The call to repent is as old as the fall of humanity. It summarizes the preaching of prophets from Moses to Malachi. Since man has sinned against God and drifted away
from him, man must turn back to God in his spirit. This spiritual turning to God is called repentance. The prophet Ezekiel said, “Why will ye die, O house of Israel? Repent and live!” (Ezek. 33:11). John the Baptizer repeated this fundamental call in his preaching when he prepared people for the coming of Jesus by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt. 3:1). Jesus preached the rule of God over the lives of men, and the call to repent was the watchword of his preaching as well (Mt. 4:17). Repentance is the acquiescence of the soul to the rule of God.
Repentance is not sorrow. Many are sorrowful about the evil things they have done. They regret using others, hurting others, and shaming themselves. At times, they become despondent over these past wrongs and wallow in self-pity, but never get around to changing their attitudes, their behaviors, and their lives. Sometimes sinners are just sorrowful because they got caught or had to suffer consequences for their sins. This kind of sorrow is worldly sorrow and only produces death. But when people realize that they have sinned against God, that their sins have caused God to sacrifice his Son, and that their sins are spiritually dangerous to themselves and others, they are sometimes sorrowful in a godly way. This kind of sorrow involves conviction and conversion, and the decision to think and act differently. This godly sorrow leads to genuine repentance.
Repentance is a change in one’s mental position or perspective. It happens when one begins to think differently about everything because of the impact God’s word has had in one’s mind. When we begin to have completely different attitudes about other people, about sin, and about the will of God, then we have been “renewed in the spirit of our minds,” as Paul explained to the Ephesians (Eph. 4:23). This complete change in mental perspective is part of repentance.
Repentance is deciding to leave spiritually detrimental things. This includes sinful activities, evil companions, compromising situations, sinful habits, of the story of the prodigal son, which means making a firm commitment to get up and leave the pigpen.
Repentance is deciding to go toward the things of God. The prodigal son decided not just to leave the pigpen, but to go to his father. Repentance involves committing
ourselves to draw near to God, to do the will of God in a positive way, to act purposefully and deliberately in prayer, study, worship, and service. This positive commitment to actively do the will of God is every bit as much a part of repentance as leaving the sinful life behind.
Repentance is not just a step. Repentance is something ongoing in a Christian’s life. Whenever we become lax in doing God’s will, and whenever we fall into sin, repentance turns us back toward the Father. Repentance must begin before one is saved, and it must continue as needed until death. Repent and live!