Repentance is one of the foundations of the Christian faith, however it is very much misunderstood in today’s society. It may be worth looking at 6 common misconceptions before studying what the bible says about it:
- It is not a way to manipulate God. We can think that by simply saying sorry God is duty bound to forgive us. (In a similar way to when we insist children say sorry; as long as they say the words and look contrite all seems well, but they don’t really mean sorry because they do the same thing 5 minutes later).
- It is not sorry simply because you “got caught”. We see this occur time and time again in the media: a well known celebrity being caught in some misdemeanour, they go into rehab, appear contrite, give some money to charity and then society decides ‘you’re ok now we will love you again’. That is penance and is not the same as repentance.
- It is not mere confession. Have you noticed that some people say sorry and then go on doing the very thing they said sorry for? This is an acknowledgement of sin without repentance.
- It is not a determination towards self-improvement. We all have a tendency towards striving to do better in our own strength, (I’m sorry I missed that target but I will get better at this and try even harder…..).
- It is not shifting the blame. Some people blame their sin on their upbringing or their genes or any other number of ways to ‘explain’ why they are like they are. They say “I can’t help it, it’s just the way I am…”, or they have an affair, because “my partner is not giving me enough attention”, so justifying their sin and avoiding any personal responsibility.
- It is not minimising your sin. We compare ourselves with others who, in our eyes, are worse than us, for example “…it was only a little white lie and didn’t hurt anybody. Not like that big fat lie that other person said…). When we minimise our sin it never feels quite so bad, but it is still sin and needs to be repented of.
Given the confusion in today’s society it is very important we understand what biblical repentance means.
The act of repentance means we don’t simply say sorry, feel a little remorseful and then carry on as before. Repentance means we stop, turn around and go in the opposite direction.
Repentance is actually a wonderful gift from God.
God reveals to us our sins and gives us a Godly sorrow that leads us to full repentance. This results in a change of heart and mind, leading to a change of action and behaviour which is then demonstrated through a changed lifestyle. This doesn’t necessarily happen all at once but will show increasingly as we live a life of repentance.
In Luke 3:8, as John the Baptist is preparing the way he says “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. He is then asked what this would look like and in verse 11 John replies “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
So does this mean that we are saved by works? No, but our lives will change as we are motivated by God’s love, grace and forgiveness to do works which show how God has changed our hearts.
Repentance is not just a ‘one off’ thing we do when we become a Christian, like ticking a box to say, “I’ve done that, what’s next?”. It is an ongoing practice, a lifestyle. It keeps us humble and reliant on God’s grace which He continues to give us.
It is God’s desire that we should repent of our sins:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength”. (Isaiah 30:15 NIV)
Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out. (Acts 3:19)
Having a repentant heart keeps us humble and reliant on a gracious God who is always willing to forgive us. Do you have anything that you need to repent of? Is there anything in your life causing you to keep God at a distance?
This week, read the story of the prodigal son, found in Luke 15:11-32. Let God speak to you through it.