The Bible commands men and women everywhere to repent of their wickedness, sin and ungodly lifestyles and to return to the Lord God who made them.
The word ‘repent’ is popular and most people think they know what it means but what does it really mean?
I’ve heard people say that it means to be sorry for what you have done. I’ve heard others counter, that this definition is wrong and that repentance means to turn away from or forsake the wrong that you are doing.
This second school of thought contends that it is possible to be sorry for what you have done but to not turn away from it or stop doing it. Those who subscribe to this view are quite right in this observation.
However, both schools of thought have still failed in their definition of repentance. Both are wholly inadequate. For, it is possible to be sorry for a sin and not turn away from it, it is possible to not be sorry for a sin but still turn away from it and even to be both sorry for a sin and turn away or stop doing it and your actions still not amount to repentance.
Let me explain by using some examples:
Example 1: Alicia is SORRY for a sin BUT DOES NOT TURN AWAY from it
Alicia is a lady who has been gossiping left, right and centre. As someone who attends Church regularly, she has heard countless times that speaking ill of others and meddling in their business for entertainment purposes is wrong, yet she continues doing it. At one point, she even regretted the pain that her gossiping caused a particular person and was sorry for the damage she had caused. She knows that gossiping is bad and that she is not a very nice person. However because she loves the satisfaction she gets whenever she indulges in this practice and how it makes her feel important to be the bearer of bad news, she decides not to stop gossiping but continues on in it. In this case, Alicia is sorry for her sin but she decides not to turn away from it.
Example 2: Brenda is NOT SORRY for a sin BUT TURNS AWAY from it
Brenda is a rebellious fifteen year old that hates to obey her parents and gets a kick out of ticking them off. They say don’t drink alcohol, she goes out and consumes alcohol. They tell her to dress modestly, she decides to dress provocatively because it makes her feel hot and she wants to catch the eye of that boy at school she has been interested in for some time. Brenda enjoys doing what she wants to do and does not like anybody imposing rules on her. She is therefore not sorry for any of the decisions she has made, although her parents are not pleased with her conduct and have asked her to stop on many occasions. However, to get Brenda to stop smoking, which she has started to do and is liking a lot, her parents promised her that they would give her $5,000 if she stopped smoking. Brenda wants that money badly and so she decides to stop smoking. In such a case, she is not sorry for her sin but turned away from it, so as to benefit herself.
Example 3: Rhonda is both SORRY for a sin and TURNS AWAY from it
Rhonda and a man have been committing habitual fornication. The sin has progressed to the point where they are living together but they are not husband and wife because they are not married. In God’s righteous eyes, there is no such thing as common law wife and husband, even if sinful man has devised foolish laws to try make allowance for such sin.
Rhonda is religious though and knows that fornication and shacking up (living together while unmarried) are wrong by God’s standards. She is therefore not comfortable in the sin mainly because it makes her look bad but she claims to love the man and does not want to lose him.
He finally proposes and she is over the moon! They get married and therefore, she is no longer committing fornication, as the man she is living with and sleeping with is now her lawful husband in God’s eyes. In marrying, she has turned away from or forsaken the sin of fornication and she is sorry that she agreed to have premarital sex with him in the first place and to live with him, without him first taking her down the aisle.
She is sorry for several reasons. Firstly, had she gotten married first instead of having sex with him and living with him, the neighbours would not have been able to gossip about her. She hated it when the neighbours gossiped about her, as she prided herself on her reputation.
Secondly, she was sorry, as she figured, had they gotten married earlier, they could have started to try to have a baby. Throughout their time of fornicating, they used protection, as the man had firmly believed (and rightfully so) that children should be born in a marriage. She had wanted a baby and now, after twenty years of shacking up, it was too late, on account of her age. She was now pushing 50! How she regretted her decision to shack up and wished that she had insisted that they marry first and earlier!
Thirdly, she was sorry for the sin she had committed because she had been doing so many other good works at her Anglican Church, that this one sin had put a damper on everything. She gave generously to her Church and was well respected by the congregation but she had heard the head of that Church say on countless occasions, that you could not get to heaven if you were fornicating.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she walked back down the aisle and out of the Church as a married woman. She was sorry she had committed fornication, as in her view, it had almost cost her heaven but now, she figured, everything was right again and her place through the pearly gates above was booked.
Now, there is obviously, so much wrong with the above story. I am using it as an example however, to show that it is possible to turn away from a sin and to be sorry for it and to still not have repented of it. The lady above turned away from her sin of fornication when she got married and she was sorry for three different reasons that she had engaged in it. However, she never repented! Note in particular, that the reasons why she was sorry for her sin were all self-serving. Until a person sees and admits that he or she has sinned against God, first and foremost and are sorry for this because He (God) hates sin, they have not begun to even take the path that leads to repentance.
What then is repentance?
Repentance has five (5) dimensions.
- Firstly, it is realizing the gravity of the sin in God’s eyes, how ugly it is to him, how wrong you were and how deserving you are of his wrath and punishment for it AND
- Secondly, you are sorry and deeply sorrowful that you committed the sin and you wish you had never done so because of your realization of God’s standards, the extent to which you have failed him and your doomed condition if he holds that sin against you, as he is entitled to do AND
- Thirdly, this sorrowful, grieving state causes you to see the danger you are in and to firmly resolve to immediately turn away from the sin and to not do it anymore AND
- Fourthly, you follow through with this resolve by actually turning away completely from the sin with every intention not to do it ever again AND
- Fifthly, you come to the Lord humbly and genuinely, knowing that you are a sinner deserving of hell and punishment, asking him to forgive you of your sin, to cleanse you from it (with the full intention, despite future temptations that will come, to not ever do that sin again) and you ask him to please save you from God’s fury and wrath to come.
Even if it can be argued that the lady in the third example above turned away from the sin by getting married and that she was sorry for that sin, none of the reasons presented by her for her being sorry was the right reason. She was sorry for selfish reasons in that she was deprived of certain benefits but she was never truly sorrowful before God for her sin. She never grieved for her sinful condition because she had a warped view on God’s Word and what he requires for one to make it to heaven. The reasons she advanced therefore for why she was sorry for her sin, did not qualify to be put into the category of repentance. As John the Baptist put it, she had not yet brought forth fruit or evidence, meet for repentance (Matthew 3:8).
When a person repents, she turns away from the sin AND is sorry AND genuinely sorrowful before God for the sin she committed because:
- She believes beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father;
- She believes that all of his Word as stated in the Bible is true;
- She believes that all sinners that have not accepted Jesus as Lord into their hearts will have their part in the lake of fire that God has reserved for the devil and his followers because that is what his Word says;
- She knows that she was wrong and in sin and is deserving of hell fire;
- She knows that God was displeased and angry with her for her actions and that his wrath could have fallen on her at anytime, if not for his mercy;
- She knows that until she genuinely asks God for forgiveness and confesses her wrong to him, his wrath remains over her head;
- Knowing all of this, she is genuinely sorry and sorrowful for her sin, wishes that she had put God first over her own desires and wished that she had never committed the sin;
- The fact that she displeased God so much, grieves her and she wishes that she could go back in time and erase what she did.
That is godly sorrow for the right reasons.
In this condition, a person then approaches God humbly in prayer, asking him to forgive her of the sin/s she committed, to cleanse her from it and all iniquities and (if she is not yet saved) to save her from future damnation in hell. She does this with the firm resolve, that she will never commit this sin again no matter what temptation she faces (because despite how much pleasure she may have gotten out of that sin, she now sees it as God sees it and how ugly it is) and she asks God to help her in the future, to not do it again.
IF THE PERSON IS NOT GENUINELY SAVED (NOT A CHRISTIAN) IN THAT SHE NEVER ASKED JESUS TO COME INTO HER HEART, then of course repentance requires her to not just be sorry for that one sin but for all the sins she has committed in life AND to ask Jesus Christ, (who she must first believe is Lord and that he died and was raised from the dead for her sins), to come into her heart, be Lord over her life, do with her life as he pleases, wash her from ALL of her sins and to make her clean. In short, repentance requires such a person to have godly sorrow for all sins (not just one or some) AND to surrender her whole life and future to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
It is clear from Rhonda’s story above (the third example given of the lady who fornicated but then got married for self-serving reasons) that she was never saved and therefore, repenting of the one sin of fornication (which she is yet to do) is still not enough to get her to heaven.
In fact, we do not gain access to heaven by how well we have behaved or followed the rules or how high we scored in one area. The Bible makes it clear that we have all failed and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and are all deserving of hell and condemnation. It lets us know in no uncertain terms, that nobody is good enough or have done good enough by God’s perfect standard, to make it to heaven. This will never change, no matter how much effort we put out.
It tells us that as imperfect sinful human beings, we are so sin-stained that we can only gain access to heaven when the perfect righteousness of the sinless Jesus Christ is placed over us as a covering for our spiritual nakedness. This only happens when and if we:
- Believe that Jesus Christ (the Son of the true and living God who came to earth to shed his perfect blood to save sinners) died but was raised back up again on the third day by God the Father, that he has gone back to heaven after appearing in the flesh to some people on earth but will return to earth again one day to judge both the dead (who will be raised back up) and the living of sin, that he is Lord over all, meaning that he is our Creator and the one in whom we live, move and have our being AND
- Confess with our mouth (since we believe it to be true) that he is Lord.
For the lady in the third example above to be saved from hell and make it to heaven therefore, she must first believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, believe that although he came to earth years ago in the form of a human and was killed by evil men, that on the third day he rose again from the grave (because he is God the Son and death has no power to keep him dead) and that he is Lord over all.
Because he is Lord over all, she must realize that he has the right to tell her how to live her life because it is He that gave her life in the first place and she is living on the earth He created and with that knowledge, she must humbly confess him as Lord with her mouth. She must say, fully believing, to the one who created her and created the whole world, “Jesus Christ, I confess that you are Lord.”
During that process, she will realize how sinful her state was before a perfect God, not just in terms of fornication but on so many other matters and will humbly ask God to forgive her of ALL of her sins (too numerous to mention). She would ask Jesus to please come into her heart, clean her up and save her from the wrath of God that is coming on all those who disobey God (sinners) and have not accepted the free gift of salvation he is offering in this life, through Jesus Christ his Son.
Having changed allegiance from the devil being her master to Jesus being her Lord, she would resolve not to ever walk that dark, treacherous and doomed path again and rejoice in the fact that God has forgiven her because she has accepted his Son into her heart (where he has now taken up residence) and saved her from his wrath.
Having believed and done all that, she is justified (saved) or made righteous and would then obey God by ensuring that she is baptized, as he has commanded that those who believe on Jesus, have confessed him as Lord and have genuinely repented of their sinful condition are now eligible, as Christians, to be baptized with water and should be baptized.
This baptism (complete immersion in water) will now:
- Indicate that she has made the decision voluntarily to submit to this act of obedience to Jesus Christ. (Nobody else made the decision for her);
- Demonstrate by analogy, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ;
- Announce or profess to the world the good news that:
- She has repented of all of her sins;
- She has believed in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and confessed him as Lord;
- She now has faith in Jesus Christ which makes her justified and righteous IN HIM;
- She has changed allegiance and now identifies with none other but Jesus Christ.
- Demonstrate that, like Jesus Christ who died was buried and rose again from the grave, she is now dead to a life of sin but has been raised up by God’s Spirit to a new and redeemed life in Christ Jesus;
- Demonstrate that, although all human beings are condemned under God’s law because we have failed it so much (SEE this law in the Old Testament) because she is now in Christ Jesus and under his righteous covering and He is greater than the law (which he created in the first place), in Him, she is now dead to that law, free from the awful condemnation it brings and alive in the Spirit which God has given her and free to operate in obedience, by the Spirit’s empowerment, to the new ‘law of liberty’ in Christ Jesus, by grace, also known as the ‘law of faith’ and the ‘law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’. (SEE this new law under the New Testament).
- Demonstrate that, one day, as Jesus has promised, even if she dies physically in this life, Jesus Christ will return at the end of this world, and raise her back to life, to enjoy life everlasting in heaven.
IF ON THE OTHER HAND, THE PERSON WHO COMMITTED THE SIN IS ALREADY A CHRISTIAN (as sometimes happens), then that person in repenting, needs to ask forgiveness for that specific sin committed and for Jesus to wash her from all her filthiness and uncleanness and to restore the fellowship she once enjoyed with the Father through Jesus Christ his Son.
Repentance is therefore not a quickie. It is not something you do quickly and move on and forget all about. It is a process, where you feel deep godly sorrow for your sinful condition before a God that you know is thrice holy and you understand the gravity of your condition.
Because God offers forgiveness, as part of repentance, you gladly and eagerly accept it by confessing what you have done to him, admitting that you were wrong, that you sinned against him and that you are in need of his forgiveness and cleansing. You let him know honestly, that you do not ever intend to commit that sin or those sins again or to live life to please yourself but to please him.
What if the sin is in an area of struggle?
If the sin is an area of struggle that you truly want to be free from (e.g. a sin like lustful thinking or addiction that has trailed after you as a consequence of some other sin you committed in disobedience, which you have since confessed and repented of), then you must confess this trailing sin to God as well, let him know honestly, that you do not want to ever commit that sin again, do all within your power to be free from it and ask him in faith, for his help and grace to break the yoke or area of sin where you feel captive.
As I close, here are some of the scriptures on repentance mentioned in the Bible:
- “…Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2).
- “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land’.” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
- “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’.”(1 John 1:9).
- “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy’.”(Proverbs 28:13).
- “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”(Acts 3:19).
- ‘“..for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (JESUS) (Matthew 9:13).
- “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).
- “For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him.” (2 Chronicles 30:9).
- “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”(Matthew 4:17).
- “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” (James 4:8).
- And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil’.”(Joel 2:13).
- “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” (Revelations 3:19).
- “For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.”(Ezekiel 18:32).
- “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.’(Luke 15:7).
- “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” (Acts 17:30).
- “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (JESUS) (Luke 5:32).
- “Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of hosts.”(Zechariah 1:3).
- “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”(Mark 1:15).
- “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”(Acts 2:38).
- “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”(Luke 15:10).
What I have written above challenges my own heart. For, many times, we say we have repented of something, when we have not. Repentance is more than running to God and saying sorry. It is more than crying torrents of tears. Unless we repent from the heart (and God knows our heart), we have not repented.
(Written on 11th January, 2019, added to on 18th May, 2020)
In 2 Corinthians 7: 9-11, Paul gives us a picture of what true repentance which produces godly sorrow looks like. It causes a change of heart and direction and procures God’s forgiveness, wiping the slate clean.
After Paul wrote to the Corinthians, they repented of their sin, so that Paul was able to further write:
- “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye SORROWED TO REPENTANCE: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For GODLY SORROW worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the SORROW OF THE WORLD worketh death.”
That there are two types of sorrow, one that is GODLY and leads to salvation and the other that is OF THE WORLD and leads to death, gives us insight into the difference between Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot.
Peter denied Jesus and Judas betrayed him and both men were sorry for what they had done.
Yet, apart from the fact that Peter believed that Jesus was Lord (and was therefore saved) and from the evidence in scripture, Judas clearly did not and so died in unbelief, Judas was sorry for the particular sin he had committed in betraying Jesus, who he knew was innocent, yet, it was not GODLY sorrow that led to salvation and in particular, restoration, as Peter’s sorrow was but WORLDLY sorrow which led to death.
This is evidenced in the fact that, instead of turning to Jesus and believing that he was Lord, the source of life and mankind’s hope for redemption, Judas decided to take matters into his own hands, not submit to God and in one final act of rebellion, choose to do something that man has no authority to do: end his own life. In the Bible, it clearly states of the wisdom that comes from God: “…all they that hate me love death.”
In 2 Corinthians 7:11, Paul continued of the godly sorrow which the Church at Corinth had demonstrated, the fruits that they had manifested that evidenced that they were genuinely repentant and how this repentance then cleared them:
- “For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what CAREFULNESS it wrought in you, yea, what CLEARING OF YOURSELVES it wrought in you, yea, what INDIGNATION, yea, what FEAR, yea, what VEHEMENT DESIRE, yea, what ZEAL, yea, what REVENGE! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”
It is safe to say therefore, that when we have genuinely repented of our sins, this then produces in us the following fruit:
- CAREFULNESS as we move forward, to do what is right in the sight of God, to guard our heart, to be watchful, discerning and alert, so as to ensure that we never find ourselves in situations where we commit the same sins and other sins again;
- INDIGNATION or anger for the ugliness of the sin we committed and when we see it being committed by anybody else;
- FEAR because we understand the gravity of our sin, how bad it was that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God and that it is only through his grace and mercy that we are still in the land of the living and have been given the opportunity to repent and change;
- VEHEMENT DESIRE and ZEAL to go out and do God’s work willingly, passionately and to live for him and tell others about the way to salvation and build up and edify other saints with truth; and ultimately
- REVENGE, in that we are determined to be on fire for God, to hit back some hefty blows at the enemy through the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God: Obeying it, embracing the truth contained in it, agreeing with it, clinging to it for dear life and applying it in every strata of life, warning people of the danger of sin and living a rebellious life not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and doing everything within our power, through the enabling of almighty God, to see lost souls saved, backsliders return to God who has always been and will always be the source of LIFE, LIGHT and LOVE, expose the devil and his cohorts and in so doing, contribute to the pulling down of his diabolic empire.
Paul having identified the fruits meet for repentance (of which John the Baptist earlier told the people they needed to bring), my question to you is this: If God has convicted you of some sin that you committed, have you genuinely repented?
(Addendum written on 24th May, 2021)