Lenten Classics - Repentance

Lent - Repentance

The traditional season of Lent consists of the forty days (excluding Sundays) that lead up to Easter. Not all Christians celebrate Lent, but for many it is a meaningful time to seek spiritual renewal from the Lord. For an interesting article on a helpful approach to Lent, click here.

During each week of Lent this year, we will be posting an excerpt from a classic writing on Christian spirituality, followed by some questions for personal reflection.

Today’s post consists of some thoughts selected from the chapter on repentance in John Calvin’s work Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin (1509-1564) was a French pastor, theologian, and reformer in Geneva during the time of the Protestant Reformation.

John Calvin:

The substance of the gospel is, not without reason, said to consist of ‘repentance and remission of sins.’

… Repentance not only immediately follows faith but is produced by it. For since forgiveness is offered by the preaching of the gospel, in order that sinners, liberated from the tyranny of Satan, from the yoke of sin, and from their miserable enslavement to their vices, may enter the kingdom of God, — no one can embrace the grace of the gospel, unless they depart from the errors of their former life, begin to follow the right path, and devote all their attention to the exercise of repentance.

… The Hebrew word for repentance denotes conversion or return. The Greek word signifies change of mind and intention. Repentance itself corresponds very well with both meanings, for it involves these two things—that, forsaking ourselves, we should turn to God, and laying aside our old mind, should put on a new one. Therefore I think that repentance may be correctly defined as ‘a true conversion of our life to God, proceeding from a sincere and serious fear of God, consisting in the putting to death of our sinful flesh and old nature, to enter the new life of the Spirit.’ 

… Repentance consists of two parts—putting to death the sinful flesh and entering the new life of the Spirit…. Therefore we are frequently commanded to put off our old self, to renounce the world and the flesh, to forsake our lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of our mind.

… Both these branches of repentance are effects of our union with Christ. For if we truly partake of his death, our old self is crucified by its power, and the body of sin dies, so that the corruption of our former nature loses all its vigor. If we are partakers of his resurrection, we are raised by it to a newness of life, which corresponds with the righteousness of God.

Personal reflection:

  • To what extent has your faith in the gospel produced repentance?
  • Where do you sense God calling you to put to death your old nature?
  • Where do you sense God inviting you to enter the new life of the Spirit?