The very first time I ever saw someone respond to an invitation at the end of a sermon I was told the person who responded was “repenting” of their sin. From my young perspective I understood that the act of walking down the aisle was in fact repentance. You don’t have to be much of a Biblical scholar to know that my small observation was really very far from the truth. Most people struggle to define what repentance actually is.
The first use of the word in the Bible is when God uses it to describe His change of attitude for creating man. (Genesis 6:6-7) God has often described His change of action or attitude Biblically. (Jeremiah 18:8-10; Exodus 32:12, 32:14; Joel 2:13-14; Jonah 4:2) The earliest images of God show both unchanging character and sometimes disturbed observation at the moral poverty of His people.
In the New Testament, John the Baptist, demanded people would live a life which demonstrated their repentance. (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8) A change of behavior. (Acts 3:19; Matthew 18:3) Apostolic preaching has always demanded repentance. (Acts 2:38, 3:19, 20:21, 26:20) Without it we are truly lost.
Repentance begins in the heart. If by definition repentance is about change, the process begins elsewhere and earlier than the act. We must realize that a change is necessary. This is where many “well-meaning” Christians fail the “lost” of the world. It is believed that loving people will never be confrontational to sinfulness and thus could never point out the wrongness in someone’s life. It’s just not nice. The truth is that people often use the word love as a shield to the responsibility of being a messenger. I will also say that there are those who with glee seem to be able to, without any empathy at all, bludgeon people with the Word of God. Being a messenger does not exempt us from caring about those who are lost. Nothing can excuse the messenger from delivering the message; it is simply our job and responsibility.
So, what is repentance? It is far more than knowledge of sin. I am sure Satan knows exactly what sin is. It is his goal to lure us to the traps of sin laid down by him. Contemplation of repentance is not repentance. Thinking about something can be radically different than doing something about it. Repentance is more than simple sorrow over actions. It is not a once in a lifetime act! To continue to act out in a sinful manner is not repentance.
Repentance is a matter of the heart. As such only God can completely and thoroughly establish the effort and action. It is a change of heart that leads to a real change of carnal or spiritual activity. That being said, we can still show evidence of our actions, thus the call for fruits that demonstrate our repentance. Sins are not forgiven by men. Man can forgive actions or other efforts which have been perpetrated against himself. Whether we restore someone in a relationship is another issue. Only God can forgive sins. Since He is holy and righteous, only he can remove the guilt of sinful wrong doing.
If one struggles to repent there are powerful exercises which can help us in that regard. We can confess our sinfulness. Sometimes publicly and sometimes to God alone. We might speak our weakness to a friend or trusted person we know. When I confess I am beginning to be accountable. I will never tell God anything about me He doesn’t already know. I am announcing my own frailty, weakness, and imperfection. I need to hear that more than He does.
We’ll talk more about confession in our next article. For now, just understand that repentance is required for us to be a saved person. In order to approach Jesus, I have to begin by understanding what direction I am choosing to walk. We cannot walk our OWN path and still expect to end up at a very specific destination in the presence of God. Repentance is us walking in the direction of change God has designed for us. Godspeed on your journey.