Is repentance a matter of ‘changing one’s mind’ about sin, or is it something more active, such as changing one’s behavior? Conflicting takes on this have been argued, which is troubling since repentance is so central to the Christian life.
Therefore, I appreciate John Frame’s clear and sensible presentation of the topic in his Systematic Theology (pages 958-960). Building upon his distinctive perspectival approach he reminds us that BOTH a change of mind AND a change of behavior, together with genuine sorrow for sin are each properly considered repentance, each observed from a different perspective. I would encourage any puzzled by the idea to visit these concise pages.
Absent from any proper notion of repentance is self-hatred, though many sensitive Christians somehow manage to wedge it in. When made aware of sin some speed rapidly to the conclusion that they must be worthless and useless people. This is both wrong and hope-destroying.
It is wrong because the Biblical idea of repentance nowhere includes it. We are indeed to hate sin, but our sin does not define us. We are not the sin. We belong to Jesus, we are beloved by him, and we are the adopted children of God. When we sin, he does not begin to hate us or cast us off. When we become aware of our sin, we should not conclude that we are suddenly hateful and not worthy of his love. We have NEVER been worthy of his love, but in Christ we are forever the apple of his eye. Our sin or our awareness of it does not change that.
The church in Corinth was a boiling cesspool of disunity and immorality into which Paul speaks severely and firmly to bring about repentance. In doing so he calls them saints beloved by him and by God.
Self-loathing is wrong AND it is hopeless. When we identify our sin with our person we can despair of there being any hope for change. Sin is a stubborn resident who needs to be evicted, but he is not the householder. If we forget that we will tend to see ourselves as those who will always be the way we are.
It is true that sometimes we do not change. It is true that we may struggle long and hard against the same sinful tendencies and fail time and again. But the only hope for change, the only thing that keeps us from giving up, is the deeply held knowledge that we are, even in our sin, beloved of God. We will only change, that is repentance will only lead to substantial growth, when we know that we don’t need to change in order to be loved by God. He loves us now and forever.
Christian, hate your sin, not yourself. Never forget that you are the beloved of God. You belong to the one who gave his Son to deliver you out of the dominion of that sin into the kingdom of his love. You are now and ever will be a child of God.
And Kettle, I know that calling you black is a bit disingenuous of me. I’m working on that.