What is repentance?

Who among us has not felt the ache of guilt, the realization that what we have done is wrong?  In a moment of clarity we wonder, why don’t I want to forgive that person, or why did I allow such anger to overwhelm me, or why do I make the same hurtful choice again and again? A key part of change is repentance, not to be confused with regret!  

Regret is focused on the pain of the sin, on the potential consequence of some wrong decision.
Repentance is focused on God and His will for our lives.
Regret is an emotion.
Repentance is an action, a choice to ‘turn around,’ to change course to pursue the purpose and will of God.

Christians sometimes mistakenly believe that because the grace of God is all-encompassing, because Jesus forgives our sins completely, there is no need to deal with the choices of life. In truth, Jesus insists that we grow, change, and repent from sin throughout life, calling us to repentance. The aim is not to create misery or shame in us, but rather to allow us to experience the fullness of the Spirit’s life.

Jesus told this parable. After speaking of repentance, Jesus said “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

”‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9, NIV)  I love the themes woven into His little story – patience, the persistence of God’s mercy, and the importance of ‘bearing fruit.’  One lesson is clear – we will not be fruitful in the life of the Spirit if our lives are cluttered with sins for which we are unrepentant.

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, a divided, prideful, sensual church. His words of correction in his first letter were sharp and apparently caused those Christians pain, stirring up guilt.  In his second letter he writes this: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NIV)  When we feel sorry for our sins and failures, it is not to be the regret of being ‘caught,’ or the loss of face that motivates us. Such guilt will be temporary, quickly forgotten leaving our hearts and lives unchanged. Rather, we need a godly sorrow, feeling the heart of our Father, knowing His pain when we choose something less than His best for us. This will bring us to a place of desiring to deal with our sin and find the way to overcome through Christ.

David wrote these amazing words of repentance in a well-known song – Psalm 51.  “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:7-12, NIV)   

Hyssop was an herb long associated with cleansing and healing.  On the night of the first Passover in Egypt, God directed His people to take a branch of hyssop and sprinkle a lamb’s blood on the sides of the entry to the home. This act of faith ‘covered’ the first-born of the home when the death angel passed through Egypt. David prays first for a ‘blood-cleansing,’ knowing that regret along was unable to change his heart.  This, my friend, is where our prayers of repentance begin as well.  We turn to the Cross of Christ Jesus, seeking to be made clean by His offering of His life-blood for us.

David declares that God’s cleansing is complete – “I will be whiter than snow!” He focuses on the joy that is found in  release from guilt. And then He prays for a ‘clean heart.’  Real repentance is not outside in, but rather inside out. It is our response to the Holy Spirit drawing us to know anew the Father’s love. This Lenten season know and love the Grace of God, but do not neglect the importance of true repentance. Listen to the quiet voice of the Spirit. Let your heart be touched by His holiness, even if that leads to tears; then – receive the gift of restoration and reconciliation that He gives.

The word from the Word is direct. Hear and know the joy of the Lord.
“The time has come,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
(Mark 1:15, NIV)  Amen.

(Video of this blog at this link)


Change My Heart Oh God

Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You

You are the potter
I am the clay
Mold me and make me
This is what I pray

Eddie Espinosa

© 1982 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Integrity Music)

CCLI License # 810055

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