There is only one reason for Jesus to repent for us. We can’t repent adequately. An adequate repentance has four elements: a true perception of sin (conviction), telling the truth to God about sin (confession), the decision to change (commitment), and its demonstrable behaviors (consequences). Because we’ve already looked at the last two, we will look now at the first two.
We need Jesus’ repentance because we don’t know our hearts truly. But Jesus does: he sees into the hidden hearts of mistaken leaders and wayward people. The prophet Jeremiah once complained: “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? [And the good news is that he continues with] ‘I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind.’” Jesus understood the hearts of all people, what makes people tick….
….it is Jesus’ foreignness to sin that permits him to have a perfect conviction of the unique tragedy of our sinfulness. Since Jesus has perfectly clear eyes to see the tragedy of sin, his confession is utterly true. As the Truly Convicted Confessor, Jesus steps into the water and utters the world’s first genuine confession–for us. This is why we need Jesus to step into the Jordan for us: We need him to confess our confession of sins for us.
But this doesn’t mean that we don’t have to get into the water ourselves. Nor does this mean that we don’t have to repent. No, his repentance parts the water so that our (weak) repentance can stand up in that water. He clears away the waters of confusion so that we can utter, in our weakness, a genuine confession.
Our tentative convictions and our feeble confessions lead us to groan to God for help. I am a great fan of Paul’s famous words about groaning prayer in Romans 8:26-27: Our weak prayers are strengthened by the Spirit’s intercession for us. What Paul is speaking of here is analogous to Jesus’ repentance for us. Even in our repentance, we are not completely clear–why we sinned and what our sin’s implications were and will be. All we can offer is an incomplete repentance. But we know when Jesus waded into the deeps of the Jordan, he was there for us, uttering the true confession on our behalf.
Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others, 243-245.
*”As C.S. Lewis said, ‘Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly….The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person—and he would not need it.’” (Scot McKnight just prior to above , from Mere Christianity).