I absolutely love repentance. It’ so much fun. No really. It’s great.
This is a recent development for me, however. I only started liking repentance within the past few years.
I hated repentance for the first 20 years of my life, and with good reason. My understanding of it was how it is often taught and expressed. Specifically, repentance always had connotations of sadness, self-pity, depression, remorse, shame, guilt, and I’m-gonna-try-harder-next-time attached to it. For example, that thing you’re supposed to do before you eat your cracker drink your shot glass of grape juice as the melancholy music plays in the background – think about all the sins I’ve committed and how much I suck, feel really bad for it all, and use that as my motivation to avoid sin next time I’m tempted. Repentance…puke.
Of course, people don’t explain repentance like this. If I asked anyone if they think that the above is what repentance is they would say no. But what they would affirm in word they would deny in practice, because that’s how most people feel about repentance as a result of what they teach and how they do church.
I know where this all started. It first began among Catholics with penance, the idea that you need to confess a sin to a priest in order to have it forgiven. Some people even thought that you could clean yourself up by putting yourself through physical suffering.
Thankfully, Martin Luther came along and noticed that that practice is wholly unbiblical. Unfortunately, John Calvin came along soon after and interpreted 1 Corinthians 11:28 out of context to mean that we should have a feel-sorry session before we have communion. That tradition of man is still with us today in many churches.
By now you’re probably wondering how I could write that I absolutely love repentance. I hope you are, because I have good news for you.
The Greek word translated “repentance” in the bible is metanoia and means “to change one’s mind.” Pretty simple, huh?
Let’s take a look at an example passage that uses this word (a derivative form of the word, to be exact).
Here’s the message Jesus went around preaching: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). “Gospel” (euangelion) means good news and “repent” means to change your mind. In essence Jesus is saying, “Change your mind and realize that life with me is the most happy joy-filled life out there! Now you can come and begin life as a citizen of my Kingdom. Sin just sucks, but I’m here to give you life to the full.”
I can tell people to repent with a smile because I am sharing good news with them – Jesus-did-it salvation, not do-it-yourself religion.
There’s a story in Nehemiah 8:9-12 that foreshadows this glorious way of repentance Jesus brought about. The Israelites had just been set free from captivity, and the Law was being read to them. As they heard the rules and regulations that they had not been keeping, they wept aloud because they realized their sinfulness. But the leaders instructed the people to not weep or mourn.
Nehemiah told them, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks…Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10).
Nehemiah new that grieving about their own mistakes wouldn’t bring about any good, but that rejoicing in who God was and what he had done for them would.
Same for us.
Repentance is simply coming to our senses and realizing that God’s will is always good, fun, and perfect (2 Timothy 2:25-26).
And that’s the only lasting way that can motivate us to act like the righteousness of God that we are.
Not shame. Not guilt. Not sorrow.
Yes, we look with disgust on our past sins when we realize them. But that quickly fades away as we realize the greater truth that they have already been forgiven (1 John 2:12) and we change our mind concerning the pleasurability of our misbehavior, deciding to believe that God’s way is infinitely more gratifying.
So repent happily. The Truth is always better than we think it is.
New Covenant Repentance
True Definition of “Repent”
Why Repentance is Like Football