Repent – But what of?

So often we here the call to repentance but miss what it is that we are to repent of.

Created: 2008/11/29.

The Way Back, Home

What is repentance?

I was at a Bible study. The Pastor was there and a new member of the congregation. The question was about repentance? The popular vote was that it was turning away from sin. I felt that it was more like remorse or sorrow for committing the sin. It was pointed out that some people trapped by sin are often sorry, but keep doing it. The Pastor was quite happy to leave the debate there. Later, our new member privately shared how pleased she was that people were not forced to toe the Pastor’s line. There was a freedom to interpret scripture that she had not seen at her previous church. (Perhaps you will give me such freedom as I unfold this article.)

After a couple of years I found that my opinion shifted, and although being sorry was part of repentance, I accepted that you really needed to turn away from sin. In some places it even seems that God will repent of some decision (Jeremiah 18:8-10, 1 Samuel 15:29 – ASV says “repent” but most say “relent” or “change mind”). Then I saw that repenting could be as simple as a change in your course of action, and did not even require remorse.

Later again I realised that in Christ we are set free and it is that freedom that enables us to turn away, (Luke 4:18, Galatians 5:1, Hebrews 2:15). We don’t turn away first and then God accepts us – rather He accepts us because we accept Jesus and repentance follows. So it is God’s mercy, His grace, His kindness that leads a man to repentance (Romans 2:4).

The sequence

  1. We start out as unforgiven sinners.
  2. Then we get saved and become forgiven sinners. (Later on, look at Forgiven Sinners.)
  3. Then the Holy Spirit starts to work in our lives and we walk free of sin.

OK, you get the idea. Our salvation depends on what Jesus did on the Cross and on God’s grace, not on our repentance. The order is clear.

Repent of what to be saved?

But so many scriptures say “repent and be saved” or talk about “repentance that leads to forgiveness”. It’s easy to feel that we have to deal with our big sin list before salvation and forgiveness cuts in. But this leads to works, legalism and dead religion. (That is what we actually repent of in Hebrews 6:1-2.) This will destroy the relationship that God wants to have with you because He has already forgiven you.

You can read my article “Repentance in Acts” to see a list of all calls to repentance issued in the book of Acts. You will see that repentance never refers to sins like crimes or wrong doing, but refers to rejecting Jesus. Jesus death on the Cross dealt with all our sins.

“Repent and be saved”
simply means,
stop rejecting God and turn to Jesus ”.

A simple solution

I find the theology of repentance too confusing. I have accepted Jesus. When I do something that I know grieves God, I just say sorry. It’s from my heart because God has given me a new heart – that’s part of the deal (Ezekiel 36:25-26). As far as possible (convenient) I say sorry to others affected, especially to those I would consider as under me, like my children. Then the job’s done, I’m right with God. (Actually, saying sorry is not essential to being forgiven, it has to do with humbling yourself.)

How do you turn away from an attitude of the heart? You can stop doing the things that sprung from the attitude, but attitudes live on. Well, I say sorry; I mean sorry; and without understanding how it happens I find that over a period of time His grace changes me. (Well statistically, but I still get grumpy now and then.)

A text book repentance

Having prepared the above sections, my own moment of salvation came clearly to mind. I give some detail of my testimony in the “About me” article. I clearly recalled that I just could not do it; I needed Jesus; there was no other way. I clearly recalled that I was unconscious of wrong doing. In the months that followed, and without any conscious decision, I found myself talking to God.

Well, that is what happened. The fellowship with God was restored and I started to talk to God. I was never sin conscious. That’s what I mean by a “text book” conversion. It all came down to recognising Jesus, not wrong doing for which Jesus had paid the price.

God was not in a hurry for me to race off to some Church. He just wanted me to keep talking to Him and reading His word. Looking back, there were some things I really needed to change, and in time the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see them and gave me the grace to walk free. But the relationship had been restored. In time He brought me into close fellowship with other believers. (See my Acknowledgements.)

Once, a decade or so after being saved, I felt uncomfortable about something for several months. Suddenly I saw why. I had been trying to manipulate and control God. In a split second He allowed me to see it, and it, (not me), looked horrid. This made it easy to repent – I wouldn’t do that again. It took a couple of days to get over what I saw, but then I found myself recalling all the intimate times I had experienced with God in the previous decade. I realised that all that time He saw that horrid attitude in my heart, yet He loved me and drew close to me. He saw me separate from my sin. That is what Jesus made possible.

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