Author: Ron Graham
Grace and Repentance
—What Grace Requires of the Penitent
Repentance means a change of mind. But in what sense and with what results? Some say that a mind change is all God’s grace requires for repentance. We are not required to change our lives. We don't need to turn from sin. That's wrong. Several things go along with true repentance, and it cannot do without them. God’s grace, in granting repentance, requires these things.
1 Grace Teaches Goodness
¶ "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, instructing us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live in a self-controlled, upright, and godly manner in the present world..." (Titus 2:11-12).
Nothing we say about repentance, or about grace, should contradict that statement. For example, we cannot truly say that it's impossible for us to clean up our lives as instructed above.
Contradicting the apostle Paul, some claim that we are unable to fully please God; we are sinful creatures who must continue to sin, even though born again. They say that God’s grace permits us to keep on sinning and does not instruct us to turn from sin and be good.
Listen to Paul the apostle and believe him. Paul says that God will enable us "to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10).
2 Grace Imposes Responsibility
"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the lusts of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct..." (1Peter 1:14-15).
Peter here agrees with Paul, and places upon us responsibility for our own conduct because we are no longer ignorant but live in the knowledge that we "were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ..." (1Peter 1:19).
We look to Jesus for redemption. But we don't expect him to take responsibility for our conduct. His Father "judges impartially according to each one’s work" (1Peter 1:17). If we could hand responsibility for our deeds to Jesus, why would God judge us according to them?
Certainly we look to God for help in exercising this responsibility. As Peter says later: "Cast all your cares on God... resist the devil... and may the God of all grace... perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you" (1Peter 5:6-10).
Nothing we say about grace or repentance should contradict Peter’s call to be responsible for our conduct "preparing your minds for action, and being sober, while setting your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1Peter 1:13).
Where it says above, "preparing your minds for action", the Greek has, "girding up the loins of your mind". That's soldier talk: "Take up the whole armor of God... Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth and put on the breastplate of righteousness" (Ephesians 6:10-17).
3 Grace Inspires Action
Early in Romans, Paul discusses the judgments made by God as compared to the judgments made by sinners. God is impartial but the sinners in their judgments are hypocrites. Paul emphasises the true standard: "the riches of God’s goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering," (Romans 2:4)
Paul states that "the goodness of God leads you to repentance" (Romans 2:4). Paul then makes it very clear what that means in practice...
"God will render to each one according to his deeds. There will be eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honour and immortality. There will be indignation and wrath to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness. (Romans 2:6-8).
Paul then repeats that message for emphasis, describing the one led to repentance by God’s goodness as "the one who works what is good" (Romans 2:9-10).
So there's the plan. God’s grace leads to repentance, and repentance leads to good works. Grace and repentance do not lead us to do nothing about the sin in our lives. Grace inspires action in the form of righteous living.
4 Grace Insists on Change
Romans 6:18-21; 6:1-2,12-18)
Further along in Romans, Paul makes the point that grace must make a radical change. What is that change?
"As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:19). That change is wrought in your life. You cease to live in Adam and his disobedience, and you start living in Christ and his obedience.
Paul next makes a statement that can be misunderstood. He says, "Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more" (Romans 5:20). We might think that this means it is a good thing to keep on sinning because it allows grace to reign.
Fortunately Paul knows that people will jump at that. So he snuffs it out: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? No way! How shall we who died to sin live in it any longer?" (Romans 6:1-2).
Paul continues in chapter 6 to speak of crucifying and burying the old sinful person in Christ. A new righteous person is raised up with Christ. What a wonderful change is wrought! Paul says, "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey it in its lusts" (Romans 6:12).
Paul then tells us to "Present the members of your body not as instruments of unrighteous to sin, but... as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you" (Romans 6:13-14)
Paul then asks again whether we should sin because we are under grace. His answer again is no, certainly not (Romans 6:14-15). Then he tells us we must change. We must stop being slaves of sin and instead be slaves of righteousness. We don't stop being slaves, but we get sold to a new Slave Master and obey him.
When Jesus sent his message to Thyatira about the false prophet Jezebel he said, "I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, but she would not" (Revelation 2:20-21). Did Jesus mean that she could, by his grace, continue to teach and practice her immorality and idolatry? Or did she need to change not just her mind, but also her false teaching and sinful practices?
TURNING FROM SIN
The Scripture sometimes refers to this change as a turning. For example Paul says to the Thessalonians, "You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God" (1Thessalonians 1:9).
A lot of people are claiming that the Bible nowhere says to turn from sin it only says you should turn to God. But the above example shows we should do both. The Thessalonians "turned to God from idols". Their sin was idolatry. They turned from that sin, and turned to God.
What did James mean when he said, "Whoever turns a sinner from the way of error will save a soul from death?" (James 5:20). Surely James is talking about turning from sin?
What did Peter mean when he preached, "Repent and turn again so your sins will be blotted out" (1Thessalonians 1:9)? Obviously they were encouraged to turn to God, but in the turning, what would they turn away from?
Long ago God said, "If wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die" (Ezekiel 18:1). Christ's sacrifice made that promise true then, now, and ever. But repentance through grace requires people to turn from sin when they turn to God.
TURN FROM SIN
TURN TO GOD
5 Grace Encourages Excellence
Paul prayed for the Philippians, "That you may approve the things that are excellent, and be sincere, without offense, until the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God" (Philippians 1:10-11).
Paul earlier said he was confident that "God who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
Paul is not talking about people continuing in sin until the day of Christ. Rather he is encouraging people who were aspiring to excellence and working toward it sincerely and fruitfully under the grace of Christ.
What goes with repentance and what does grace require?