A second major difference between repentance and penance is that repentance is a work of God in the heart, while penance is a work of man in his own heart. As discussed previously, repentance is commanded of God, and anyone who repents has obeyed God and done what is right. However, it must be clarified that repentance is not a work of man, but rather a work of God. For it is impossible for men to please God, doing what He has asked of them, being that there is no one who is good and no one who does anything good on his own merit (Rom 3:10-12) except God Himself (Luke 18:19). While men might preach and instruct others to repent, “It is the Holy Spirit breathing in them that makes their words effectual” (Acts 10:44).1
Another way to show that God is the author of repentance comes about through a careful study of Romans 12:2. As believers, Romans 12:2 states that we are not to “be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This transformation allows us to, “prove what the will of God is” (Rom 12:2). A link between this transformation and repentance is clearly seen,2 for as was stated before, repentance is essentially “a change of mind”.3 Titus 3:5 states clearly that the Holy Spirit is the agent of this change – it is not accomplished by a person’s own effort or his own righteousness. A correct understanding of the source of repentance is vital to believers who practice penance, because they are in direct violation of the truth of God’s Word. They cannot do anything in and of themselves to make themselves right before God. Their work is of no avail in God’s economy. And so rather than focus on their own efforts to pay for their sins, they should look to Christ as their only hope, and the one to whom they can look for the forgiveness of sin (1 Tim 1:1).
1Thomas Watson. The Doctrine of Repentance (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), 14.
2William Douglas Chamberlain. The Meaning of Repentance (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1943), 172-173.
3Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 513.