Some explain repentance in a way that suggests ceasing from sin or a personal reformation. Without further clarification, phrases like “turning from sin,” “turning from sins,” or the expanded version, “turning from sin(s) and turning to Christ,” are used to describe repentance. However, the emphasis of this terminology is on turning from sin, and that stress can be confusing and misleading.
With the primary emphasis on turning from sin (or sins), such an attempt to define repentance could be understood as “to turn from committing sins,” or plainly, “to stop sinning.” Mention this to an unsaved person whose natural, human tendency is toward self-dependence and it would follow that the person’s thinking would embrace works (doing whatever is necessary for sinning to cease) as the means of salvation. Does not “turning from sin(s),” offered without clarification, sound like reformation? But we need to be clear; salvation is not by works.
Someone once mused, “If repent means turning from sins, why did Jesus die?” Christ died to save man from his sins because man cannot deal with his sins on his own. The terminology of turning from sin(s) sounds too much like “not sinning” or “doing good.” Those who truly believe in salvation by grace through faith and yet use these words obviously do not intend to convey to an unsaved person the inherent works-based message of this terminology. Therefore, the meaning of repentance must be articulated more clearly.
In the sense of turning from sin as the problem leading to hell, repentance is the point of trust when one turns to Christ (who is life) for deliverance from sin (which is death). But if one defines repent as “turning from sin(s)” without clarifying that the issue is turning to Christ for salvation from sin because man cannot deal with sin on his own, it could be misunderstood and potentially misleading. It may imply to someone that the turn would be actions (works). The articulation of the decision of repentance must not in any way feed man’s natural bent toward a meritorious salvation.
Jesus said, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31–32). Sick people do not turn from their sickness to a physician. If they could turn from sickness, they would no longer need a physician. Rather, sick people turn to a physician for deliverance from their sickness. Similarly, sinners cannot turn from their sin(s) to Christ. If they could, they would not need a Savior. Sinners must turn to Christ, the Great Physician, for deliverance from their sin and its consequence.
This clarification does not imply that sin should be downplayed. It must be addressed. But the purpose for doing so must be kept clear. Sin must be recognized as the problem, but not sinning is not the solution—Jesus is. Christ must be recognized as the solution. This combination of understanding leads to repentance, which in salvation is turning to Christ for deliverance from sin and its consequence.
In two weeks, we will demonstrate that the wording of Scripture is not “turning from sin(s),” but “turning to Christ.” But before addressing that emphasis, we will consider another common instance of confused terminology in part 9 next week.
John Van Gelderen