Repentance is a word we seldom hear preached today. Do we have an aversion to anything that stands in the way of our own personal freedom? Do we worry that if we yield to its demands we may be robbed of some pleasure hidden deep within our flesh? As preachers, repentance is one of those hard words we are sometimes tempted to avoid, as it tends to make the comfortable uncomfortable. And Lord knows, we gotta keep those pews full. 😀
When considering the word repentance, there are at least a couple of shades of meaning and possibly more.
For instance, in Genesis 6:7 it states, “And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth… for it repenteth me that I have made them.”
We usually think of repentance as it relates to mankind in his sinful state. How can we possibly reconcile this word in its relation to God? What sin could God possibly commit that would require His repentance?!
None of course. This is folly. How could God become corrupt as we are? No, used here it carries the idea of grief, sadness, or sorrow. The Elizabethan English of the KJV can be confusing at times. The NASB makes it quite clear: “It grieved God and He was sorry that He made man,”
In the NT, Mark’s gospel opens in chapter 1, verse 4 with these words: “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a repentance for the remission of sins.” It’s important to note that the preposition ‘for’ would be more accurately translated ‘unto’ giving purpose or the result of repentance.
The NT word repentance has a slightly different nuance from that of Genesis, although it still may convey sorrow or grief. If we break down the word, we see it’s made up of a prefix and a suffix. The prefix μετά, meaning with or after (we’re familiar with words such as, metaphor, metaphysics or metabolic) and the word, νοιαν or νοσώ, meaning the mind.
Therefore, we understand that repentance is a conscious decision to change our thinking toward God, and consequently, toward sin. Once I loved to get drunk, be immoral, steal, envy, curse, etc. Any of us could make a lengthy list. But what I once embraced I had now come to abhor. I changed my mind towards the things of God and the things of this world. Suddenly, I wanted to read my Bible. I'd never desired that before! I desired fellowship, prayer, worship. I embraced the cross. These disciplines had all been foreign to me in my unregenerate state. Repentance, however, doesn’t simply mean to stop doing something. We change our minds and attitudes. We don't just repent of something. We repent to something - to Someone.
Luke 24: 47 reads, “and preach in His name repentance unto the remission of sins to all the nations.” (Same wording as Mark.) Without repentance there is no remission or forgiveness of sin.
The beauty of repentance is that it opens the door for our sins to be personally remitted. Paid in full! Remember, repentance is an act of the will whereby we’re able to see clearly in our minds and comprehend the depravity of sin and the holiness of God.
Acts 3:19 concurs with these texts. It reads, “Repent and be converted (turn around) that your sins may be blotted out (obliterated). On a side note, both ‘repent" and "be converted’ are in the imperative mood. God is not asking or begging us to repent and be converted. Just like Jesus in the gospels, who never begged followers or gave an invitation to follow Him, The Lord commands it.
2 Corinthians 7:10 sheds more light on this word. “Godly sorrow produces repentance ‘unto’ salvation (there’s that word again) but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Godly sorrow is juxtaposed to worldly sorrow. The sorrow over offending a holy God leads to repentance and ultimately salvation, which is life eternal.
Sometimes repentance is accompanied by a profound outpouring of emotion, sometimes not. If yours was an emotional repentance, don't compare the experiences of others who have come to Christ without this emotional component. It’s unwise to compare ourselves and our experiences with others. Yes, “godly sorrow leads to repentance.” Not sorrow over getting caught, or "too bad I can’t do this anymore", but a sorrow the Holy Spirit initiated in you over offending a holy God. This is a righteous sorrow that all should yield to.
I hope no one will view repentance as something to shun, but a bridge that the Father has provided to reconcile us to Himself.
In closing, we might ask how often we should repent? If you sin daily, (that would be me) then repent daily and enjoy the fellowship you have with your Father and His son, Jesus Christ. Repentance is certainly a door through which we enter salvation, but it is also a process we must engage in daily.
As my friend John Elliott says, "we're all a mess."
Note: There are many scriptures that deal with repentance. This is certainly not exhaustive, so you might also want to do your own study.
(Illustration: Paul on the road to Damascus, rendered in stained glass.)