Thomas Watson defines repentance as “a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.” There are six components of this true repentance Watson identifies:
- Sight of sin
- Sorrow for sin
- Confession of sin
- Shame for sin
- Hatred for sin
- Turning from sin
I wrestled with Watson’s definition for a couple of reasons. First, the definition as stated is not found specifically in Scripture. Second, I find such lists to be somewhat odious; “if you do these 6 steps, you will achieve this result.” It does seem to me, in my limited understanding of the formation of American preaching that such lists heard in such a way have actually given birth to the pragmatic, self-help flavor of many sermons today. The use of Scripture by Watson, Edwards and others seem also to lend themselves to the abuses we see of passages ripped from context today–not that they themselves were misusing Scripture, but that their preaching and writing assumed much on the end of the reader.
But this is not what this post is about…
The first of Watson’s ingredients of repentance is sight of sin. Before one can have sorrow for sin, one must see it as sin. All of these components are difficult in their own way, but the true seeing of one’s sin is sometimes a daunting task. One way we see our sin is to see it purely in an abstract way. When confronted with the Word, we assent to this or that being sinful, but we only “see it” because it’s in black and white on the page before us. We don’t truly see our offense, only that God has said it is, indeed, an offense.
This is not the sight of sin to which God calls us. In the story of the wayward son, Jesus describes this sight of sin on the part of the son as a coming to himself, Luke 15. This is not merely an assent; it is as if one who was sleeping is awakened. This awakening, this coming to our senses, is not something we concoct…rather, it is a sanctifying work of the Spirit in our lives. I say “sanctifying” because at regeneration, we are not instantly convicted of all things in which we’ve sinned against a holy God. Hence, this awakening is one in which the Lord makes us aware of our sin and calls us to repentance as a total act encompassing all six areas and the forgiveness of sins in Him.
“Where there is no sight of sin, there can be no repentance,” says Watson. “They do not see any evil in sin.” This is a startling statement. Repentance is not possible for those who see no evil in their sin. Assenting that Scripture says a given act is evil is not enough. So who is sufficient for these things?
Christ has obeyed the Father perfectly on behalf of those who believe. We cannot, of ourselves, rouse ourselves to repentance. But Christ can rouse us…and only Him. Our sufficiency is truly in Him alone and humbles us because we who have believed realize in yet one more way that we are insufficient to the task of even seeing our sin for what it is because we have suppressed the knowledge of the truth, Romans 1. But the good news for the believer is that while the wrath of God is being poured out against all wickedness, Christ bore that punishment for me.
Repentance is a command to do the impossible. Our great Savior has secured our repentance.