Repent? What’s That Mean?
There are a number of terms used in the Scriptures that most of us really don’t understand very well. And it seems to me, based on the number of questions that I get about it, the word “repent” is one of those that is tough to define. Now I know that many of us think that it has something to do with being drawn closer to God, but that’s not really totally accurate. Because that would mean that God is responsible for the work of repentance and that’s not the case either. Most of us can at least recite a verse or two about repentance as well, but that still doesn’t mean that we understand the total meaning of the word.
For example, John the Baptist, the topic of yesterday’s post, was the first person in the New Testament to talk about repentance. He told the people, in Matthew 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” But the Old Testament reveals that many people have talked about repentance before John did. For example, we can hear about it in 1 Kings 8:47, 2 Chronicles 6:37, at least 3 times in Job, Isaiah 59:20, twice in Jeremiah, at least 3 times in Ezekiel and Hosea 11:5. And these are just the Old Testament citations, to say nothing of the people in the New Testament who have written on the subject as well.
And those include some pretty notable people. Aside from the comments by John the Baptist, there are references to repentance in all the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke, as well as in Acts and Revelation. Peter himself even talks about repentance in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
If so many different people spoke about repentance, it must have been an important topic for God to address with us. So what’s it all about? Well, it’s really a combination of three different actions. First, repentance applies to people who are moving away from God. It doesn’t mean that you just aren’t moving closer to God – it means that you are moving father away…. and that’s because of sin. Plain and simple. And it’s God’s desire for us to be closer to him, and since He never moves away from us, it means that we must take steps to get closer to him. But before we can get closer, we have to stop moving farther away. And here is where the critical step comes it. Because, when we are moving in the wrong direction, away from God, we are to STOP, then turn around, and go in the opposite direction.
We just can’t go from bad to good – or far away to close. First we must cease doing that which is continuing to move us farther from God – then, after we stop and turn, we can build momentum to get closer to Him. While I firmly believe that God will pursue us, He will not follow us down a path of sinful behavior – so repentance is the act of US working to get closer to God. That means we have to take the action steps – not God.
The verse for this evening come from Christ Himself. In Mark 1:5, we are told, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” So, if I paraphrase what Jesus is saying, I suggest it might be better understood as, “Hey, you! Quit moving further away from me. I want you to follow me and walk with me. So STOP going in the wrong direction. Turn around and look at me. Eye to eye. See how much I love you….. Then come….. come to me and I will give you rest, share your load, and spend all eternity with you. Believe the Good News. Yes, it’s true.”
Now that kind of puts a different spin on the whole thing, don’t you think? Can you picture Christ saying that to you? Because Christ loves us so much that He doesn’t want us to move away from Him. That’s the message that John the Baptist and so many others were trying to tell us. So there you have it – maybe more than you ever thought you wanted to know about repentance.
My encouragement this evening is to let you know that God desires you to walk with Him. He never wants you to move away. And my prayer is that if you find yourself more distant from God than you used to be, that you will stop, turn around, and run to the Creator of the universe who desires to spend all of eternity with you…. He has his arms open to receive you right now. Have a great day in the Lord!