What Does It Mean: to Repent?

It’s Monday Grace!

When Bill moved into his new home, he sat down with a map and charted the best drive to work. He reasoned that this route would be both fastest and easiest. Then he drove that route for several years. There were some lights that took too long to change and both heavy traffic and reduced speeds near the school, but this was still the best drive, according to Bill.

When someone asked Bill why he didn’t use the new road, he replied that his way was just right. He had studied it and chosen it and accepted it as best. He didn’t need the new road.

But one day, Bill tried the new road. To his surprise, it was faster and easier. No more school zone. No more slow lights. He shaved several minutes and a couple miles off his twice-daily drive. It wasn’t long before Bill started telling others about the new road.

Now, that’s an illustration of repentance. To repent means to change your mind, your thinking.

Repentance might happen in a moment. A sudden realization that your path was the wrong one and both the desire and will to use a better path. You may have had your own “Damascus Road” experience, where you were “hit upside the head” with the truth.

Repentance can happen over time. A slow dawning of the truth that you have heard over and over, accepting finally that your resistance has been a mistake. Maybe you were raised in a Christian home or environment and eventually embraced the faith others proclaimed as your own.

Repentance is personal. It involves your own thinking and choosing. It cannot be forced or demanded. It can’t come from the outside. The old saying is: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” No one can make you repent.

But let me share what repentance is not. It is not an abrupt change from sinning to doing only right. It is not sinlessness in thought or action. It is not a simple change of behavior.

Yes, someone might experience a sudden release from a bad habit or a sinful desire. I have known people who suddenly stopped smoking or cursing. Some have given up adulteries or theft or lies. Those things might happen. But the abrupt ceasing of all sin should not be expected, even if it is desired.

Nor is repentance the sudden addition of actions or attitudes that some consider positive. Again, I have known people who started going to church when they hadn’t been in church for a long time. Some have chosen to embrace gratitude rather than complaining. Those are not bad things, but they are not the definition of repentance. Repentance is a new way of thinking, something in the heart.

In other words, repentance is so much more than just a change of lifestyle. All kinds of choices can initiate lifestyle changes. Repentance is the realization of the failure of the old way and an embrace of something new.

And repentance takes faith. Faith needs an object. When we stop what we have been doing to see that Jesus offers something better, when we push away the old way and reach out to Him for life and peace and everything we need, that’s repentance.

So, there are those who make changes in their lives without repenting. There are also those who repent and still struggle with sin. The difference is not behavior. The difference is mindset. As long as my mind is set on what I can accomplish, even if I move from bad things to good things, I have not repented. But if my mind is set on Jesus as my hope, even if my behavior still seems to need a lot of change, I have repented.

No matter what the preacher shouts from the pulpit or the gospel tract shares in the story, repentance is not about you fixing yourself. No matter how hard you try and how successful you are, it will not be the answer you need.

We are called to follow Jesus. Not to fix ourselves. Just to follow Jesus. A new path. A new way of thinking. And a new life. All from Him.


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3 responses to “What Does It Mean: to Repent?

  1. Rachel

    Wow! Amazing truth here thank you Paster Dave! I’m going to reflect on this and also pass it on to others 🙏

  2. Z

    I think the key part of this is the “struggle” in the heart. Like Paul said, the things he didn’t want to do, he did. And the things he did want to do, he didn’t. He struggled with that enough to write it in God’s inspired Word!
    There are people who profess to have repented/be born again and who continue to habitually sin with NO STRUGGLE IN THEIR HEART, but with enjoyment of their sin instead, well, that to me is a different story. It’s the story of my family of origin. Abusers and enablers, liars, flying monkeys, smear artists…The reveled in their sin arrogantly. This type too is mentioned in God’s Word. They are called ravenous wolves. And Paul makes a point of differentiating between “those who call themselves brothers & sisters” and those who don’t profess to belong to the family of God/believers. He tells us to judge those wolves for their hypocrisy. For the damage they do to the name of Christianity. We are told to have nothing to do with hypocrites and wolves but instead to expose them for what they are. Paul says don’t even eat with that type of wicked person! Unbelievers are to be left to God to judge. (1 Cor. 5:9-13, among other Scriptures.)
    I fully understand the depth and breadth of God’s grace. I’m a recipient of that grace despite my lack of perfection and my falling short. But it’s all about the status of one’s heart, motives, intentions…And while only God can know a person’s heart, Paul is clear that there are wicked people who call themselves Christians. That is my former family. I was the target of their wickedness for most of my life before exposing them and expelling them to protect myself. The impetus and decision to do so was orchestrated by God Himself. It was a divine intervention that was like a parting of the Red Sea! Their evil actions which got worse over my lifetime made my decision for me. Couldn’t be ignored nor tolerated anymore. Nor would my Father God want me in harm’s way one minute longer. My decades of forgiveness, reconciliation, overlooking, keeping silent in the face of their obvious evil was actually enabling it and not obedient to God.
    So, the state of a person’s declaration of “repentance” would HAVE to show SOME wanting to “turn from habitual sins”. Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” He didn’t expect perfection or even striving. He expects the born again heart to WANT to resist the devil, TRY to show the fruits of repentance, even if one fails and tries again. It’s that HABITUAL, UNRELENTING DESIRE TO DO EVIL while professing to be repentant that is the red flag of a hypocrite and a wolf in sheep’s clothing/counterfeit Christian.
    We must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Sometimes the only way to do that is to get away from evil hearts who mean and do harm to us, who make a mockery of God’s grace and our grace.

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