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Repentance & Grace

Repentance & Grace

February 18, 2024 | by Pastor Peter

As we enter the lent season we focus on repentance, but what does that even mean, and what is its relationship to grace? In this sermon we’ll look at how forgiveness and salvation work so that we can better understand what sincere repentance is.

Longer Summary of the Sermon

What is Repentance?

During the Lent season, we focus our attention on the idea of repentance. Repentance isn’t an act we do or words we say (although it might include acts or words) but it is a posture towards God that brings us back into a reconciled relationship. The Lexham Survey of Theology defines repentance as “the act whereby one turns from his or her sin, idolatry, and creaturely rebellion and turns to God in faith.” We’ve probably all seen repentance that doesn’t look like this.

Grace without Repentance

Ethan grew up in a Christian house and prayed for Jesus to become his saviour when he was 5 years old. As he became a teenager, Ethan was pressured and tempted to do things that weren’t consistent with this faith’s values. But, he reasoned that the prayer he had prayed meant he was immune from the spiritual consequences of his actions, so he lived as he pleased, trusting that his salvation was assured. 

Ethan treats the prayer her prayed as a contract where he offered something (a prayer) and God agreed to reward him with a good (salvation). But he acts as if he’s taking advantage of God by ‘forcing’ God to give him salvation when he deliberately does what God forbids. God’s grace has become a license for him to sin with impunity. Is that really how it works?

Sidebar: Prooftexting

We can justify all sorts of bad theology by proof-texting. This is when we take a verse out of its context to settle a theological dispute. Some examples of proof-texting propping up bad theology are:

  1. “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24). People act as if this means that if we believe, God has to do what we demand. This flips the table, turning us into God and him into our servant.
  2. “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues…” (I Corinthians 15:5a) This verse is used by some hyper-charismatic Christians to say that every Christian can speak in tongues. Paul is actually arguing here that it is a person’s character, not their gifts that determines the quality of their faith.

And for our purposes here:

  1. ‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ (Romans 10:9). This passage, read apart from context, seems to suggest that salvation is a matter of praying a prayer once, and then it is done. But a broader reading of the Scriptures (or even reading more from Paul shows us that Paul is saying something more nuanced.

Getting Into God’s People Vs. Staying In God’s People

In the Old Testament, (contrary to what many Christians think) the Jews don’t suppose they become God’s people by keeping the law. Rather, they know they are God’s people by Grace, but that God expects his people to live according to the law as a sign that they already are his people.

When Paul argues against “works of the law” he’s saying that a person doesn’t become a member of God’s people by certain cultural markers found in the law (circumcision, kosher diet or sabbath observance) but rather by trusting in God. In other words, Christians don’t need to be culturally Jewish to be a part of God’s people. 

By faith, we enter into a relationship with God, and God heals us because we are a part of his people. However, if we defiantly live contrary to how God tells us to live we break the relationship with God who heals and saves us. So the New Testament warns Christians about going back to their old way of living. Paul makes a very strong appeal to people to choose the way of the Spirit over the way of the flesh, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Ga.6:7-8). Likewise, John also warns that our actions matter: 

The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who has been born of God practices sin, because His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin continually, because he has been born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother and sister. (1 John 3:7b-10)

Earlier in his letter, John says God forgives us when we confess our sins, so he’s not saying we’re not God’s people if we ever sin. Rather he’s saying that we can’t make a habit of deliberate and defiant sin and still be children of God. It’s only when our repentance is sincere that God offers us real forgiveness.

Repentance Without Grace

Another way we might misunderstand God’s forgiveness is when we are repentant but cannot truly accept God’s grace.

Sarah grew up in a Christian family with strict rules. As a teenager, she chafed under her parent’s inflexible rules. Following high school, she moved to another city to attend college. While she was there she began to do everything her parents had forbidden her from doing. After 10 years, she found herself in a desperate situation. She experienced one more breakup from yet another man who had really been using her. She had 2 children with two different men. She had trouble holding down work and she had a drinking problem. When she hit rock bottom, she turned back to her faith. Her life stabilized, but, deep down inside, Sarah felt unforgivable. She was sincerely repentant, but she failed to understand why the good news is really good news.

As the Psalmist says: 

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:8-12).

 When God forgives us, he takes away the guilt of our sin and makes us new, as if we had never sinned. Once we confess and he forgives, he never brings it up again.

We can all imagine a married couple where the wife does something to hurt the husband. She asks for forgiveness, and he assures her that he forgives her. But later on, she does something hurtful, and he brings up her past (supposedly forgiven) wrong. God doesn’t behave like that. When he forgives, he washes us completely clean. Sara’s actions were wrong, but she doesn’t need to beat herself up to stay in God’s grace. She can live in the freedom of knowing that whatever she has done in the past, it doesn’t affect her relationship with God now.


We are, by rights, God’s enemies, but he has graciously offered reconciliation because he is love. God’s love is intended to free us to live new lives, but if we use it to sin more, we abuse grace. To live in God’s grace, means we strive to live according to the direction of the Spirit (even if we sometimes fail). When we live according to the way of repentance, God wipes the slate clean, we can live without shame & guilt. This is very Good News!

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