The ABC's of Repentance

When my mother-in-law was in 1st grade she came home from her first day of school and remembers crying and telling her parents, “I’ll never learn my ABC’s! They’re so hard and there’s 26 of them!” 

The ABC’s are important. In fact, they are foundational to our education system.  Without knowing your ABC’s you won’t be able to read, do math, learn history or really be successful in any other area of education.  

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The same is true for the ABC’s of Repentance. Repentance is foundational for the Christian life. It’s how we grow in grace and the knowledge of God, His Son Jesus Christ, His salvation and forgiveness, His continuing work in our life through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit and it leads to joy and thanksgiving in our worship. In fact, Martin Luther’s first statement in his 95 theses says: 

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  
— Martin Luther (AD 1517)

So what are the ABC’s of Repentance? Well, that’s what the rest of this post will outline for you. 

A = Acknowledge. Admit. Ask. 

- Acknowledge sin. Before you can repent of sin, you have to first see it in yourself.  Acknowledge yourself to be a sinner and acknowledge specific sins in your life. Realize your sins and your sinfulness. What is sin? It’s “lack of conformity to or transgression of the law of God.” It’s “doing things we shouldn’t do and not doing things we should do.” It’s loving ourself more than God and others. It’s our very condition of imperfection. It’s “missing the mark” or “falling short” of the standard of obeying and glorifying God (Rom. 2-3; Eph. 2:1-5; Titus 3:5-8). 

- Admit sin. This is also commonly called Confession. Confessing our sins is necessary for true repentance.  Sometimes people get confession confused with repentance. But confession is only part of the first step in repentance. We confess - or admit - our sins in many different ways, all are important (Psalm 25, 32, 51; Rom. 7). 

> Confess generally. Set an example of repentance. Admit that you are a sinner. 

> Confess to God. Experience the freedom/forgiveness/joy of confession in personal prayer. 

> Confess to others specific sins. With wisdom and discretion, tell others how you struggle and fall into sin. Ask for prayer, encouragement and help when needed. 

> Confess to anyone you have sinned against. Wife. Kids. Co-Workers. Strangers. Etc.

- Ask for forgiveness. From God and anyone affected by your sin. Apologizing is not just saying sorry, but saying: “I sinned against you in this way, will you please forgive me?”  

Repent of your “Particular sins particularly.” Lust, Envy, Gossip, Bitterness/Complaint. Entitlement, Porn, Selfishness, Pride, etc.

B = Believe in the Gospel of forgiveness in Jesus.

- Believe in His LOVE to forgive. God loves to forgive sinners. He desires to forgive. He wants to forgive. Think of the prodigal son. The Father cannot resist a repentant sinner. 

- Believe in His GRACE to forgive. God gave His Son Jesus so He could forgive. Jesus is proof of God’s willingness to forgive sins, and He’s proof that God WILL forgive sins. 

- Believe in His POWER to forgive. Sometimes when we think we have forgiven someone, we find out later when we are reminded what that person did to hurt us, that we hadn’t truly forgiven them.  That’s because we are sinful, weak and slow to forgive. But God is true to His word and Powerful. When God promises to forgive, He really does it!  Confidence in Repentance is rooted in God’s promise to forgive all sin (Exodus 34:6-9; 1 John 1:9). 

C = Commit & Continue in Faith and Obedience; and when you fall in sin, start over. 

- After we have confessed our sin and believed we are forgiven, we can continue in obedience by the power of the Holy Spirit. We continue in Jesus the same way we received Jesus, through repentance and faith (Col. 2:6-7).

- The Gospel gives us confidence, courage and a desire to obey, improve and get better. We want to love Jesus and be more like Him. It gives us FREEDOM to try and fail because we know we are forgiven in Jesus. Some don’t even begin to attempt obedience or repentance because they don’t want to have to admit failing or being a failure. The gospel helps us do this. 

True Repentance is all 3 steps. Without all 3, it’s not Repentance. 

    1. Forget A+B? That’s just law-based sanctification. You’re just trying to work hard, hide your sin and make deals with God. It’s Self-Righteous religion and it’s called Legalism.

    2. Forget C? Sin is not serious or a big deal to you. Sanctification is not important to you. Obedience is not important. You don’t really believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to help you. You don’t love Jesus or want to be like Him. You don’t desire obedience/sanctification. It’s a cheap abuse of grace and it’s called Antinomianism.

Legalism is not repentance.

Antinomianism is not repentance. 

True Repentance Acknowledges sin, Admits sin and Asks for forgiveness from sin. 

True Repentance Believes that God the Father forgives sin in Jesus. 

True Repentance Continues to walk with Jesus in Faith and Obedience by the power of the Holy Spirit; and when we find ourselves back in sin, we go back to the ABC’s of Repentance again. 

For Jesus and His Kingdom,

Pastor Kent Suits

[To listen to the sermon on Psalm 25, which inspired this blog post, click here.]