Repentance is a word that tends to get under our skin. Honestly, most of us don’t like the thoughts and feelings this concept conjures up. That’s why we don’t hear it too often.
I would, however, like for us to recognize repentance – and I mean that in two very important, but different, ways. First, I would like to acknowledge repentance for what it is; an essential part of experiencing new and eternal life in Christ. Secondly, I want us to recognize what true repentance looks like and to give us a simple, working definition.
Many understand the term repentance to mean “turning from sin,” but this is not the biblical definition of repentance. Scripturally, the word repent means “to change one’s mind.” More on that later, but we need to understand this before discussing our 2 primary points.
Our first point is necessary in that we hear so little of repentance today. An idea that was often on the lips of the Prophets, Jesus, the Apostles, the Reformers, the Puritans, and early American Christian leaders, but is conspicuous by its absence in modern evangelicalism. As we have become more “seeker sensitive” and “relevant,” our trajectory, sadly, has been to soft-peddle the Gospel; ignoring, overlooking, or misunderstanding the fundamentals of saving faith. We need to once again unashamedly, unequivocally, and relentlessly tell the truth of God’s Word: repentance is a real and vital component of becoming and living as a follower of Christ.
“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).
“As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
These and many other Scriptures (including Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20 – all in that one book) make a direct connection between repentance and salvation. In order to become a child of God, He is calling us to change our minds from the rejection of Christ as our only Savior, Treasure, and Hope to faith in Him as both Redeemer and Master of our lives.
But before we get too puffed up about our repentance and have to repent of the sin of pride, it is important to note that it is impossible to place your faith in Jesus unless it is a work of God Himself. No one can repent and come to Christ unless God draws (pulls) that person to Himself. In other words, repentance is completely a gift from God (John 6:44; Acts 5:31; 11:18) and it is only possible through His grace. As strange as it sounds, no one can repent unless God grants repentance. All of salvation is a result of God drawing us to Himself and changing our minds, hearts, and lives.
So let’s recognize repentance for what it is: a necessary component in being redeemed and born again. If we haven’t repented (changed our mind about Jesus) then we haven’t experienced conversion to the Christian faith, we haven’t really “met Jesus.”
Now let’s recognize (see, understand) what true repentance looks like.
This second point is just as critical as the first. Although repentance isn’t, by definition, turning from our sin and turning to the righteousness found only in Christ, it certainly involves it. Does that make sense? While repentance is not a work that earns salvation, repentance that is requisite for salvation does result in a genuine pursuit of righteousness. It is impossible to truly and fully change your mind about who Christ is and what He has done for us without that causing a change of heart that leads to a change in behavior.
Hence, my simple, working definition of repentance:
Repentance is a change of mind concerning Jesus (who He is and what He has done), that leads to a change of heart (a new, radical affection for Him), that compels a change in lifestyle (one that seeks to honor Him).
Scripture is clear: repentance results in a change in behavior. This is why John the Baptist called people to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). A person who has truly repented from rejecting Christ, and turned to Him in faith, will give evidence of a changed life, the fruit of repentance (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:19-23; James 2:14-26).
So let’s recognize that repenting doesn’t make us perfect, but it does change our desires. This means that we, in our passion to be like and please our Savior, live lives of constant repentance. So, to a certain degree and eventually, repentance changes the way we live as we are empowered by God’s Spirit. In other words, if we change our mind, and thus submit to the Lordship of Christ, we will have a heart that desires to please Him. Ultimately that will manifest itself in the way we project the beauty of the One whom we now recognize as our King. We will live differently by His power, in His name, and for His glory.
This so reminds me of some of the first recorded words of Jesus – words we would do well to heed: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
So, have you done this? Are you doing this?