Remember back in the show Happy Days when Fonzie was trying to admit he was wrong about something and he just couldn't get the words out? I always thought that was so funny. Until I realized I was doing the same thing in my life. Admitting we are wrong takes guts - and humility. And admitting we are wrong is the first step to true repentance.
When I say that word, repent, does it make you think of the wild-looking guy on the street corner with a wide eyes yelling at everyone to “Repent!” while he carries a sign on him that says "THE END IS NEAR!"? Yeah, I used to think that, too. I didn't really understand what the word really meant much, but I knew it seemed "overused" and "exaggerated" in the fire and brimstone preaching that Hollywood exploited in movies and entertainment. But not anymore.
That was what was missing in my "Counterfeit Christianity" - true repentance. I believed Jesus was who He said He was, I knew He died on the cross and I even acknowledged I was a sinner, but never really understood that repentance was such a big deal. It took twenty years of my life to realize that I was missing this important and crucial element, and once I finally repented from my sin, I was finally able to embrace a true relationship with Christ as Lord and Savior of my life. Believing in Jesus was simply not enough - I had to believe in Him enough that my life was surrendered to Him and His leading.
I am shocked at how often the gospel is presented without a true presentation of what repentance is, because without it, there is no salvation. I read a book by John MacArthur called "The Gospel According to Jesus". There is a chapter on repentance and what it means, and what it doesn't mean. I literally put the book down after marking up just about the entire chapter and yelled out "AMEN!!" when I finished it! Here are some of the quotes from the book that shook me to the core:
- page 179 - Repentance is not merely shame or sorrow for sin, although genuine repentance always involves an element of remorse. It is a redirection of the human will, a purposeful decision to foresake all unrighteousness and pursue righteousness instead.
- The call to repentance is not a command to make sin right before turning to Christ in faith. Rather it is a command to recognize one's lawlessness and hate it, to turn one's back on it and flee to Chirst, embracing Him with wholehearted devotion.
- The word repentance comes from the Greek word metanoia - which means "the change of mind of those who have begun to abhor their errors and misdeeds, and have determined to enter upon a better course of life, so that it embraces both a recognition of sin and sorrow for it and hearty amendment, the tokens and effects of which are good deeds."
- Page 180 - Repentance begins with recognition of sin - the understanding that we are sinners, that our sin is an affront to a holy God, and more precisely, that we are personally responsible for our own guilt. The repentance that leads to salvation must also include recognition of who Christ is along with some understanding of His right to govern people's lives.
I could go on and on, but I'll let you read the book for yourself! But I do want to say that I see clearly why we hate the word “repent” so much. Because it goes against our human will to be "right" and it requires great humility, something rare and difficult in these days of "I'm right, you're wrong" and "It's not my fault!". It requires surrender of our lives to Christ's Lordship - something that also takes great humility and trust. In today's world, it almost seems ridiculous that anyone would ever do any of this:
- admit wrongdoing by assuming personal responsibility for our sin
- take entire blame without passing it on to someone else
- surrender to someone else's way of life besides our own
- give up trying to control our own destiny
- trust ANYONE wholeheartedly
- obey anyone else - I mean, we are the boss, right? Who knows better than us how to live??
I remember thinking "If God didn't want me to sin, why would He make me this way?" and so I would continue to live a life of self-centeredness, living for my own purposes and pleasures. I was not taking personal responsibility. I was blaming God for my sin by accusing Him of making me a sinner! But when I realized He did not make me a sinner, but that I was born into a sinful world that was corrupt, I realized that He made me to be anything BUT a sinner - and that He had provided a way for me to live the life He intended for me - through Jesus Christ. But I had to get over myself -my pride - my lack of personal responsibility and repent of my waywardness. I had to stop saying "I'm sorry" and say "I'm through".
So, you see, that is why we hate the word repent. We can't get around the fact that Jesus said "REPENT" many times in the Bible - and He meant it. I think it is the true test. The place where Jesus looks us in the eyes and says "Are you in?" and we are then faced with a decision that may seem impossible on the surface, but once we turn our backs and walk toward Christ and away from our sin, He empowers us to live righteously - not perfectly - but righteously because He can then be our righteousness for us - something we are incapable of being without Him.
Please know this – repentance is not a work we perform. Works do not get us to heaven, not at all. Repentance is just a turning away from sin and toward the Savior, letting Him do the work for us because we are completely incapable of doing it ourselves. We get no credit out of this at all. All the credit goes to Him! In 2 Corinthians 7:9, Paul reminds us that even repentance is something that God initiates in us – read this carefully...."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.”
Those verses reiterate that God is the One who initiates repentance in a person. Godly sorrow is genuine sorrow that leads to repentance. It makes us realize we are wrong, we've offended the Holy God and we are in need of a Savior. Worldly repentance makes us sad and sorry, but not for the sin...for being caught! Godly sorrow takes humility. We realize, very quickly, that repentance seems a lot harder to do before we actually take the step - and that once we do, it's truly the best decision we could have ever made for our lives and He makes it worth every single moment.
Guys like Ezekiel or Jeremiah from the Bible seemed incredibly nuts to everyone, but they had a message from God and they carried it forth so you and I could know the truth about who God is and how we can have a relationship with Him. Sure, they used some strange tactics (God told them to and they were just being obedient! - seriously, have you read in Ezekiel what God had this man do for Him?), but people paid attention, didn't they?
My methods of sharing the hope of Christ and the importance of repentance are different than these people you'll find on the street corners - I prefer to share my faith through living it out and loving people through serving but my motive is the same - love for people and a desire for everyone to know the Truth - Jesus Christ.
Scriptures for further study on repentance: Matthew 4:17; Luke 13:3 & 5; Luke 24:47; 2 Timothy 2:25; Matthew3:8; 1John2:3-6; 3:17; Ezekiel 33:18-19; 2Chronicles 7:14; Jonah3:10