“Repentance unto life is the saving grace wrought in heart of the sinner by the spirit and word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins and upon the apprehension of God mercy to such as are penitent, he so grieves and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavouring constantly to walk with Him, in all the ways of new obedience.”
The above passage on repentance is taken from the Westminster Larger Catechism, question 76. Today many of those who refer to themselves as Bible believing Christians have picked up a doctrine of grace where the Moral Law is made redundant. Such is the antinomian, who believes that the grace of God is given him to live as he pleases in Christ because that defines freedom to him/her. From Romans 3:20 & 7:7, we learn that the knowledge of sin is in our understanding of the Moral Law because repentance requires that we come to terms with the filthy and odious (inciting hatred) nature of our sins and the Holy Spirit Himself makes this possible by interceding for us with groaning too deep for words.
26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;
27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.
When we read the term Law in the Bible, we ought to understand, which aspect of Law the Bible is talking about in that particular context. There are three aspects to Biblical Law: Ceremonial Law, Moral Law and Judicial Law. The Ceremonial Law was a set of ceremonies (meaningful rituals) given Old Testament Israel, which all pointed to Christ and His redemptive work. The Judicial Law on the other hand was given the State (to the Judges for law & order Num11:16) to govern society and protect it from individuals or syndicates which would cause it harm. The Moral Law on the other hand, is the very nature of God given to the believer that he/she may look into it like it were a mirror (James1:22-25), so as to thereby work willingly on his/her nature in being conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom8:29). In helping the individual see his own wretched self as God sees him/her, this person is brought to repentance upon the apprehension on God’s mercy available in Jesus Christ alone. Without the Moral Law, there is neither the realization of sin (Rom7:7) unto repentance nor a standard of righteousness in heeding unto Christ (Jn14:15). Taking a look at Rom 7:9-10, 15-17, 23-25 and 2Cor7:10 in the context of Jn12:24-26, we realize that the transition of passing from living to suit ourselves to living for God, requires us to die to ourselves, which is accomplished in repentance.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
8 But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully,
9 realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers
10 and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching,
11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.
A look at the above verses helps us realize that this is written in reference to the Judicial Law because those who live by the Moral Law have nothing to fear from the Judicial Law. Let me give you a Biblical example: in Mat5:27-28 Jesus teaches us, not to even be entertained from the ogling of women, to this effect He is teaching us to guard our hearts and minds against adultery. So for a man who guards his mind from adulterous thoughts, such a man need not fear the judicial law, for he himself is God-fearing, abiding in Christ i.e. living by the standard of the Moral Law (Jn15:6-10). Besides, there is no judiciary in the world that has outlawed love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control and those who practice this in their Christianity are righteous having nothing to fear from the Judicial Law, which is put in place for immoral people.
6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;
7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
Exodus34:6-7, is referred to the Magna Carta of Christianity because it captures the essence of what the Bible teaches concerning God and His Salvation in just two verses. Verse 7 in Exodus 34 comes across as something of an oxymoron when it says: God keeps lovingkindness for thousands and forgives iniquity, transgression and sin while by no means leaving the guilty to go unpunished. The only way this can be explained is when we consider the role of Jesus as our Saviour. The Son of God added to Himself the complete nature of man (except sin) being born of a virgin and presented Himself as an unblemished substitutionary sacrifice for all sin. We must understand that each of God’s attributes is perfect and so God doesn’t compromise on His justice so as to have mercy. You may feel inclined to believe, that God could have just as easily spoken out forgiveness and it would have been done but the truth is God does not function like the world (Is55:8) because when He says something, it is backed by what He is going to do. Such is also with prophesy, where God is not simply looking into the future and telling you what will come to pass but He is instead telling you what He is going do that will define the future as He says it, such is His Sovereign nature. So unlike the world, which speaks that which is only most convenient to them in a particular moment, God speaks in verse 7 of Exodus 34, to indicate the work of the Lord Jesus Christ who bore the wrath of God in its full measure while carrying the sins on all God’s people in His body (1Pet2:24). For those who die outside God’s mercy presented us in Jesus Christ, no matter how old and senile they were or even if they died in their unwitting adolescence, they will for eternity pay the wages of every sinful thought and deed in the deserving fires of hell because whom they have sinned against throughout all of their natural lives is God Almighty (Jn15:25).
Psalm 51 (read in context of 1Jn4:20 & Mat25:41-46)
3 For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me.
4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge.
The fear of hell can never drive an individual to true repentance and neither is repentance produced in and off oneself. Repentance is and has always been according to the will of God (2Cor7:10/Jn1:12-13). We ought to understand that Salvation lies in one turning to God, which is accomplished in the Lord Jesus Christ because for so long as we are living for ourselves, we cannot say we are genuine believers but when we have died to ourselves (Jn12:24-26) and are a new creation in Christ living for the Lord (2Cor 5:17), then in such a case, Salvation is not on the count of the fear of hell but from the fear of God (Ps85:9), whom we love. It is this genuine love for God that excites our hatred for immorality while catalysing our passion for righteousness, according to God’s good pleasure, taught to us in Christ (Jn1:L18/Col1:19).
5 But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”–that is, the word of faith which we are preaching,
9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
Repentance therefore is the groaning of the Holy Spirit at work in our weakness in teaching us the things of Christ and producing in us the fruits of the Spirit, as the Church is like a Bride being prepared to meet her Groom, that is Christ. It might interest you to note that just as Adam is mentioned as a son of God in Lk3:38, so from the knowledge of the fact, that creation is made for God’s glory, and as Eve was brought to Adam in Gen2:22 to which Adam replied in verse 23… this bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh… she shall be called woman because she is drawn out of man. So it also with His Church, which constitutes the body of believers, born of Christ’ Spirit (Jn3:3, 16 & 15:26/Rev21:2) because God is Spirit (Jn4:24). These are not God’s people primarily from their own choosing but because their circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit (Rom2:29/Col 2:9-12) and not of hands (will of man).
“All true repentance arises from the sight of a dying saviour – One who has died for us. Terror may produce remorse, only a sense of forgiven sin will ever produce true repentance. True repentance is after all only love weeping at the foot of the cross. True repentance is the soul sorrowing for sins that have been so freely forgiven because of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.” – T. V. Moore
“We must remember at the beginning of repentance is a sense of God’s mercy. When men are persuaded that God is ready to give pardon they then begin to gather courage to repent, otherwise perverseness will ever increase in them and how much so ever their sins may frighten them they will yet never return to the Lord.” – John Calvin
To conclude, I have quoted above T. V. Moore and John Calvin on the criticality of apprehending God’s mercy made available to us in Jesus Christ. So, taking our cue from 2Cor7:10 we learn that the groaning of a living Spirit, whether that be in Repentance or Sanctification is according to Sovereign will of God unto salvation.