The 3rd of the Steps of Salvation demonstrates the tension between viewing salvation as a moment in time or a life of faith. Traditionally, the Steps of Salvation answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?” and build to a specific moment in time. They culminate in the moment in which one enters the kingdom of God in baptism.
This view has biblical legitimacy as the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost answered this question with the instruction to “Repent and be baptised”. The command to repent didn’t mean changing behaviour, because 3,000 people were baptised that day. They had no opportunity to demonstrate reformed behaviour, but they apparently still had time to “Repent and be baptised.” So in this point of time REPENT refers to a new way of thinking, a decision to reject one’s old life and to undertake a new life in Christ.
John the Baptist seems to recognise two steps in the process of repenting. In Luke 3:3 John began “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Many people responded to his message and were baptised. Then they started asking the tough questions, “I’ve repented and undergone the baptism of repentance. What do we do next?” John replied in verse 8 “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” A severe case of “Sorry God” is insufficient in the long run. Changing our lives starts with changing our minds, but it can’t end there. God expects us to demonstrate our repentance in our lifestyles.
A website I came across explains it this way, “Like love and faith, repentance motivates action. It motivates us to hate sin and love righteousness, and thus it motivates us to flee from sin and to “bring forth fruit … worthy of repentance.”” (extracted from this website)
Although most people explaining the Steps of Salvation would insist that the Repent step involves changing behaviour, in practice it involves little more than saying “Sorry” to God for past sins. Time doesn’t permit much more before moving on to the remaining steps.
While saying that there must be a moment in time that I recognise the depth, severity and abhorrence to God of my sins, I must also acknowledge that my understanding of my sin will grow over time. This mental acknowledgement isn’t a one-time event. But there is one moment with sufficient realisation to prompt me to take the next step toward Christ.
Once we’ve been Christians a while the word “repent” loses its force in our lives. We have generally turn from sin and committed to Christ. It seems that we have passed the need for repentance.
I believe that taking the Daily Step of REPENTANCE actually involves focusing on the goal of TRANSFORMATION. Like repentance, transformation begins with the mind but we express it by living in a manner that pleases God. Transformation differs from Repentance by focusing on what we transform into rather than the past sins from which we repent.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
If we teach the Steps of Salvation as momentary events that together answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?” we must continue teaching beyond that. We must ensure that we not only repent, but once our sins are forgiven we must continue to emphasise transformation.
As a final point, I believe the momentary “turning of the mind” involves the development of a hatred of sin. If previously we loved sin and were enemies of Christ, now we must love Christ and hate sin. In 2 Cor. 7:8-11 Paul describes the connection between godly sorrow and repentance. In v11 he states that godly sorrow over sin and injustice makes the Corinthian Christians “eager to see that justice is done.” That’s an attitude of a repentant mind that lasts more than a moment.
- “Repent” is a word we commonly use. How would you explain it to someone?
- Do you find the comparison of “repentance” and “transformation” useful?
- What does “hating sin” look like in your life?