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Following one of my previous blog posts, my brother asked “Is forgiveness a response to repentance, or is repentance a response to forgiveness?”

Repentance is a response to God’s call to leave our sin and return to him. Forgiveness is the visible result of a merciful God. Forgiveness is a gift given independent of repentance, however without repentance we reject its utility in our lives.

Sin builds a debt against our God. Guilt is the result of being unable to bear the weight of that debt. Repentance is subjecting ourselves to the terms of repayment of that debt. Forgiveness is being released from that repayment, the wiping away of the debt.

True repentance is turning back to God with the understanding that the debt to God I have accumulated through my sin is mine to repay, while at the same time acknowledging that I do not have the power or resources to repay this debt. True repentance is realizing the debt will only be settled through God’s mercy by his forgiveness, yet humbly coming before him without expectation of this forgiveness armed only with the knowledge that we could not be more undeserving of his


This forgiveness however has already been given to us, it has already been promised. Without repentance, we make forgiveness utterly useless in our lives. It cannot effect a change within us, a realignment of our motivations and directions, while we resist its working.

So am I forgiven if I am unrepentant? What does it even matter? If I reject the gift what difference is it if I “received” or “accepted” or whatever word one might use there. I know only this, I have never found myself repentant yet unforgiven. His promises have always held true. When I repent I find his mercy waiting with forgiveness, it does not show up later. Repentance is not a request for forgiveness, if anything it is turning around to find God waiting with arms outstretched. In repentance, I don’t have time to ask for forgiveness, it’s already mine.

So repentance is independent of forgiveness and yet repentance cannot of itself release us from our debt. Forgiveness too is independent of repentance, yet by God’s design will not, without our consent, release us from our debt. The two concepts are completely separate, though not inseparable. Both in fact are responses to the effect of sin in our lives. We long to be out from under the weight of our own sin; repentance is the natural response to that longing coupled with the fact that we cannot by our own efforts remove that weight. God longs to restore communion with the creation which has separated itself from him through sin; forgiveness is the natural response to that longing coupled with the fact that we cannot by our own efforts remove that separation.

So repentance is our response to sin, a reaction to the conviction of the law. Forgiveness is God’s response to sin, a reaction of the mystery of his mercy.

gigemgal03 said on 2004-10-15

Obviously, not repenting enough is bad. This leads me to ask: do you think someone can repent too much?

While we’re speaking of repentance, Derek Webb talks about his song “I Repent” on his CD “The House Show”. To sum up his intro to the song, he says:

“We often believe that the Christian life is about how well we can learn to hide our sin. A lot of us think we can measure the growth of our spiritually by how little we are sinning, or at least by trying to convince ourselves and others that we are not sinning. But the Christian life is not about hiding our sins or living in fear that they might be exposed. Take joy in the fact that your sins are real and that your Savior is real.”

At first I thought it weird to relate joy with recognizing sin, but in light of the relationship between repentance and forgiveness, I think it makes sense. Naturally, being a student of Rev. K’s and a reader of Romans, I have to add “what shall we say then? shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” me ginomai! “By no means! We died to sin. How can we live in it any longer?”

“I Repent” by Derek Webb

I repent of my pursuit of America’s dream

I repent of living like I deserve anything

my house, my fence, my kids, and my wife

In our suburb where we’re safe and white

I am wrong and of these things I repent

I repent of parading my liberty

I repent of paying for what I get for free

the way I believe that I am living right

by trading sins for others that are easier to hide

I am wrong and of these things I repent

I repent judging by a law that even I can’t keep

wearing righteousness like a disguise to see through

the planks in my own eyes

I repent of trading truth for false unity

I repent of confusing peace and idolatry

of caring more of what they think than what I know of what they need

and domesticating You until You look just like me

I am wrong and of these things I repent

Posted with : The Way