Whatever Happened To Repentance?
"The Lord does not delay and is not tardy or slow about what He promises, according to some people’s conception of slowness, but He is long-suffering (extraordinarily patient) toward you, not desiring that any should perish, but that all should turn to repentance." - 2 Peter 3:9
Most everyone has heard of repentance at some time from someone in their lives. But what is it, really? Can it even be defined? Usually it takes the form of something that someone did - themselves, or someone that they heard about, someone who claimed to be a “Christian”. It has something to do with God, they suppose - a God that is as far away as repentance may seem to be.
For others, repentance is something that they did back there when they accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, when they were a child and were encouraged to make “a decision for Christ”, when they walked down the isle at church, or repeated the “sinner’s prayer” sitting before a TV, or repentance may have been just a word that had no meaning at all, and provoked no feeling or response. If we were asked to define the repentance we experienced, what would we say?
The very first thing that Jesus began to preach was about repentance (Matthew 4:17). Most understand repentance to have something to do with grace, which of itself is correct, but not complete enough for what the Bible declares is repentance. Many understand correctly that repent means to change or discontinue doing something, although sometimes just what that “something” is cannot be pinpointed, although the word “sin” is heard, and whatever that is, is condemned. There is a story told about an evangelist stepping off a plane in route to a revival meeting, and being asked if he had something to say for the press. He replied: “I’m here to talk about sin, and I’m agin’ it!”. The presentation can be so filled with emotional appeal that many important issues are at best blurred. The first question, if we can move the emotional appeal aside for a while, should be: repent of what? And what does grace have to do with that?
Some say repentance is a once-for-all-time event, that we need not concern ourselves with repenting anymore, since now we are under grace. However, unlike some things perhaps, we cannot "pay it forward". We cannot look forward, gather up all of the sins we will commit (we will commit more), and confess it all at our conversion, and consider ourselves home free. Even if we could do that, there is still a big problem - we are not sinless yet. Yes, we are accounted "not guilty" through grace in Christ. But the point of grace is to account us innocent legally until we finally are perfected. That involves a lifetime of growth and overcoming the sin tendency.
In the realm of living things which Jesus used in many parables, there can be no life without growth. If there is no growth, things begin to die. Growth and overcoming involve repentance. Repentance is intimately connected with prayer. Prayer should eventually become an attitude, a constant, then a real relationship. Repentance also, should - it must - become an attitude, perhaps even more than a "beatitude attitude". Many find heartfelt prayer very difficult. Many find repentance, repentance unto obedience even more difficult.
Grace does not change us - it enables us to change, by the power of God united with our submission. The Law of God does not change us (Romans 3:20). It is our monitor (Galatians 3:24-25) showing how and where we miss the mark of righteousness so we may repent to God, and by faith in Jesus Christ, begin to change (1 Corinthians 15:34). The Holy Spirit begins to convict us in our minds, then our minds begin to transform our actions. All the process combined creates a new heart. The old stony heart begins to be replaced with a “heart of flesh” - a soften heart, tender and sensitive. Sensitive to any deed, word, or thought that is contrary to Jesus Who is living in us by the Spirit .We have received grace so we may have protection from the condemnation of the Law, so we may be changed from the inside out. We are co-workers with God, but He does the changing in us. If there is no ongoing repentance, there can be little growth. Jesus desires growth in us (the fig tree...).
One of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to convict the heart. After the schoolmaster of God's Law has brought us to the realization that we need the sacrifice of Christ the Law reinforces the sense of guilt that precedes repentance. God's law magnifies the enormity and consequence of sin to be repented of, and is a mental witness for or against us. It provides boundaries, which as long as we are human, we must have. God's laws guide us, and along with the Holy Spirit convicts us of our need for repentance. Consider the example of David. The Psalms of David and others picture over and over the necessity - and expectation of God - of repentance.
If we would know the heart of God in relation to the heart of man, study the Psalms. David was a man after God's heart, but - he sinned. He repented over and over, and over again (Psalm 51:1-4). If we would be those "after God's own heart", we must live a life of repentance. Sometimes repentance, if and when it occurs, can become a trite, and mechanical habit, done flippantly, with little sincerity, with an unrealized motive, knowing we will have to confess again tomorrow, etc. We are simply deceiving ourselves. We are not deceiving God. It is not repentance, but something that sooths the conscience - until next time. Have you wondered why someone seems to never change? Have you pondered why the same spiritual problems in your life seem to continue day after day, month after month, year after year?
In it simplest form, sin is anything that is anti-God. It is the great lie, begun by the Serpent in Eden (John 8:44). Sometimes we must made sad at the weight of the realization of our sin, before we can repent. Repentance should go in tandem with prayer. Like prayer, repentance should be an attitude - a state of mind, of a mind sensitized to anything that would be outside the law of Christ in you. From this time on, make repentance an “attitude beatitude” every moment of your life. If you will, you will remain in the center of God’s will for you. Then you can have peace that passes all understanding for any except God and you...
"For even if I made you sad by my letter, I do not regret having written it (even though I did regret it, for I see that my letter made you sad though only for a short time). Now I rejoice, not because you were made sad, but because you were made sad to the point of repentance. For you were made sad as God intended, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. 7:10 For sadness as intended by God produces a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly sadness brings about death." - 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 (NET)