Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)
Many of us miss the heart of God because we think the gospel ends with forgiveness. We know the deep and familiar stains of our sins, we feel the intense and abiding pains of our pasts, and we fear the horrors of hell. And then we hear again about the God who forgives sinners, like us, because his Son died on a cross to pay our awful debt and rinse away our stains.
If this is all we ever hear about God, though, we might be tempted to think forgiveness is the heart of God. But forgiveness isn’t the heart of God. Forgiveness is our bridge, the only bridge, to the heart of God, where we behold his glory and become like him. Without forgiveness, we would still be alienated from God, dead in our sin, and destined for wrath. Thank God, he does forgive us in Christ, but he does so much more than forgive us. As he reconciles us to his heart, he also renews our heart to be like his.
That process — becoming men and women after God’s own heart — is called repentance.
Awakening to Reality
The apostle Paul writes about repentance, “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25–26). When we come awake to the heart of God — when we repent — we come to our senses. Through repentance, we see and experience reality as it really is. Life cannot be as it was. We cannot be as we were.
What is repentance? The apostle Peter says, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Repentance is a turning away from sin — and to God (Acts 26:20). As we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone, receiving the forgiveness he purchased, we refuse to be mastered by sin any longer. We decide, by God’s grace, to be done with sin.
If we refuse to be done with sin, assuming God will just forgive us again, Scripture says we re-crucify the Son (Hebrews 6:6). Paul warns us, “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). Those who truly know the forgiveness of God do not presume on the forgiveness of God. They long to have their heart shaped by God and filled with God — to be done sinning.
Repentance Is Freedom
If true repentance sounds like slavery, it is. Having been set free from sin, we “have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). No freedom could be sweeter than slavery to the righteousness of God. Christ now lives in us, by his Spirit, freeing and empowering us to live as we were made to live — and to kill whatever threatens our life in him (Romans 8:13).
Again, as Paul says, “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25–26). We didn’t know just how enslaved we were until we loved Jesus — we couldn’t feel the chains around our feet, or see the bars that locked us in, or hear the whispers of the one who kept us there.
But, before your heart was Christ’s, you were captured by the devil and forced to do his will. You were not free, and you were not in control. Satan made you feel in charge, while you were being led along a path to destruction. He made sin seem satisfying, while it slowly sucked the peace, hope, and joy from your life. And he wanted you to die in that illusion.
As Precious as Forgiveness
But God would not leave you in those chains, behind those bars, enslaved by those lies. By grace, he sent the light of his Son into the darkness, freeing you through your faith in him and leading you out along the path of repentance.
Don’t miss the miracle in 2 Timothy 2:25–26: “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth . . .” Repentance is a gift, every bit as precious as forgiveness. Only God can grant repentance. If you have turned away from sin, God ignited that in you. He broke the stubborn back of your heart’s resistance. He breathed life into lungs that had never tasted fresh air. Therefore, surrender all to him, freely giving him everything you are and have.
And if you know someone who hasn’t turned from their sin, plead with God to ignite the same in them. God may perhaps grant repentance, which means we should most definitely pray — consistently and persistently.