We advance so that God will be honored.

I often think of Eric Liddell, the Scottish olympic runner whose story was told in the movie Chariots of Fire. He clearly let his fans, friends, and opponents know that he was not running for his own glory. He ran for God, for his honor. In one of the race scenes another runner hands Liddell a scrap of paper. There’s a Bible verse on it: 1 Samuel 2:30, “…he who honors Me, I will honor…” Eric holds the paper tightly in his fist during the whole race.

This is why we should work hard and do our best when we scrub our floors, write our lessons or sermons, do our homework, produce our products, serve our customers, heal the sick, defend the accused, or whatever we’re expected to do here in this life. We owe all we are and have to God and to him alone. Our abilities to work, create, save, and produce are only ours because of God’s mercy.

When we do things that displease God, it ought to trouble us deeply. If we are redeemed in Christ, it ought to drive us to repentance.

Westminster Shorter Catechism question 87 asks, “What is repentance unto life?”
Answer: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”

True repentance is not natural in our fallen souls.
It is an evangelical grace.

Repentance is an ability implanted by God’s gracious work of regeneration. Along with faith in the redeeming work of Christ, and the beginning of real spiritual growth, God makes us able to see our sins for what they are, and to repent of them.

Contrary to popular thinking, the Bible does not teach that first we need to repent, then God steps in because of that to forgive us for our sins. The fallen heart cannot truly repent anymore than he can have a true faith. However, once spiritual life is implanted, repentance cannot be avoided. It is not our deep feelings about sin that save us. It is the work of Christ, and the faith in that work that begins when we are regenerated by his operation upon our hearts. The same grace that makes us believe also makes us truly remorseful to God for our sins.

This is the consistent teaching of the Apostle Paul.

Romans 2:4, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

A. A. Hodge explains, “Every Christian duty is therefore a grace; for without him we can do nothing ( John 15:5). And equally every Christian grace is a duty because the grace is given to us to exercise, and it finds its true results and expression only in the duty.”

This means that if we truly repent of our sins, God is to be thanked for our repenting. However, we should not just wait around for God to overcome our moods and stubbornness. It is our duty to admit the depth of our sins and come broken before God in repentant confession. Only when we come can we discover that God has so graciously moved our hearts to do so.

It is important to know what a true biblical repentance is.

There are two main Hebrew words in the Old Testament that are translated as “repentance”, and two Greek ones in the New Testament.

The Hebrew word, nakham (נחם), is the key to understanding the word. Dr. Girdlestone explains that it means “to draw a deep breath.” It was used to express a deep feeling that makes us sigh. Sometimes it is that deep feeling we experience when we mourn or grieve in sorrow. Other times it is used for the deep compassion we have in our hearts when we see someone else suffering. The word came to be used for comforting or consoling someone. One of the things that can move us to deep sorrow is when we consider our sins against God.

The Bible sometimes uses this word in reference to what God does. Often it is translated that God repented of something he did or purposed. However, that is not a good translation of the word in that case. God never regrets what he has done or planned. He never makes inferior decisions he later finds out should have been different. He is, however, moved with deep compassion to console his people, and to grieve over their rebellion. It is better to use wording such as, “God grieved,” “God sighed,” or “God was moved with sorrow and compassion” concerning sinful actions that harm his people spiritually.

The other biblical words often translated as “repentance” mean the change in a person caused by the deep emotions of sorrow or compassion.

Latin gave us the word “remorse” which literally means “to bite again.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines remorse as “a gnawing distress arising from a sense of guilt for past wrongs”

When God changes a heart in regeneration
repentance is one of its fruits:

There is an intellectual change. The Holy Spirit uses God’s word to convince us about what is true. He points out through Scripture and by our renewed conscience what is right and wrong. He shows us where we would crossed the moral line. The unsaved only see rules with penalties. The believer sees moral principles that show us what honors God, and what offends him. That is a huge difference. Instead of figuring out which things we can get away with, our deep love and gratitude to God compels us to live for his glory, rather than to indulge our own pleasures.

King David showed this more mature understanding of sin. The Holy Spirit, by the prophet Nathan, opened his heart to understand his offense against God. We see his reaction in Psalm 51.

Psalm 51:3-4, “For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.”

There is also an emotional change produced. When the nature of our sin is revealed, a believer’s heart responds with profound grief and spiritual pain to know how much he has offended his God.

When we repent as we should, God generates in us a relief and joy because of his assurance of forgiveness and comfort. This is what David meant in the same Psalm after he repented.

Psalm 51:14, “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.”

There is also a volitional change. When a redeemed soul is informed about sin and convicted by the Spirit, his desires change. He wants his fellowship with the Lord to be restored. He is not just worried about his own punishments. He knows he deserves them. He also begins to desire to make choices that honor his Creator. David shows this transformation in other verses in Psalm 51.

Psalm 51:11-12, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

Psalm 51:15, “O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.”

It is sad that many evangelical churches
teach a watered down repentance.

Some define “repentance” as if it was only a change of mind about sin, but that it does not require a change in behavior. God does not divide us up as if we were disconnected puzzle pieces. When he redeems us, he does not just inform us mentally. He renews our dead souls. We begin to live spiritually for the first time.

A. A. Hodge says that repentance unto life is, “a change of mind including evidently a change of thought, feeling and purpose corresponding to our new character as children of God.”

If our regeneration is genuine it implants life into our lost souls. That produces a change we called conversion. That will include a true repentance, a deep sorrow over our sins, an awareness of how horrible it is to violate what pleases our loving and gracious God, and a change that makes us determine to stop sinning and strive to do what is right. The regenerate child of God is able to apprehend both the horrors of sin as an offense against God, and the wonders of grace which show the mercy of redemption through the Messiah.

He understands that sin is just plain wrong, not just because it produces unpleasant results in his life and circumstances, but because God is offended.

He sees the fleeting pleasures of sin as having no appeal to him at all when considered in the light of God’s honor (Hebrews 11:25). He understands his own inner moral weakness and wants it changed. He wants to be free from sin and its bondage, rather than just from its personal consequences. He sees his condemnation as just, and only removed by the merits of Jesus Christ in his place.

When we realize that the foolish and wrong things we do cannot possibly make us truly happy or help our loved ones, when we see that God alone is the one offended most by our every sin, we can only then understand the Apostle Paul’s cry in Romans 7:24-25, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! …”

Repentance is not just about confessing and avoiding what is bad. It is about wanting to learn to be good. It is a strong desire to please God at every opportunity, in everything we do.

In Chariots of Fire Eric Liddell says, “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

The godly attitudes that grow in the heart of the repentant fill them with great pleasure to know that they do things God loves them to do. This is why we should love to live morally, to say no to sin, to turn away from temptation, to refuse to indulge our desires in wrong ways, and to give our all to Christ’s service and Kingdom.

The lost want to be free from the consequences of sin, but they care little about their offense to God. The believer will endure justly deserved consequences if he must. His joy is in the promise that he can be progressing out of his sinful ways, and becoming more and more free from offending the God he loves so dearly. He is driven to live every hour of his life for Christ — to please God.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism