A husband and wife are engaged in a heated exchange. He made a remark that she found offensive, and now he’s paying for his insensitivity. In exasperation he says, “All right, if it will make you feel better — I’m sorry!” But his statement doesn’t make her feel better. She doesn’t believe his remorse is genuine. He may be sorry that she is upset, but he doesn’t yet grasp why his words made her angry.
With our impure thoughts, words, and actions, we often offend the holiness of God. When we come to realize the dangerous condition we’re in, we may ask for forgiveness of those sins. “I’m sorry, Lord,” we say. But is our penitence genuine? Are we truly repulsed by the sinfulness of our actions?
Jesus found fault with the church at Laodicea. The Christians there felt they were in good condition, that they had “need of nothing” (Revelation 3:17, NKJV). Jesus saw it differently, though, and counseled them to look again at their precarious situation. If they would look through the eyes of Jesus, they would see that they were “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked” (v. 17). At present, however, they didn’t see their actual condition.
What was the first order of business for these sin-blinded Christians? After speaking generally about their need to wholeheartedly turn to him, Jesus then spoke directly: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19). Repentance alone was not what Jesus prescribed. Zealous penitence was the thing that was needed.
“Zealous” denotes intense enthusiasm. It’s commonly seen at sporting events as fans (people who are fanatical) purchase expensive tickets and cheer loudly for their teams. Paul spoke in Galatians 1:14 about being “exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” That zeal became obvious when Paul (Saul at the time) traveled far and wide to arrest those whom he considered blasphemers. A person with zeal commits much to that for which they are zealous.
Imagine what would happen if we combined penitence with zeal. There would be a more determined effort to put sins behind us. We would be more serious in learning God’s will for our lives so we would not sin ignorantly so often. In our relationships, we would make our apologies more genuine.
This illustrates once more that God desires more than outward ritual. Those who want to please him will come to him with their whole hearts.
Does our penitence come from the heart?