Admittedly, our modern western culture lacks the concept of repentance. Certainly, we recognize guilt and understand the nuances of the flower and chocolate apology. We "try to do good", ask for forgiveness, "promise better behavior", and apologize. We undertake all these penitent behaviors in an attempt to satisfy our guilty conscience. Yet, Biblical repentance stands apart from penance and our modern conceptions of guilt, shame, and regret. We will investigate both the Old and New Testaments to grow in our understanding of repentance, and the attribute’s critical role in the Christian life.
The call for repentance began long before the voice of John the Baptist boomed across the Jordan River Valley (Matt 3:1-6). Since the beginning, repentance remained a necessary means for a relationship between fallen man and God. Abel brought offerings to the Lord as a recognition of his inherent depravity (Gen 4:3-5). Jeremiah called Israel to quit worshipping idols and return to Yahweh (Jer. 1:16). Ezekiel prophesied the Lord’s desire for repentance and his promise of forgiveness, proclaiming,
“If the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” (Ezk 18:21)
Through the voice of the prophets God delivered His word and called Israel to turn from their sin. Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for repentance connotes a complete change of direction or retreat. God demands man to turn his back to sin and flee. But, what shall men flee to? Isaiah spoke to the affirmative nature of repentance, when he called the nation to turn to God (Isa 45:22). God desires men to turn from their wickedness and look upon Him.
The theme of repentance continues in the New Testament. John the Baptist called the nation of Israel to repent (Matt 3:2). Jesus preached a gospel of repentance (Matt 4:17). At Pentecost, Peter condemned the Jews for their crucifixion of Jesus Christ and called his listeners to repent (Acts 2:38). All used the Greek word literally translated as metamorphosis. Repentance entails a complete change of comprehension or a metamorphosis of mind. This is not an intellectual decision, but a transformation of the heart. We may change our order at a restaurant: first we desire meat, then fish. Yet, regardless of our decision, we still desired food. This is not biblical repentance. The Gospel call of repentance declares a complete change of appetites: Men no longer desire sinful food, but long for a spiritual sustenance (Matt 5:6; John 4:31-34).
God desires a complete transformation of our appetites, not for us to reach a decision. A decision may last for a season, but will be dispersed upon the first spring rains (Luke 8:5-6). We cannot affix the word of Christ upon the rocky soil of their hearts. Only God transforms our hearts by His power (1 Cor 2:5). He wields His power through His word and spirit. His word reveals our depravity and cries for us to repent (John 3:3, 1 Cor 2:14). His spirit convicts us of our sin and fosters a repentant spirit in us (John 16:8; Psalm 51:10). Repentance demands a contrite heart and broken spirit (Psalm 51:16-17). In a spirit of repentance, we realize our sin and ask, “What shall I do to be saved..."
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