Repentance: What is it? Why is it important? What do I repent of? Who do I repent to?
To some people today, repentance is the weekly guilt they feel in church on Sunday after living their lives the way they want to from Monday – Saturday; it is the constant rededication and recommitment of their lives to Christ. To other people, repentance has never even been a part of their faith experience; to still others, repentance is a foreign concept.
I think its is incredibly sad that so many of us are robbed of this part of the Good News.
I have experienced both: the convenient ‘Jesus loves you’ gospel that has nothing to do with my repentance; and the guilt-stricken, tear-filled, weekly rededication to Christ after living in sin; and I can tell you that neither of these are genuine repentance. Since I experienced true salvation in myself and others, I see now that repentance is essential to salvation and our walk with Jesus.
In my last post I spoke about the ‘bad news’ about the problem with sin; what sin is and how it keeps us on the road to hell and eternal separation from God. (You can read my last post here)
After my last post, I received a useful list of sins (with scripture) from a fellow disciple based in London. While this list doesn’t not cover all sin – it has been useful to help people examine themselves honestly before God – and truly repent. You can find that list here. I invite you to truly examine yourself by God’s standards – not your own. If this list makes you uncomfortable, or you don’t agree – please feel free to message me about it here.
In this next part of the Good News Series – I explore the first action we must take to enter into and partake of the good news of the Kingdom of God. In this post I hope to show that repentance is not a feeling or emotion but a decision; and that when we make that decision to repent – God meets us at that decision – and changes our hearts.
God’s plan: Repentance first
I spent my last post describing sin, hoping to show you that all of us are born with a nature that is sinful. The bible says that:
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure…”Jeremiah 17:9
Think about the fact that you do not have to teach a child to lie or to be selfish with his/her toys. We are born with a sinful nature and, in light of this problem, God – who knows the human heart better than anyone could – crafted a master plan for salvation. As part of God’s plan for our salvation and reconciliation, He sent John the Baptist ahead of Jesus.
John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin was born a few months before Jesus and essentially lived his life in a way that made it clear to everyone that he was a prophet sent by God. Matthew 3:4 describes John as wearing clothes made of camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey. John’s job was to prepare the people God had chosen to follow Jesus.
When asked if he was the Christ, John replied:
“He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” ’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” John 1:23
John was sent to prepare the way for Jesus; and how did he do that? the bible records that:
“John came baptising in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Mark 1:4
“People went out to [John] from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River.”Matthew 3:5-6
God knew that repentance was the essential first step before a person could follow Jesus, so he sent John the baptist – to minister a ‘baptism of repentance’ – where people would confess their sins and repent before God.
In fact, when Jesus began His ministry, His first message to unbelievers was also “REPENT”:
“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.””Mark 1:14-15
“From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”” Matthew 4:17
““Then [Jesus] began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent”Matthew 11:20
[Jesus:]“…but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”Luke 13:3
So what is repentance?
1. Repentance is to turn away from sin
The word repent is often translated in the bible as “turn way” “turn about” ” return”. For example looking at Ezekiel 14:16: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” – the original Hebrew text translates “Repent! Turn away” as “shuwb! shuwb“. The call of repentance is a call to change direction and turn away completely from a life of sin, transgression and iniquity.
If you haven’t yet, have a read through this list of sin and ask yourself – have I actually decided to let go these things forever?
2. Repentance is to turn towards God
The word ‘repent’ / ‘shuwb’ also means to ‘return’, ‘restore’, ‘to turn back to God’. Repentance doesn’t just mean you are turning away from sin – it is also a decision made in your heart to turn your whole being towards God: to choose Him, to obey Him.
If a person has a repentant heart – when God says – jump – that person says – how high?
3. Repentance is a decision – not a feeling
In the bible, it is clear that repentance is a ‘heart’ decision.
In calling on the people of Israel to repent, the prophet Joel says:
““Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God,”” Joel 2:12
This word ‘heart’ is not the fairytale – Hollywood – romcom ‘heart’. The word ‘heart‘ or ‘lebab‘ in Hebrew means:
- inner part
- moral character
- the seat of appetites
- the seat if emotion or passion
- the seat of courage.
So consider this – what would it look like if all the above parts of who you are decided to turn away from sin and towards God?
You can begin to understand why Jesus says:
“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; …”Matthew 5:30
God is not looking for blind slaves to follow Him. Repentance is a considered, sacrificial decision to turn away from sin and towards God. When a person genuinely repents they will make tough decisions: – they will cancel a dishonest deal that they were in the middle of (costing them money they desperately need); they will move out of their fiancé’s house because they do not want to live in sin before marriage; they will give up a career that does not glorify God (all examples from people I know personally) – whatever it takes to obey God.
Repentance is beyond a feeling of guilt. Feelings are temporary – a person can feel guilty because they were caught – and the next day – do the same thing. True repentance is a choice.
4. If you’ve experienced repentance – you’d know
When I experienced repentance, I didn’t have the words for my experience. I was alone in my bedroom reading the bible. I had a thought to see how I held up against the 10 commandments; after all – I was a pretty good person, a Christian – right? I went through each commandment – realising that lust is adultery (Matthew 5:28) and anger is murder (Matthew 5:21 – 22); and found myself convicted of guilt on every count. Right there, in my bedroom in the middle of the night – I began to cry and confess my sins before God – asking Him for forgiveness. I have never been the same.
The bible tells us that Jesus is the cornerstone; and explaining this is Matthew 21:44 Jesus says:
“And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.””Matthew 21:44
When we come to Jesus or ‘fall on this stone’ – we are broken: our will, our desires, our opinions – everything is laid bare and broken before God.
When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2; the bible says that the crowd were:
“…cut to the heart…”Acts 2:37
Repentance is an experience. I don’t remember the date or time but I know when I repented. If you have ever truly been broken before God – you’d remember too.
I meet many Christians today who can’t actually pin point a day of repentance. This is understandable as so many of us grew up in Christian homes, and only chose to ‘re-dedicate’ our lives to Jesus at certain points in our journey – but NEVER experiencing a day of genuine brokenness before God. This brokenness is essential to salvation.
5. Repentance is spiritual
The bible shows us that when we genuinely repent, something spiritual happens. God performs a spiritual surgery and actually creates a new heart within us.
This new heart hates sin and love God’s law; it is a heart that has been cleansed, purified and made new. This heart is the heart God desired for mankind – even under the old covenant. The bible describes it as a circumcision of the heart.
“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”Deuteronomy 30:6
In explaining to the Jewish believers in Rome the difference between the old and new covenant Paul writes:
“…circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”Romans 2:29
When God told the prophet Ezekiel what He would do to redeem Him people, He said:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.“Ezekiel36:26
It is a spiritual heart surgery.
When we make a decision to repent – genuinely – God meets us at the point of our decision. He starts the process of changing us from within – the process of making us new creations – free from the power of sin and death able to serve him.
What happens when we repent?
Here’s the thing, once we repent, I’m not saying life will be rosey, free of temptation or sin. What I am saying is that the posture and direction of our hearts should change. The bible makes a distinction between ‘living in sin’ and ‘sinning’.
Before repentance, we are living to please ourselves. We sin without really feeling much. We lie, we steal, we sleep around, we hate, we gossip, we are jealous – and we keep doing these things.
When we experience deep, genuine repentance, we make a decision to turn away from these things. We must consider and be ready and willing to give up any thing God shows us is sin. We must also be ready to live to please, obey and serve God.
When we repent, we may not have the ability to stop sinning but good news, God helps us! He gives us a new heart that CAN please Him.
When we have repented – it is possible to sin. However, with a heart that has genuinely repented a few things are different when you sin: (1) sin is like stumbling in your walk to genuinely and honestly please God (2) you do not make a habit of sin (3) you will make active choices to keep you from that sin (4) you will be convicted in your heart of even a sinful thought (5) God will keep showing you sin in your life so that you can keep changing.
After repentance, what next?
Once we repent, we are called to be baptised in water and we are promised the gift of the Holy Spirit. Next up in the Good News Series: Baptism in water. Stay tuned.
What about you?
Have you ever repented of sin? Or have you been a constant cycle of guilt and sin? Do you want to experience genuine repentance and salvation? Do you just want to talk about it? You can reach our to me here – I am always available to talk, minister, pray and baptise.
Till next time; stay blessed. x