There are several ways to define a word.
- Give examples
- Tell what it is (describe it)
- Tell what it is not
- Use it in a sentence
- Show some synonyms
- We might even be able to demonstrate it – act it out
Maybe there are more ways, but today, let’s look at repentance using a few of those methods.
First, we need to get our minds straight about the kind of repentance we’re talking about. This is not about telling another person we’re sorry and promising to do better. We are writing about repenting before our maker – the Lord who created the heavens and the earth! That guy!
Tell what it is:
In short – True repentance is falling on our face before God, confessing what we have done, turning away from our sin and turning back to God.
I refer you to King David’s prayer in Psalm 51. Here is just a tidbit
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. Verse 17
Broken before God, contrite, ready to turn away from that awful sin and reaching back to God. Can you hear David crying, “Take away my sin! I want to be your man again.”?
Please read the entire Psalm when you have time. David was full of godly sorrow, and he had certainly been given the gift of true repentance. You can hear it! You can see it! You can feel it!
Can this really be God’s gift?
From scripture we know that Peter said:
30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. Acts 5:30-31
And we know
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.( James 1.17, NIV)
God gives us so many things! And one of them is repentance:
Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 2 Timothy 2:25 (NIV)
Do you see it? A gift from The Giver.
What it is not
15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.
Obviously in that scenario, Israel remained rebellious. So that is one thing that repentance is not – sinning in God’s face, rejecting Him in any way.
If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 1 John 1:6
We can see, right way, THAT is not repentance.
Here is a man who did not repent, but rather only had deep regret and shame. You know about Judas…
4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
Gullt? Remorse? Shame? Yes, he had all of those, but godly sorrow and true repentance were missing. Did He turn back to God??? He killed himself! Compare this to Peter’s sin….
60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly. Luke 22:60-62
Look about the same as Judas’s act? Yes, but the difference must be in attitude. For what did Peter do then? Look at his life turned completely around – He served Christ whole-heartedly, and history indicates that Peter even died for Jesus. That is how we know that he had godly sorrow and true repentance.
Repentance must be accompanied by a whole-hearted acceptance of our culpability. No excuses…no blaming it on something else. We are the sinners! Here an example of trying weasel out of it…
Remember when King Saul was supposed to destroy the Amalekites and everything they had? He sort of did that, but he kept the livestock! Seemed like a good idea, ‘eh? And when Saul was confronted with his guilt.
20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.” 1 Samuel 15:20-21
Ah, that’s it! The soldiers did it. It was for a good cause. Not my fault. Oh boy! The results of that were not good at all! He lost his kingdom!
Christian, I promise you that there no wiggle room. We cannot reassign blame or claim extenuating circumstances for our sins no matter what bad things have happened to us in the past and no matter what DNA we think we were born with. We are guilty! If we insist on trying to look a little better – then we’re never going to receive the gift of true repentance.
David gave us the pattern:
I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; Psalm 51:3-4
Another way to look at it:
Remember that feeling of shame and guilt right after committing an intentional sin? Yes, we may ask for forgiveness right then. But simply being embarrassed, ashamed, disappointed or regretful is not true repentance. There is something about that kind of uncomfortable feeling and quick prayer, that leaves to door open just a crack, so that we can do it again. That is not godly sorrow, and it is not turning away from our sins and turning back toward God. You might say that it is “repenting” with our fingers crossed.
Neither is repentance just bemoaning. We do that all the time. And there is no change in our behavior. Bemoaning our sin does not mean we have that heart change, does it?
This is repentance!
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 2 Corinthians 7:10
Thomas Watson (ca. 1620–1686) writes: “Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.”
So repentance is a “grace of God’s spirit.” Repentance is a gift from God and a result of godly sorrow.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)
Repentance is a heart, softened and a life turned. You know the 180 degree metaphor, right? That’s it! About face! Forward, march! Leave that sin behind and follow Christ!
The Prodigal son’s story is a beautiful example of true repentance – In his agony and sorrow, he humbled himself, went to his father and offered to work as a servant. Instead of condemnation, his father rejoiced to have his son back! The elder man gladly received him back into the family. That is how good our God is! That is grace, mercy and forgiveness…a result of true repentance!
One final look at repentance as a gift.
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7.11 (NIV)
15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15, (NIV)