What is repentance?
In order to be saved we must repent. The definition of repentance in the dictionary is “the action of repenting; sincere regret or remorse”. We must regret and show remorse, but for what?
We must repent for the sins we have committed against the almighty God.
This is a critical piece of the gospel. We can’t be saved without truly repenting, yet this is often not spoke about in the church today. Instead, people are asked to put their hands up at an alter call or say a prayer and ask the Lord Jesus to “come into their heart”. They may even be prompted to pray the sinner’s prayer which includes words to state that they admit that they are a sinner and in need of God’s great love, mercy and grace. This is not repentance.
It is possible to pray, and to put our hand up for the alter call, and to say that we are sorry, but not be repentant at all. We may even feel that we are repenting, but our own hearts are fooling us. We have not changed. The bible says that the heart is deceitful and cannot be trusted.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure - who can understand it?
To demonstrate this, consider the following. My daughter knows that she is not allowed to draw on the walls inside the house. There is plenty of paper lying about for her to draw on. If one day my daughter is caught drawing on the wall, I remind her that she is not allowed to do that. I punish her and take her electronic tablet away for the day for disobeying me. Her response to this punishment is to cry. She says she is sorry and pleads for me not to take the tablet. She says she won’t do it again. The punishment seems quite light, but I look upon her distress and relent. I give in to her tears and say she can have her electronic tablet back if she promises not to do it again. She makes a promise and I give her the tablet.
My commands are not burdensome. I do not give my children difficult rules to follow. They are for their own good and the good of our family.
A day later (or in some cases hours later), she does the exact same thing again. I remind her about last time and punish her by taking her tablet away. She starts crying again but this time I do not relent. Once again, she says that she is sorry, but the reality is that she isn’t sorry at all. The reality is that she is sorry that her electronic tablet has been taken away. She is not actually sorry for the damage to the wall. She is not sorry that I now must clean it off. Most importantly, she is not sorry that she has gone against my explicit instruction to not write on the walls of the house.
Now if my daughter finds herself tempted to write on the walls again in the future, she might remember being punished. This might cause her to not write on the wall. This would be a wise decision, but is her reasoning anything to do with my command to not write on the walls? No! She doesn’t do it because she knows she will get punished. She doesn’t care about the damage to the wall or the fact that I must clean the writing off the wall. She doesn’t care that it was against my explicit instruction to not write on the wall. The only reason why she won’t write on the wall is because she doesn’t want to get punished and lose her tablet again. This is not repentance. She is simply doing what she is told to avoid being punished.
I can’t really have a go at my daughter for not truly repenting. She is only a child and lives in the moment. She doesn’t have the ability to empathise or fully understand the consequences of her actions. However, if she was an adult, I would expect much more of her. Yet, I am an adult, and for over 20 years I thought I was a “Christian” but the truth is I was not repentant. Like my daughter, I was simply terrified of being punished and going to hell for my sins.
Like her, I was merely trying to avoid the consequences of my sins. Worse than that, I continued living in sin because I believed in a false message. I believed that simply believing in Jesus Christ and praying to the Lord and asking for forgiveness was enough. I even went to church, read my bible and prayed for forgiveness every weekend. If anything, I was worse than an unbeliever. I thought I could continue to live my life and continue sinning - as long as I kept believing in Jesus and continued to pray for forgiveness every weekend.
What a wicked and foolish thing to believe!
This is not repentance!
Most sensible people don’t want to be sent to hell. I heard something a long time ago called “Pascal’s wager”. Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas if God does exist, he stands to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).
I can tell you now that this is foolishness. There are many people who wager that God is real and still, to their surprise, won’t go to heaven. What is worse, is this thinking leads to people to come to God and believing in Jesus, not because they are genuinely repentant, but because they only want to avoid the consequences of their sins.
This is to misplace our fear. We should not be fearing hell itself but fearing the almighty God who has the power to send us to hell.
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
However, wanting to repent of our sins due to the fear of God is still a wise choice; even if that fear is simply because of what He can do to us because…
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.
We need the fear of God in our life. It is through that fear we will also experience His great love and mercy. God, the Father, is holy and righteous. He sent His son Jesus Christ into the world to die for us. This was to show that we are loved by the Father. He wants all to repent and come to Him.
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Repenting of sin is not an easy task. The Bible is clear that God is just and righteous and we are evil. Some people may be shocked to hear it, but the Bible is clear: we are evil. We may not hear this basic bible truth in our local church, but Jesus testifies to this very thing.
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!
The first step to true repentance is to acknowledge that we fall short of the glory of God and that we are evil. We like to sin. Until we are truly saved, sin lives in us and has dominion over us. We must first recognise what Jesus says is the truth and believe in Him - for He is righteous, and we are evil.
This goes for everybody. Whether it is a child-abusing murderer or a charity worker who gives all their time and money to help the poor. It doesn’t matter. We can’t compare ourselves to each other and say that one person is better than another person. Some may, by human standards, appear less evil - but in the eyes of God we all stand condemned. Not one of us is righteous.
If we have any doubt about the righteousness of God and our own unrighteousness, then it is impossible to repent.
What does true repentance look like?
There are many scriptures in the Bible where people have gone against the Lord and have repented. The Lord himself also provides a good description of what is required in order to establish a new relationship with Him.
2 Chronicles 7:14
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
The points in bold are all actions that we must do to show we are repentant. They must be sincere. Let’s take a look at each of them individually.
1: Humble themselves
There are many ways we can humble ourselves. As disciples of Jesus Chris, we humble ourselves by fasting and by getting on our knees and prostrate ourselves. When we realise that we have sinned against the almighty God, we should be devastated. There are many good examples in the Bible of what humbling ourselves before the Lord looks like.
Ahab was one of the wicked kings of Israel. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and caused all of Israel to sin by worshipping idols. The Lord passed judgement on Ahab and he was confronted by Elijah the prophet.
1 Kings 21:29
Ahab said to Elijah, "So you have found me, my enemy!"
"I have found you," he answered, "because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. He says, 'I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel - slave or free. I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have aroused my anger and have caused Israel to sin.'
"And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: 'Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel'.
"Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country."
(There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.)
When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: "Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son."
The Lord Himself mentions that Ahab has humbled himself. What did Ahab do to repent?
Ahab... ...tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted... and went around meekly.
To be clear, the Lord did not have mercy on Ahab because he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, fasted and went around meekly. No. These are outward signs of what he felt in his heart. They were a natural consequence of the feelings of remorse and pain he had inside of him.
We can do the same thing as Ahab, but we cannot fake repentance. The Lord searches and knows every heart. We can’t fake the pain we have inside in knowing we have sinned against the Lord. However, when we do feel that pain and anguish, we can no longer continue as we did before. The world seems different. Really, the world is the same. It is us that have changed!
We don’t mope about and feel dejected because we want to give an outward sign of our remorse. We are distraught. Devastated. We can’t hide it as we are filled with sorrow in our heart. We cannot help but be overwhelmed and we become like Ahab.
3: Seek my face
4: Turn from their wicked ways
When we repent, we will want to stop sinning. If we are still living the same old life and committing the same sins, then we have not repented. If we start changing how we live and make a serious effort to stop sinning, then we may find that what we are trying to do seems impossible!
We may feel remorse and deep sorrow, not just for the sins we may still inadvertently commit, but for all the sins we have committed in our lives. And yet, we will still find that we commit the occasional sin! What a terrible thing sin is! We finally realise and understand that sin really does have dominion over us.
I was a “Christian” for over 20 years but continued to live a sinful life until a moment in 2018 when the Lord opened my eyes and I realised that I wasn’t a “Christian” at all. I was a phony. A fake. I loved to sin. It was at this point I started to repent. Repentance for me wasn’t a single moment or prayer. It was a painful journey that lasted around 3 weeks.
It was at the end of 3 weeks that I realised not only how evil and wicked sin is, but also that I didn’t have any control over it. I tried my hardest not to sin. Yet I am not sure if I even managed during those 3 weeks to achieve it. Even if I did, the realisation set in that my efforts were futile. Even if I had somehow succeeded to not sin in those 3 weeks, it was only a matter of time before I did eventually succumb to temptation. I reached a point of total despair, and it was in that moment of despair that I turned to the Lord and admitted that I couldn’t do it. I needed His help. I asked the Lord to change me. To fix me. It was at that point that I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the Lord changed me. He gave me a new heart and a new life.
I don’t believe I could have come to that moment in an instant. I already knew and understood that I could not live my life free of sin but knowing it in my mind and living it out for 3 weeks are 2 totally different things. It was that experience that produced in me a deep realisation of just how much I needed Jesus.
This is my own personal story and I am not wanting to take away from anyone who maybe did receive deliverance in a much shorter period. The ways of God are a mystery and it would be arrogant for me to think that everyone must go through the same journey that I had been on, but I do believe that all of us will have done something that looks like the above in our journey to that point.
True repentance is not something that is easily obtained. We can’t simply say a prayer or approach an alter and the job is done. Repentance is a journey that lasts longer than a single moment.
If you have repented of your sins, then you are ready to be baptised.