It wasn’t until recently that this verse struck me and after analyzing it, did the Lord really speak to me about the weightiness of this one phrase, Romans 2:4:
“God’s kindness leads us to repentance”. (NIV)
Let’s just go step by step as we analyze the significance of this one verse:
First, what does repentance mean? I think most of us typically associate the term with sorrow, remorse, or shamefulness. But it’s interesting because the original Greek does not carry that connotation in this case. It’s actually referring to a “change of mind” or a “change of heart”! (you can go here for more details). It not only implies the “sorry” of a confession or an acknowledgement of sin, but also a change of mind or heart altogether—a change that is long-term. Indeed, ‘change’ implies going from one thing to something else.
Now, if you look closely, there is a cause and effect in this verse. What causes this ‘change of heart’? The verse says that ‘God’s kindness’ is the only impetus that ‘leads us to repentance’, or a change of heart. But what are our hearts being changed from and to?
If you look further in context of this passage (Rom 1-3), you’ll see a significant progression: a problem, the cause of the problem, and the solution for the problem. The problem is that our hearts are naturally in rejection towards God; and the cause of the problem is that we have “suppressed the truth” of who He is, and have likewise turned away from honoring Him as God and turned to loving and seeking after spiritually fatal pleasures, rejecting Him altogether (“exchanging His glory” aka ‘sin’) (Rom 1:21-23). However, these pleasures are second rate, trying to replace or fulfill the desires in us that were prewired to be only fulfilled in God. But this significantly sets the stage and foundation for the solution: God’s kindness to us nonetheless to restore us to Himself, for our highest joy and greatest fulfillment.
So how does this relate to repentance, or, a ‘change of mind’, a ‘change of heart’?
‘Change of heart’, then, implies a change of what our heart wants and thinks and does! When we see God’s grace, our hearts change from wanting the things of this world to wanting Him, his glory, and that love!
Here’s another translation of Rom 2:4 that seems all the more fitting about now: “His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin” (NLT)
God’s kindness and love changes our hearts so that we are not bound to the spiritual death associated with our ultimate loving of other things. His kindness changes us from desiring the things of the world, and gradually directs our affections to find a better, greater contentment and joy in Him. In essence, His kindness trumps sin in terms of what our hearts value and love! That’s incredible!
In other words, the more attractive we find God, the less our hearts desire ungodliness. Finding Him as our pleasure changes our hearts (repentance), turning our affections from sin and onto Him. And the more we pursue after Him in love, the greater victory we have over sin. Our hearts change. Repentance.
*In fact, how can we keep the greatest commandment unless we are being spurred on by God’s love? Yes, we love (keeping the commandment) because He first loved us (i.e. a response—a change of heart). Therefore, a change of heart is what is required to follow after God in love—with all your heart, soul, and mind (1 John 4:19, Matt 22:37-38)
This one verse is exceedingly significant in that it wraps up the gospel and shows us—at the very root—how sin is displaced in our life (a change of affections, a change of heart, i.e. ‘repentance’) and what severs sin’s hold (‘God’s kindness’—which was demonstrated to us in Christ). God’s love is better, gracious, and overcomes sin’s nasty hold with a more attractive appeal. Indeed, God’s love is better still.