We’ve looked at three questions about repentance so far: 1) Why repent? 2) What is repentance? and 3) How do we repent? We would do well to look at one further aspect of repentance, one that came to my heart and mind thanks in part to the preaching of John Piper. The question is: 4) what is our assurance in repentance? As we have been, we’re still centering around 1 John 1:5-9, which reads:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
What Is Our Assurance in Repentance?
I can always find a way to doubt my repentance. Did I really mean it when I said I was sorry—or did I just do it because I knew I should and because it would appease others and my conscience? If I sin again tomorrow or the next day, was my repentance really genuine? God is gracious, and patient with us in our weakness. And yet, the longer you think about your repentance, the more skeptical you’ll become. It’s so easy to question our heart of repentance, because the heart is deceitful above all things.
To be sure, we should, by the Spirit’s conviction and power, be sincerely repentant. But looking to our own sincerity will ultimately be unsatisfying. The good news tells us that our assurance of rightness with God doesn’t come from our repentance—as essential as that is. It comes from looking not inward, but upward.
Our assurance comes not from who we are or what we’ve done or how much we’ve repented. It comes from who God is and what he’s done, his redemptive cosmos-shifting work on the cross and his sanctifying, you-and-me-shifting work in the everyday. John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
To be sure, we are called to deny ourselves. To pick up our cross. To confess our guilt and repent. But our assurance comes not from ourselves. It comes when God says to us, “He’s mine. She’s mine,” and then allows us to say yes to him. And what a great, amazing, beautiful assurance we have—that our God—just and righteous, holy and calling us to be holy—forgives, justifies, and sanctifies his children. My belonging to God is not assured by my repentance. My repentance is the natural outcome of the assurance I have in belonging to God.
We repent before God because we are his children and yet fall short, but also because our repentance is a sign and fruit of the grace gifted us on the cross. Because of Jesus, I can stand before you a saint. And I can repeat the call of our friend and master, the Lord Jesus Christ: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Repentance has everything to do with the kingdom. For have you heard there is a throne room? And in the throne room sits the God of the universe, royal and holy upon—the Mercy Seat. And beside the Father is the Son, the Lamb, the Lion, our savior and redeemer, ever interceding on our behalf.
Repentance goes hand in hand with the kingdom. Our repentance is still necessary because the fullness of the kingdom is not yet. But our repentance is the beautiful grace of God, proof that the kingdom is already here.