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Beware of This Subtle Doctrine

Be careful of those who insist that the word “repentance” just refers to a change of mind when it comes to sin. They say that it has nothing to do with sorrow. To remove contrition (sorrow for sin) from repentance and define it as a mere change of mind reveals a shallow understanding of the nature of sin, a shallow understanding of the nature of God, and, consequently, a shallow understanding of the sacrifice of the cross. It is to demean the anguish of David in Psalm 51 after he sinned with Bathsheba. He said:

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… (Psalm 51:3-4)

What judge would be deceived into thinking that a criminal was genuinely repentant if he wasn’t sorry for a heinous crime?

“To remove contrition (sorrow for sin) from repentance and define it as a mere change of mind reveals a shallow understanding of the nature of sin, a shallow understanding of the nature of God, and, consequently, a shallow understanding of the sacrifice of the cross.”

David said that he was in anguish over his sin: “For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin” (Psalm 38:18).

Look at the words of the prodigal son: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants’” (Luke 15:18-19).

His decision to return was clearly mingled with sorrow.  How could it not be?

Perhaps those who insist on removing sorrow from repentance have never seen their own sin—more than likely because they have come under the sound of a lawless gospel. Why be sorry when sin isn’t serious?

Jesus warned that entrance into the kingdom of God was not a mere change of mind but one of anguish over sin. He said to strive to enter the narrow gate: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24).

“Jesus warned that entrance into the kingdom of God was not a mere change of mind but one of anguish over sin.”

The Greek used for “strive” is “agōnizesthe,” from which we derive our English word “agonize.” The new birth, like natural birth, should be extremely painful. Scripture calls sinners to repentance by saying, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (James 4:8-9).

It is a great error to tell sinners to merely change their mind about sin. It is to cheat them of the very means by which true repentance comes: “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Ray Comfort

Ray Comfort is the Founder and CEO of Living Waters and the bestselling author of more than 90 books, including God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life, How to Know God Exists, and The Evidence Bible. He cohosts the award-winning television program Way of the Master, airing in every country in the world, and is an Executive Producer of “180,” “Evolution vs. God,” “Audacity,” and other films. He is married to Sue and has three grown children, and hasn’t left the house without gospel tracts for decades.

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