We all know from experience that it is one thing to make a New Year’s resolution and it is quite another to keep it. A little reflection tells us why this is so: it is much easier to think about doing something than to do it. It takes time, effort, and perseverance to translate a mental decision (I’ll stop smoking”) into a consistent behavior (“I don’t smoke any more”).
Repentance is a mental response. It is saying, “I don’t want to live in this anti-God way any longer.” It is deciding to change. But deciding is not enough. This is why the New Testament couples faith with repentance. Repentance is choosing a new direction. But faith makes it possible to go in that new direction. Repentance says: “I want to leave this addiction behind.” Faith reaches out to God to make this decision possible. Step Six is followed by Step Seven.
We are all aware that faith is a central theme in the New Testament. But we probably are not aware that repentance is, too. In fact, Jesus spoke more often about repentance than he did about faith.
Paul, on the other hand, referred sparingly to repentance. In fact, he used the word only three times in his letters. However, in one of these passages (2 Corinthians 7, the text which we will study), his discussion of repentance is so lucid that one commentator (Bishop Moule) considers it to be the best description of repentance in all of Scripture.
The background of this passage is important. Paul had a rather tumultuous relationship with the Corinthians church. During his first visit to Corinth, he founded the church. However, after he left the city, he heard that the new Christians there were engaged in a variety of activities that were clearly outside the bounds of the gospel. They had split into warring factions, they were really confused about sexuality, they were taking each other to court, and so on. So he wrote a letter to them (1 Corinthians), challenging them about what was going on in the church. In that letter, Paul promised to return to visit them again (1 Co 16:1-9). His return visit, however, proved extremely painful (because of the conflict he had with a false apostle who had begun teaching in Corinth). What really disturbed Paul was that the Corinthian Christians did not rally to support him in this conflict.
It is unclear exactly what took place next, but it seems that Paul sent various letters in order to correct the situation. We read in 2 Corinthians that Paul was anxiously awaiting news as to whether the problem in Corinth had finally been resolved. He was so concerned about the situation that he left Troas and took a boat across to Macedonia to be nearer to Corinth (and thus to receive news that much sooner). In the passage we will study, Paul reports on the news Titus brought from Corinth.
Read 2 Corinthians 7:5-13.