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  • Pastor Jim French

The Gift Of Repentance

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Matthew 4:17 BSB

In my early Christian life I had a very distorted, unBiblical view of repentance. I thought repentance was groveling before God, lamenting my sins and telling God how bad I was. I thought it was whining before God, begging him to forgive me.

I thought repentance was all about what I could do to make up for the sin I committed. It was about making myself worthy before him and earning his love and forgiveness. That kind of repentance was all about It focused on what I have done (my sin) instead of what God has done. It was all wrong.

In the middle ages it was popular in some parts of the church to perform self-flagellation. People would intentionally beats themselves with whips as a form of penance (More on penance below) or to show they were sorry for their sins. Sometimes they thought they could be delivered from evil spirits this way and some even thought they would be protected from sickness by beating themselves. They thought that disease was God's judgment upon them. It was all wrong.

In the Philippines self-flagellation is still practiced as a form of devotion for Easter. This completely unnecessary act often includes self-crucifixion. It is wrong and completely unnecessary.

These are most likely well-meaning people who are devoted to Christ. My heart breaks for them because it is all so unnecessary. Jesus was already crucified for us so that we would not have to be.

When we do these things we are saying in essence that what Jesus did on the cross was not enough - that we must add to his sacrifice by our own works. This is wrong.

We cannot, nor do we have to add anything nor do we have to do anything to what Jesus did on the cross. He did it all so that we would not have to.

What is Repentance?

Repentance is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is not begging and pleading God to forgive us for what we've done. This comes from an unbiblical teaching that says we have to pay for our sins and that we have earn God's favor again. Jesus already paid for all of our sins on the cross 2000 years ago. We cannot add to his perfect work on the cross.

For years I labored under the false assumption that I had to somehow perform to regain God's favor for my sins. But in all of my "doings" I never felt like I had done enough, when indeed I hadn't - I couldn't. Nothing I could do would atone for my sins so I was caught in this endless cycle of performance and wondering if it was enough. It's a merry-go-round that you can only stop by realizing that Jesus did it all and all you need to do is to ask and receive forgiveness. This was my belief for many years and it's a never ending struggle that you can't win.

Sometimes to get the true meaning of a word in the Bible we must look at the original languages. Let's take a look at the meaning of the word translated as repentance in both the Old and New Testaments and see what the Bible says. The Old Testament is written in Hebrew (except a few chapters in Daniel written in Aramaic) and the New Testament is written in Greek so we'll be looking at the Hebrew and Greek words for repentance.

The Hebrew word for repentance is : shub which means “to return, turn back”. In Greek it is: metanoeo which means "to think differently or afterwards, that is, reconsider (morally to feel compunction)".

So the true Biblical meaning of repentance is to change the way we think. It means to turn away from our old ways of thinking. The way we think consequently affects our behavior so to change the way we think changes our behavior.

John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus preaching a baptism of repentance.

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 3:2 ESV)

John is saying, "Change the way you think for the Kingdom of God is near" (in the person of Jesus). He is not saying "Beat yourself up because Jesus is coming". He is not saying, "Change your behavior" but "Change the way you think". Do this first and that is what changes our behavior.

Jesus' ministry begins with a call to repentance:

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17 ESV)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV)

If Jesus begins his ministry with a proclamation of repentance it must be very important.

The call to repentance is not a one time thing but is a constant call upon our lives. Our natural tendency is to think “in the flesh” which means to basically to see things from an earthly perspective. Repentance in its true form is seeing things from a Heavenly (Biblical) perspective. True repentance involves focusing on what God has done for us instead of our sin. The victorious Christian life comes from gazing upon God and what he has done, not on our own sin.

If we focus our sin and what bad things we have done we really can't see anything else. This kind of thinking leaves us no room for hope because we cannot change aside from the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

Instead, if we focus on what Jesus has done for us we can see that he has done it all and we only have to ask forgiveness and accept his work to be clean and forgiven. And, most importantly, we can rest in his work and not struggle in our own.

Repentance is a gift from God.

When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18 ESV)

And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, (2 Tim 2:24-25 ESV)

God gives us the grace to repent. It is also a choice for us. We can choose to struggle and earn God's favor (in which case we void Jesus work on the cross) or we can rest in Jesus' work. It is our choice. God has his part (grace) and we have our part (making the choice). We make the choice to think differently and God gives us the grace to do so.

We learn how to think by renewing our minds with the Word of God

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 ESV)

Repentance and Forgiveness

Repenting and being forgiven are 2 different things. They are related but they are not the same. Being forgiven is having the slate wiped clean before God. Repenting is changing the way we think and turning away from the behavior that is the sin. It's making a conscious effort to turn away from sin. It's saying. “I'm not going to do that again”. And you might say, “But what if I do? Does that make me a hypocrite?” If you do it again sincerely repent again asking for God's help to stay from that sin. He is love. He is merciful and he has your best interests at heart. He wants to help you!

When we sin we should immediately repent and ask God for forgiveness he grants it. We don't have to do anything else!

Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. (Acts 8:22)

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, (Acts 3:19)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Notice that the Bible says we don't have to do anything else to be forgiven except confess it to God. We do not have to confess it to a priest or pastor. We can go directly to Jesus in prayer. We have complete access to Jesus 24/7.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Some denominations teach that we must do something to restore our relationship with God - that we have to somehow "perform" something to be made right with God. This is called penance. We are told we must confess our sins to a priest and then we will be told what to do to atone (pay for or make amends for) our sins. Usually this involves praying a certain number of prayers a certain times, etc. Notice that the focus is on our work (what you and I can do) to be forgiven instead of the the forgiveness provided by the blood of Jesus.

This is unbiblical. Again, doing this says that what Jesus did was incomplete, that we must add to it. Nowhere does Scripture teach that performing works or punishing oneself will atone for sin. We cannot nor do we need to atone for our sins. Jesus has already atoned for our sins. We just need to receive his work by faith. That's it!

There is no place in the New Testament where a believer is required to do anything to receive forgiveness of sins, except ask for it and turn away (repent) from the behavior that caused us to commit them/it. In fact the New Testament says quite the opposite:

“But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 4:17

Jesus' message of repentance was to change the way we think but also that God has initiated a new revelation and a new "era" into creation – the Kingdom of Heaven/God. He is saying that it is time to think differently because God in the flesh is here. Everything is different now because I AM is here. That is our call – to think from Heaven's perspective.

Part of repentance is actually believing what God says in his Word. It's a call to live by faith and not by sight - to live from Heaven instead of Earth. It is a deciding to change direction in our lives, to change the way we think and to turn away from sin. It is not beating ourselves up physically or emotionally.

Our thoughts are very important. What Andrew Wommack says is so true:

“You can't be tempted by what you don't think about.”

Verses for further meditation:

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. (Acts 3:19)

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:8]

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9]

“Nothing is impossible for God.”(Luke 1:37]


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