This is an important question and the first and most obvious answer is that if someone is unwilling to repent of sin then they are not a child of God. Initial repentance is the sinner’s fundamental change of mind, emotion and will toward personal sin at the time of salvation. Without repentance there is no salvation. It has been said that repentance and faith are on the opposite sides of the same coin. Scripture certainly teaches this:
Paul said he solemnly testified “to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
Just like a river has a source and you can point at the river as evidence that there is a source to that water, so in the life of a Christian you can point to the river of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as evidence that they were in fact born into the family of God in the past at some point.
But what does it mean if someone is not repenting of their sin and turning to Jesus alone for forgiveness? If someone is not repenting of their sin and turning in faith to Jesus alone and they never have, they do not know God. They are in fact still lost in the darkness of their sin.
But we need to ask another very specific question: What happens when a professing Christian at some point stops repenting of sin? What should happen is a personal awareness to or exhortation form someone else to examine to see if they are in fact one of God’s children. Often at this point it becomes clear if the person is a child of God or not. Those who are children of God will recognize the legitimacy of that very question and will eventually repent of their sin. Those who are not children of God become offended that someone would even question that they are a child of God. But if they get offended, it is because they are offended with the exhortations from God Himself. And as such, they reveal that they are not one of His children:
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you– unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Let’s assume that a professing Christian does in fact eventually repent of sin and it does become evident they truly are a child of God. For that brief time of not repenting of their sin, what did this mean about who they were trusting during the season of no repentance?
We need to make this much more personal. What does it mean when we do not confess and repent of our sin to God on a daily basis? Maybe it would be helpful to get very specific. What does it mean when we do not confess to our spouse that we were being manipulative, angry, bitter, impatient, unloving, harsh, assuming the worst etc.? What does it mean when we have slandered someone and not asked forgiveness and made things right? What does it mean when in my heart I am nurturing frustration about how my day has gone and am full of anxiety but I do not take this to the Lord and confess it? Many more examples could be given, but there is one answer to all of these scenarios: I am ensnared in self-righteousness.
The ugly fact of the matter is this, if you or I am not willing to confess our sin to the Lord then we are saying “I got this, I can turn over a new leaf, I can just move on and things will be okay.” We are saying in effect, “I do not need the cleansing of the blood of Jesus in this situation. I just will not do it again. I will make up for it.” We of course do not say these things, but our actions are speaking louder than our silent mouths. We are in fact declaring “I can do this on my own.” This is the ugly reality of self-righteousness as evidenced by unconfessed sin, any unconfessed sin.
Why is this the case? Because Jesus came to save the sick (that is those who know themselves to be sick with sin).
But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick (Matthew 9:12).
True Christians knew at one point and continue to know that they are in fact sick and in need of Jesus as their Great Physician. But at those moments of unconfessed sin we are acting as if we are not that sick and do not really need Jesus as our Great Physician.
1 John 1:5-2:2 is very helpful with these truths:
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 1:5-2:2).
If you are unclear of what exactly true repentance is, I would encourage you to examine the following passages: 2 Corinthians 7:9, 11, James 4:1-10; Psalm 32; Psalm 51).
May the Lord help us to continually say we have sin, confess our sin, and experientially know the cleaning blood of Jesus for our sin. He is our Advocate, we cannot be our own. Self-righteousness is not our hope, Christ’s righteousness is.