Bob Russell tells about a time when he was driving with his wife Judy, and she insisted they should get off the highway at a certain exit. Bob disagreed and kept going, only to discover soon afterward that she was right after all. He admits, “I kept driving quite a while, trying to figure out a way to turn around without her realizing it!”
No one likes to admit being wrong, so it’s no wonder that repentance sounds harsh to postmodern ears. When is the last time you used the word repent in a conversation?
On the surface repentance may sound negative, but there’s a lot more to it than scolding and shaming. If you find yourself in a deep hole, it makes sense to stop digging. If you’re going in the wrong direction, it’s wise to make a U-turn. Someone defined repentance as a change of mind that leads to a change of behavior. Understood that way, repentance doesn’t sound so bad. In fact, it sounds downright appealing. Is your life so flawless and wonderful that nothing needs to change? Mine isn’t, either. In plain English, If something in your life is seriously out of whack, why wouldn’t you want to try a different approach? Obeying God can be difficult, but in the big picture disobeying God leads to far worse results. Humanity has gone our own way since the Garden of Eden. How’s that been working for us?
What if, when Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17), he wasn’t scolding people as much as he was offering them a better approach? I think Jesus’ voice rang with the sound of adventure when he invited men and women to follow him. In God’s kingdom, the cross leads to glory. Sacrifice and self-denial lead to a deeper experience of God’s grace. In the long run, the hardships of discipleship are always worth the hassle.
Times of Refreshing
Repentance leads to positive outcomes like cultural renewal (2 Chronicles 7:14), forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38), “times of refreshing” (Acts 3:19, 20), and recovering our first love (Revelation 2:4, 5). Who wouldn’t want blessings like those?
We resist repentance because it requires humbling ourselves before God and others. It means sliding out of the driver’s seat so the Lord can take the wheel. After all, ruling the universe is above our pay grade. Repentance isn’t just turning from; it’s turning to—from sin toward God, from wrong toward right, from aimlessness toward purpose, from death toward life. God’s kindness, not harshness, leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). His Spirit guides us away from destructive patterns and helps us adopt healthier habits instead.
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if the leaders of nations and religious organizations would all repent? And if estranged families, embittered friends, divided churches, and hostile neighbors would humbly repent and seek forgiveness from God and from each other? What if individuals all over the globe would yield our own agendas to the will of God?
Genuine repentance leads to positive results. Yes, it’s difficult to accept responsibility for our actions and face our sins head on. But godly sorrow leads to repentance, which leads to salvation “without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). And a life without regret sounds very appealing to me.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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