In Genesis 37, Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery and covered it up with his bloody robe. Two Sundays ago, I said God used their circumstances in Genesis 42 to convict Joseph’s brothers of their sin. In Genesis 44, we learned that God tested them to see whether or not they had actually repented of their sin. Were they still the same men they were in Genesis 37 or were they dead to self and alive in Christ? Had they been born again?
I’ll answer those questions this Sunday. We are on the cliffhanger for now, so let’s stop and ask another question: What is repentance?
2 Corinthians 7:10-11 classifies two different types of grief over sin. The first is “godly grief” and the second “worldly grief.” Godly grief produces repentance that “leads to salvation” while worldly grief only “produces death.”
Most people are grieved when caught in sin. A church leader is found looking at pornography. A husband finds his wife with another man. A store manager finds a cashier pocketing cash. The church leader, the wife, and the cashier will all be grieved. Each will face his/her own painful consequences. Each may cry and have regret. But are they repentant?
2 Corinthians 7:11 lists seven aspects of repentance: earnestness, eagerness to clear oneself, indignation, fear, longing, zeal, and punishment.
John Calvin, commenting on 2 Corinthians 7:11 in his Institutes, expounds on the text’s “seven causes, effects, or parts” of repentance. What is repentance? He explains.
First, repentance is an earnestness or carefulness. He who repents is “aroused to diligence and attention that he may escape from the devil’s snares, that he may better take precaution against his wiles, and that he may not afterward fall away from the the governance of the Holy Spirit, nor be lulled into a sense of security.” A repentant person is earnestly vigilant to keep himself from sin again.
Second, repentance is an eagerness to clear ourselves. He who repents is eager for “purification” by “asking pardon.” It is a desire to be forgiven by those who’ve been hurt by our sin, God included, no matter the cost.
Third, repentance entails indignation. He who repents “moans inwardly with himself, finds fault with himself, and is angry with himself, while recognizing his own perversity and his own ungratefulness toward God.” A repentant person hates his sin.
Fourth, repentance entails fear. This is a “trembling which is produced in our minds as often as we consider both what we deserve and how dreadful is the severity of God’s wrath toward sinners.” He explains, “We must then be troubled with an extraordinary disquiet, which both teaches us humility and renders us more cautious thereafter.” It is a fear of sinning which would show ourselves to be unrepentant.
Fifth, repentance entails longing. He defines longing as “a diligence in doing our duty” and “that readiness to obey.” It’s an inward desire for holiness and obedience to God.
Sixth, repentance includes zeal. This is an “ardor” that springs from a heightened sense of being “succored” by “God’s mercy.” It is a driving passion rooted in grace that fuels holy living. If God has saved me in Christ, how can I not obey him?
Seventh, repentance is punishment or avenging. He notes, “The more severe we are toward ourselves, and the more sharply we examine our own sins, the more we ought to hope that God is favorable and merciful toward us.” It is “shame, confusion, groaning, displeasure with self, and other emotions that arise out of a lively recognition of sin.” It is an ongoing recognition of the sinfulness of sin.
That’s helpful. Now back to the church leader caught looking at pornography, the wife caught in an affair, and the cashier found stealing cash. How do we know if they are repentant? We can’t, at least for a very long time. No amount of tears or pleading will ever make that clear. Only a lifetime will tell. We can’t see repentance in a moment or even in a few months or years, but rather in decades. A lifelong disposition of repentance is the only sure sign of repentance.
For Joseph’s brothers thirty years had passed. Then God created the perfect scenario in which to test them. As to whether or not they’d disown Benjamin, the choice was theirs, and what they decided showed us all the fruit of true repentance. It took Joseph’s brothers thirty year to prove their repentance.
As for proving our own repentance, I don’t think we can expect a shorter timeframe. Even for some, thirty years may be only the start.