The Gift of a Penitent Heart

girl giving a gift

A good Christmas gift is something we want, but the best gift is something we need but have no means to acquire. Today, we will look at penitence and restoration, something we can’t buy.

Repentance is a related term of penitent.
As nouns the difference between repentance and penitent is that repentance is the condition of being penitent while penitent is one who repents of sin; one sorrowful on account of his or her transgressions.


A Christmas story

Yes, this is a Christmas story, of sorts. First, we’ll go to Luke 22 (ESV):

60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

Every Christian, at some time in his or her life, has failed. Many have fallen many times; few, few times. For Peter, he needed something that he was utterly unable to purchase. Peter needed to be restored to Jesus. This could only start by penitence. From this passage we just read in Luke, we find four outstanding characteristics of the state of penitence:

(1) It is a divine thing. It began with God. Peter did not turn, but “the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.”
(2) It is a very sensitive thing. A look did it. “The Lord looked upon Peter.”
(3) It is a very intense thing. “Peter went out and wept bitterly.”
(4) It is a very lonely thing. “Peter went out” — out into the quiet night, to be alone with his sin and God.

Two human responses when sin’s grip is broken

Now, there are two prevalent human responses when sin’s grip is broken; these are human penitence or divine penitence.

Human penitence

We may have thought we were stronger men and women, and when we were put to the test, we found to our dismay that we failed; we are embarrassed. This embarrassment is what we are apt to mistake for penitence. But this is not a Divine gift of grace. Instead, this human penitence is merely wounded pride; sorrow that we did not do better, that we were not as good as ourselves and others thought.

Divine penitence

Contrast human penitence with the tax collector’s prayer in the temple (Luke 18:13-14). His prayer was not birthed from wounded pride. The tax collector cried out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Stricken before his God, this man had little thought of his self-respect or dignity as he brought his sins to God.

Jesus’ first gift to Peter

Christ’s first gift to Peter, a penitent heart, could not be given until Peter fully understood his need. Notice, Christ turns to Peter. When we are in the act of sin, it takes an act of God to break that hold. Jesus gave that to Peter by a single look. Jesus never forgets us, no matter what our condition.

Peter’s penitence was not only an intense thing and a lonely thing, but it was also an immediate thing. We often spoil God’s grace when we wait until our sin grows old.

We may be tempted to wait on purpose. Time smooths off the roughness from our sin and dilutes its bitterness. We postpone our penitence, as if the gift is something under our control. We want to linger until the sharpness of the wrong is dulled. As if eternity could ever make a sinner’s sin less black. The time for penitence is the time when we have sinned.

Jesus’ second gift to Peter

Jesus’ second gift to Peter was restoration. We read about this in John 21:15-19. Peter would not and could not have received his second gift without the first – a penitent heart. It would be like getting batteries without a toy car to put them in; nothing would happen.

A penitent heart is a gift, open it

A penitent heart is a great gift. It is one we need but cannot acquire on our own. However, it does have a shelf life. Receive Christ’s gift to you. Open it. Its value is beyond measure.

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

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