What Is Repentance?

One of the most difficult things in life is to admit we are wrong. It cedes our authority and places it out of our control. This is reprehensible to many humans. Therefore, many cannot come to Christ because humility pays too high a price.
Repentance is required because we all have sinned and need forgiveness (Romans 3:23). However, this is predicated on our first admitting we have sinned, which most will not do. Truth, they feel, is relative because self-esteem is more treasured than certainty.
The first recorded words of Jesus’ public ministry were, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Paul said, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Jesus was even more blunt, “unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
Knowing repentance is a command, we must determine what it means.
Repentance is not just being sorry for our sins or that we got caught (Matthew 27:3). It is not simply fear of God (Acts 24:25) nor is it covering up our sins (Numbers 32:23).
J. W. McGarvey said: “Repentance is something that stands in between sorrow for sin and the change of life in which sins are abandoned and a better course of conduct begins…. When a man is so thoroughly filled with sorrow and mourning and self-reproach on account of his sins that his will is subdued to the will of God, and he says, I will sin no more, I will hereafter submit to the will of God, this results in a change of life, and it is repentance, a change of will in regard to sin.”
Repentance is godly sorrow in that we see our sins as God sees them. God is sinless and cannot be where sin is (1 John 1:5). Moreover sin put his Son on the cross. God is pained when we turn away from him and towards Satan because he sees through Satan’s lies. He knows where we are headed. If we grow to hate sin as much as he does, we will be closer to living a life without its pockmarks.
Repentance is also action (Joel 2:12-14). It is a turning away from sin, but more so, a turn toward that which is right. We read in Isaiah 35:8 that the way to God is described as the “Highway of Holiness.” Imagine we are traveling on that road. Going the other way is the road to Satan. As we travel toward God we see signs that promise pleasure and independence on Satan’s path. We consider it and turn around and head to Satan’s home. Conscience, holy words, or the encouragement of others causes us to repent of our actions. We turn around and go back toward God. We have changed our intention, perspective, goal, and path all in the same action. We no longer intend to run toward Satan. We are committed to being with Christ. This is repentance. It is a total change of direction.
We seek only to return to the arms of the Lord because we cannot imagine being anywhere else. Peter said to Christ, “to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Daniel A. Brown said, “Repentance is not something we try for awhile to see if it works. In repentance, we voluntarily give up our right to have options.”
The beautiful thing is that when we turn our lives over to Christ, he will make us something greater than we could ever be on our own.

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Richard lives in Florence, Alabama and is married to Deirdre. They have three daughters. He is an avid reader, devoted writer and lover of history and research. He is the author of "The Most Important Question" and is working on more books.

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