There are a few things of vital importance in both beginning and maintaining a walk with God, and repentance is one of them. You can neither be saved without it nor can you walk (and work) closely with God without it. It is an urgent enough concern in your relationship with Jesus, that both He and John the Baptist preached, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! in no uncertain terms to warn of the wrath that ultimately comes from a lack of repentance.
This study aims to provide the biblical description of repentance, how it works, why it is important and the consequences for not doing it. Unlike many other written works on Christianity, this one will have much less of the warm fuzzy stuff that makes you feel all cozy inside. It is meant to challenge your relationship with Jesus, the Son of God. Repentance is the thing that, as a part of obedience, defines how close you are in your relationship with God. The quality of your eternity is governed by your approach to repentance. Its importance cannot be underestimated or understated.
What is Repentance?
The idea of repentance is an easy concept to grasp once the correct context has been established. To put it bluntly, repentance is the act of turning away from sin back to obeying God. For this to make any kind of sense, however, we need to have a clear understanding of what sin really is.
Since God is who He is, He is the only one who gets to decide what is right and what is wrong. One basic thing the Bible teaches quite clearly and often (which goes contrary to popular opinion) is that God really leaves no gray area about right and wrong. God does not allow for what is termed situational ethics, the idea that something may be wrong most of the time but may be right if the circumstances appear to warrant the action. This idea generally comes from an incomplete or incorrect understanding of how God looks at things. The Bible also illustrates in many places how often Gods right and wrong may not seem correct in human terms. This does not, however, alter Gods sovereignty in the matter.
Fundamentally, sin is defined as disobeying God. God summed up all that is right for us to do in two simple commandments; love Him ahead of anything or anyone else in life and love (take care of) others the way you love and take care of yourself. Jesus Himself declared these two commandments as foundational to every other biblical truth in Matthew 22:37-40. As the glossary definition describes, the scope of this idea of sin is all encompassing. There are far more things that God considers sin than most people are willing to admit. If youve ever wished someone harm (even just a little), you have sinned since this is not loving to him or her. It does not matter what that person may have done to you. God put no conditions on His commandments and allows none on the love you share. This is exactly what He does in His love for you. Would you want Him to have conditions on His love for you?
Given our nature and Gods definition of sin, it is very easy to see how we can sin against Him, no matter how good we think were doing (its actually more amazing how much He loves us and is patient with us considering how short we fall in regard to His standards). Against His perfect standard, we cannot measure up.
When we dont measure up, the Bible teaches that we need to tell God that we realize and agree with Him that we have failed and that we desire not to fail again. It does not matter whether we will fail again (because we will), we need to want and strive not to fail again. There is a requirement for complete commitment this in true repentance.
When we tell God that He is right in saying we did something wrong by His judgement, that is called confession. When we take action, using the strength that God makes available to us, to fulfill one of Gods commandments in opposition to the sin, then that is turing from the sin and that is repentance. Note that it is yet another sin to try to turn from a sin using your own strength.
As you can see, there is far more to repentance than just saying that you are sorry about what you did. Real repentance is a trigger for actions to counter the sin. When you really repent of lustful thoughts toward someone (for example), you go out of your way to think about Gods Word against adultery or how you can help someone less fortunate than you. Is this an an easy thing to do? By no means, but that is why Jesus offers His strength to help you.
Why is it Important?
There are several reasons why repentance is important. The most fundamental one is that it fulfills the first commandment, to love God before all else. To fail to repent is to call God a liar about what He says is wrong. You cannot show love to God if you consider Him a liar and He cannot be anything but silent when you believe this of Him. A lack of repentance guarantees a broken relationship between you and God. True repentance will establish or restore that relationship.
Now, lets cover some more specific areas where the importance of repentance can be seen. The first point is that no one has any knowledge of salvation without repentance which means that there is no real salvation without real repentance. In Luke 1:76-77, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, is prophesying over his new-born son saying what Johns lifes work will be. He mentions that the knowledge of salvation only comes through the remission of sin. We see in Luke 3:3, where Luke writes of John the Baptist, He came into all the region around the Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for remission of sins that sin is only remitted when real repentance is involved. So, no honest repentance, no real salvation.
Once salvation has been taken care of, the important thing in our lives becomes our walk with God. Just because we have been saved (from the world and ourselves) does not mean that we will stop sinning and live a life of total obedience to God. That is the goal and standard, but we are still susceptible to our own selfishness and Satans ploys. The second point of importance about repentance is its ability to renew and restore our closeness to God. Soloman provides us a contrast on this point in Proverbs 28:13 where he writes, He who conceals his sins doesnt prosper, But whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. The apostle John completes this thought in 1 John 1:7-9 by telling us that we are both forgiven and cleansed of unrighteousness by God when we repent.
Another point on the imporance of repentance is simply the joy it brings to God and His angels in heaven when repentance occurs. Jesus related two parables in Luke 15:3-10 to show this. Pay special attention to Luke 15:7 and Luke 15:10. Do you think it is important to please God?
Finally, repentance is important because there are real, physical ramifications when groups of people humble themselvs before God in true repentance. Read carefully 2 Chronicles 7:14. Notice that Gods statement is directed at those who are saved (My people), requires repentance (turn from their wicked ways) and promises attention (I will hear from heaven), forgiveness (and will forgive their sin) and practical action (and will heal their land). In other words, to fix the ills of a country, God requires of His church (Christians) real repentance. He does not expect the lost to do it.
A Nations Example
As mentiioned above, when the saved people in a nation individually and corporately (i.e., in church) repent, their entire nation can and will be affected. Because of this, repentance is a national, not just an individual, issue. God ties the spiritual health of a nation to the repentance exercised by His people.
In Jeremiah 31:18-20, we read of a time when the entire nation of Israel repented before God. This passage is part of a quote of the LORD recorded by Jeremiah. In verses 18-19, God is quoting Ephraim (the name of the northern 10 tribes of Israel) relating the peoples final and true repentance after all the discipline He has had to levy by Israels captivity to the Babylonians. In verse 20 God describes His love of Israel, His acceptance of the peoples repentance and says, ...I will surely have mercy on him (him being Ephraim).
The Process of Repentance
Now that we have some insight into what repentance is and why it is important, the next question is, How do I repent? There are three main stages or steps you will pass through to get to real repentance. After discussing these, well also cover an important point to keep in mind about the consequences of sin, even when there is true repentance.
The first step in repenting is to realize that there is something of which you need to repent before God. This is not something you do yourself; it is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict (convince) you of the need for repentance. You do, however, need to listen for Gods voice. Many people never reach even this first step because they have hardened their hearts to the point where thay couldnt hear God even if they wanted to.
The proper response to being convinced by the Holy Spirit that sin has occurred is what the Bible calls godly sorrow. Most people are sorry when they get caught doing something they shouldnt. (Youll always get caught, at least by God; even if no one on earth knows about the sin committed, God does.) Godly sorrow is deeper than that. When your sorrow is godly, you dont just feel bad because you did something wrong. You see, and feel, the pain it causes. You want to do whatever it takes to make amends, to try to undo the hurt to others the sin has caused (and yes, someone else always gets hurt).
This distinction is important. Read 2 Corinthians 7:10. Here, Paul not only notes the difference, but describes the results of each. When godly sorrow is felt, it will always lead to repentance and salvation (if you are not already saved). When what you feel is only worldly sorrow, Paul warns that this will lead to death.
Once godly sorrow takes hold, the next step in the process of repentance usually comes of its own accord. Once you see your sin the way God does, you must (and usually want to) agree with Him that He is right in His view that the sin is wrong. In prayer, talk with God about the sin, agree with Him that it was wrong and let God help you understand the reasons why the sin is wrong.
The third step is the act of repentance itself. This is the commitment to use Gods strength to turn away from the sin and strive to never engage in it again. As was discussed earlier, you may not use the fact that you will probably sin again as an excuse to not make the commitment. If you are willing to be committed to trying, God promises to provide the strength you need to succeed.
A very important point to remember is that God may not stop the consequences of the sin even though you rightly and truly repented of it. Sometimes God uses those consequences to remind us of why the sin is wrong.
As an example of consequences even after repentance, review the time in King Davids life when he orchestrated the death of Bathsheebas husband Uriah so that he could have her for his own.
In 2 Samuel 12:13-14, we come to the end of the prophet Nathans confrontation with David over Davids sin. Verse 13 shows us Davids repentance. We know it to be genuine because God has put away your (Davids) sin. But, reading verse 14 shows us that David must still suffer loss because of his sin. With a little more study, we can see that the loss was not confined to the death of the son that came as a result of Davids affair. Back in verse 10 God (being quoted by Nathan) said, Now therefore the sword will never depart from your house... aluding to the battles David would always be involved in for the rest of his life.
This may not sound like much of a consequence (especially since wars happenned a lot to a king), but consider this. One of Davids fondest goals in life was to build a temple for the worship of God. But God denied him this because David had been a man of war and had shed blood (2 Chronicles 28:2-3). This as noted in 2 Samuel 12:10 was one of the consequences of Davids sin with Bathsheeba even though he truly repented of it.
Is Your Repentance Real?
Another common question is, I think I repented. How do I know that I really did it? When youve truly repented, God will confirm this in your heart. Just take the time to be still, and know that He is God and that He does still love you.
From a more observable standpoint, the nature of repentance cannot help but affect your actions. Either true or false, a persons actions will attest to the sincerity (or lack thereof) of repentance, just as a persons actions indicate what he or she really believes about something.
Lets consider two people, both of whom sinned against Jesus. In one case there was true repentance and the in the other, false.
When Repentance is Fake
The first is Judas Iscariot, one of the original apostles. He sinned by betraying Jesus to the religeous leaders. In Matthew 27:3-5, we read of how he responded to the opportunity to repent. Matthew writes in verse 3 that Judas felt remorse because of what he had done. Here is the conviction discussed earlier. We know that the sorrow he chose to feel was worldly sorrow for, in this instance, it lead to his death by his own hand. He chose not to allow God to forgive him.
When Repentance is Real
Now, lets contrast that with the second, the apostle Simon Peter. He sinned by denying Jesus (3 times). In Luke 22:62, we see that, because of his sin, he wept bitterly. But Peter decided to heed the call of the Holy Spirit to repentance. Read John 21:15-17. In this passage, John records the first conversation Jesus had with Peter after Peters denial and Jesus resurrection. In the exchange we see Peter brought to a contrite heart, realizing his sinful state before God. We know he truly repented, though, because of the responsibility Jesus gave him.
A Lack of Repentance The Downside
If there is any doubt as to how serious God takes the process of repentance, lets have a look at Gods response to a lack of honest turning from sin.
Even if you are already saved, God still provides serious consequences for times when a Christian does not repent. In the first part of Revelation chapter 2, Jesus is dictating a letter to the 1st century church in Ephesus. He is rebuking them for having wandered away from loving God and, in verse 5 warns them that God will remove them from participating in Gods work if they do not come back to Him in repentance. Their effectiveness for God will come to an end. For a Christian, we should always take the promise of removal from service very seriously. Such a life, though saved for eternity will contain no real joy while here on earth.
A sustained refusal to repent, especially in the light and revelation of the truth of God is dealt with very harshly. Read Hebrews 6:4-6. It tells us that, for those who have been exposed to Gods truth but refuse to repent and have turned their backs on God, it is ...impossible to renew them again to repentance... since they crucify Jesus again and ...put Him to open shame. Do you think God will respond kindly to being put to open shame?
Now read Matthew 11:20-24. In this passage, Jesus is decrying the lack of faith in several cities where He did mighty works. He says in no uncertain terms that these cities will suffer more than the city of Sodom (a notorious city indeed) when the day of judgement comes directly because of their lack of repentance.
From all this, we can see how serious God is about the importance of repentance, how much He does not want us to miss out.
Repentance in Practice
Now its time to do a little application. Understanding and knowledge of repentance, what its for, how it works, etc., is all well and good but is ultimately useless in Gods plan unless we make it part of our day to day walk with Him. So, lets go over some practical points to help us ingrain repentance into our behavior.
Repentance boils down to a willful act to turn away from participating in a sin. One way to bring the point home with regard to that sin is to study it and its consequences in the Bible, to make an effort to see why God considers it (whatever it is) wrong. It is extremely important to take this action against a sin as soon as possible after you are convinced by God of the sin. Immediately is best.
Keep in mind that repentance may be painful, but it is always what God requires. It is always what He requires because it is what is best for your life, especially since the primary result is a healed relationship between you and God. This healing makes repentance very much a part of the first and great commandment.
Repentance (like belief) is exemplified by a real and lasting change in behavior and the fruits of the Spirit. See Acts 26:19-20.
Finally, repentance brings real peace and refreshing. See Acts 3:19.
So Where Does All This Leave Us?
As described above, repentance is of vital importance in beginning and maintaining a relationship with Jesus. It is something God takes very seriously.
Since Jesus is God, then He is our creator and we are accountable to Him. All He wants is to be your Savior and the Lord of your life, to love you in tangible ways, to have a personal, one on one relationship with you. If you do not already have this relationship, you can read more here about how to get it started. Jesus is knocking. Will you open the door and let Him help you?
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Last updated on January 5, 2001 at 10:40 PM