Repentance gets a bad rap.
We all know why. First, there is the public perception of repentance. We have all seen the preacher on the street corner calling for repentance or the automobile with “repent!” written all over it. Worst still is the cartoon of a man wearing a sandwich board calling for repentance. People who have no idea what repentance means know these caricatures.
Second, repentance gets a bad rap even from Christians. It is certainly not the most loved of Christian doctrines. It doesn’t come close to forgiveness, everlasting life, or the blessings of God. Christians have problems because it calls for introspection, confession, and actually turning from sin.
Yet repentance is an absolute necessity in the life of a believer. It is necessary to begin our life in Christ and necessary to fulfill our life in Christ.
In the Old Testament, the word for repentance simply means “to turn.” Repentance occurs when we turn from our wicked way and move toward God’s righteous way. While the concept pervades the Old Testament, Joel contains a prototypical depiction of repentance. In the midst of a judgment speech, God makes an offer: ” ‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts and not your garments’ ” (Joel 2:12-13).
In the New Testament, repentance has the emphasis of changing the mind and therefore changing behavior as well. As you change the way you think about something, you also begin to change the way you behave. Jesus left little room for doubt about the necessity of repentance: “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:3). The whole ministry of Jesus involved repentance: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).
Repentance is for everyone, but no one likes the idea. After all, repentance is painful.
But here is the payoff. While it is a painful event (I have to deal with my rebellions and failings), it has a sweet result. Repentance brings us to God and puts us in right relationship with Him. Because of repentance we can call upon Him and not be ashamed. Because of repentance we can face the future knowing that we have sought to please Him.
How big is your repentance? When we repent, the angels throw a party in heaven (Luke 15:7).