In the previous posts, we’ve been laying a foundation. Now, we are coming close to the point where we can truly put up the building. It is time for our part.
God loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. However, we have all sinned. Because of His very nature, God cannot coexist with sin, and as a result we have separated ourselves from Him. Despite the sin on our part, God still desires that relationship, and He has devised a way for us. That way is collectively called Grace and is realized and provided in the person of Jesus Christ. The Grace of Jesus Christ is a gift, but we still have to respond to that gift. We have to take hold of it. In the last post, we read how Peter instructed those folks who were “cut to the heart” and ready to respond to the way that God had devised to REPENT and Be BAPTIZED.
(The Apostle Peter speaking…)
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Today’s topic is REPENTANCE.
What is it? Is it being sorry? Or, is it something more than that? Is there a difference between being sorry and really repenting? Since Peter said it should be done, I think it is critical that we each know and understand what it means to really repent. It isn’t a difficult concept, just one that has been watered down.
The word ‘repent’ is one of those religified words. What I mean by that is that it is a word that is a perfectly good English word, but its true meaning is lost because it has been relegated almost entirely to the realm of religion. These days, we are almost left to create our own definition.
The root of the word translated in the Bible as ‘repent’ means to turn or to return; to literally change directions. If I am walking east and I repent, then I am now walking west. I don’t just suddenly feel ‘sorry’ that I’m walking east. No, I have to go through a transition.
I realize that I am not going in the direction that I want to go.
I figure out what direction I should be going.
I decide to change directions.
And, I take action. I actually turn around and go the other way.
Repentance is an action word; not a feeling word.
So, what does this look like in action on a spiritual level?
The Apostle Paul gives us a very good description in 2 Corinthians:
Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. II Corinthians 7:8-11
In this particular case, Paul had taken the Corinthian church to task because they were allowing a terribly blatant sin to continue in their midst without dealing with it. (You can read I Corinthians for the details.) Their response wasn’t to just feel sorry. They didn’t sit around and mope and think about how much Paul was mad at them. No, they took action. They made changes. The status quo was no longer tolerated.
They started out with sorrow, but they took it further. It drove them to repentance. See the difference?
Today, people feel sorry, but that’s all that happens. “I’m sorry,” they say, but there’s no apparent change of personal direction.
In thinking through this post, I began to consider just how much repentance I do in my own life. I have my own set of problems and things that I struggle with as any normal human man does. I fight and I win, I fight and I fail. But, the other day, I realized that I’ve been spending too much time being ‘sorry’ and not enough time actually repenting. In my case, I knew what I needed. I needed a friend to talk to, someone I could share my struggles with that I could trust and who would help me.
Suddenly, I had a choice. I could continue to be sorry and just fight these things all by my lonesome. Or, I could change course and do the things that I knew I needed to do to truly repent. I could take the path of least resistance and continue the viscous cycle I was on, or I could do the harder thing and be open and honest, taking the needed actions to create change in my life.
Which would it be?
I headed up the more difficult road of repentance. Last weekend, I spent some time with one of my best friends in all the world. I asked him if we could be what used to be called “prayer partners.” I let him know that I needed someone in my life that I could talk to, and someone who would understand and help me to be who I needed to be. It was such a very encouraging and refreshing time.
What about you? What is your course of action?
See, here’s the thing. If you are going to repent, you can’t do it under the cover of darkness. You can’t repent in secret. If you are going to do it, it needs to be apparent, out in the open, obvious.
John (the Baptist) said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “What should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
Trees do not bear fruit in secret. Real change can be seen.
Repentance is a simple concept.
For those just responding to the Grace of God found in Jesus Christ...
A. Realize you are on the wrong track
B. Decide to change tracks
That is repentance.
The question is, are YOU ready to change?
Next topic: Baptism