Two classic signs of covenant confusion are: (1) you interpret repentance as turning from sin and (2) you think repenting will get God to forgive you. As I have explained elsewhere, God does not need your permission or even your repentance to forgive you. He forgave you before you were born in accordance with the riches of His grace (Eph 1:7).
All well and good. But what about the other point? Shouldn’t we turn from sin when we come to Jesus? You would certainly think so judging by the popularity of this verse:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chr 7:14)
Thank God for the cross that changed everything! In the old covenant, God’s blessings were conditional on you humbling, praying, seeking, and turning. (Phew! What if you only did three of those things? Would you get three-quarter forgiveness?) But in the new covenant, God’s blessings are poured out on us on account of Jesus:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Eph 1:3)
Here’s a question to see if you have been paying attention. If we have been blessed with “every spiritual blessing in Christ,” what blessings remain for us outside of Christ? None! Starting with salvation, every blessing comes to us by grace through faith. Every. Single. Blessing.
So with Jesus as our secure foundation, how do we define repentance? Since I have compared the old- and new covenant definitions in another post, I just want to give you a simple picture. Here it is…
In the new covenant, repentance literally means change your mind. Nothing more, nothing less. It is not something we initiate so much as it is a response to the good news. When Jesus said, “Repent and believe the good news” (Mk 1:15), He was literally saying, “Change your unbelieving mind and believe the glad tidings of the kingdom which is at hand.” We don’t repent to manipulate God into bringing his kingdom down; we repent because His kingdom is already at hand. (The King has come!) We don’t repent to get forgiven; we repent because we are forgiven. (He remembers your sins no more!)
In the old covenant, repentance implied a turning from, as in “turn from sin.” But in the new, repentance means a turning to, as in “turn to God.” Here’s Paul:
First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. (Act 26:20)
Do you see why the new is better? Under the old, you could turn from sin to… more sin! For instance, if you managed to turn from some nasty habits, your religious flesh would soon get puffed up with pride. Just look at the Pharisees. I doubt anyone repented (i.e., turned from sin) as much as they did. But in the new, there is only one direction to turn, and that is towards God. And as we turn towards Him, we inevitably turn from sin. This is why we don’t find Paul praying like this: “I keep asking God to help you reprobates turn from your stinking sin”! No, Paul prayed that we would know Him better.
As we change our minds and come to walk in the revelation that Jesus is lovely and God is good and He thinks we’re special, we find that the things of this world grow strangely dim. We walk away from sin effortlessly because we are captivated by something, Someone, infinitely better.