Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Essence of True Repentance

Repent! It's the first word of the gospel message. It is simultaneously commanded by God and granted by him. John baptized unto it, and commanded fruit in keeping with it, but what is it? The simple definition is a change of mind or heart, but often we have a change of mind or heart (or at least we think we have), only to find ourselves back in the same place far sooner than we ever thought possible. Is repentance meant to be a yo-yo experience, the penitent returning to the same place of regret over and over? Does ruing a bad choice truly rise to the level of biblical repentance?

I think repentance is about transit-- it moves from one thing to something else. We can beat up ourselves endlessly for the stupid things we do, say and think, but if that doesn't lead to real change, it's just wasted emotion. We need more than godly sorrow, guilt will never do! We need to go somewhere new. Where? How about agreement. For repentance to produce fruit, a sincere realization that God was right and we were wrong needs to arise in the heart and mind. Only then can we truly relinquish our will to his, come into agreement with him and achieve change. Only then can we walk together with God. [see this for a practical take]

The prophet asked, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" The answer to rhetorical questions is always obvious, but sometimes the applications are anything but. I don't know that anyone has applied the answer to this question to repentance, but it's there, waiting for us to connect the dots. From the intersection of Godly Sorrow and the Need of Change the sign post points toward the next stop called Agreement. It's where we and God meet, and travel on together. It's where we must go when we are finally ready to rise from the ash heap. It's the essence of true repentance.


  1. A timely post. Let's not forget confession as an integral part of repentance. When we expose our sins we humble ourselves. God gives grace to the humble. I agree we can not just "feel sorry" for our sins like a good Sunday school student, but we must actually hate them and turn from them and like you said turn to God. I pray that the hearts of our church people will be stirred to this simple but important message.

  2. Ian,
    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Confession certainly can play a major role in repentance, as can restitution (Luke 19:8), particularly in wrongs done to other people. The lack of such may be the proximate cause in the lack of healing in some instances of sickness (James 5:16). The most general sense of the word translated confess is "to say the same thing [as God]", which fits in well with the concept as I attempted to explain it in the post. When we confess our sins, we can rest assured that God will forgive them and get us walking past them, without them, with God (1 John 1:8-10).


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