1 - What Does The World Think?
The word "repentance" is often heard when discussing Christianity, and sometimes religion in general. Because it comes up so often, it is obvious that it is a very important idea. What does it mean?
Like so many other words, "repentance" can mean different things to different people. If we want to make sure that we are living by the message presented in the Bible, however, it is important that we learn what it means when we actually read it in the Bible.
Modern dictionaries will give the following meanings for "repentance:"
- Deep sorrow for a past sin
- Regret for a past action
These were the first two to appear using a search at www.dictionary.com.
It seems that most churches today are following the modern meanings of the word, which is basically to "feel bad" for something wrong that was done. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has a practice called "Penance," where once in a while its members privately confess to a priest all the sins they have committed recently. The priest then gives them a number of pre-written prayers to say, and this is supposed to cleanse the guilt.
Based on what we have been reading, this should seem to be very different from what the Bible teaches. We have read that those who are born of God do not commit sin. How, then, can people who are claiming to be followers of Jesus have the need to often confess recent, known, acts of sin? There is a problem with this belief, and this practice, and it is based on the world's modern understanding of "repentance."
Most other churches aren't really any better. They will teach that once in a while, a Christian will commit sin, but if they repent of that sin - that is, if they feel badly about it - then they can be forgiven, and everything is fine, until they commit that sin again, and have to confess and repent once more. Some churches are a little better… they say that with repentance, the believer must promise not to do that sin again; and yet, if they DO commit the sin again, that is just a part of what it means to be a "sinner," and at least they are "trying" to be good.
For the Bible-believer, who accepts the idea of victory over sin, and has faith that God truly does set people free from their pasts, and know that He truly cleanses us from unrighteousness, what these churches teach must seem to be a very sad circle. The members of these churches go around and around, hoping each time that they are improving a little, but relying upon their personal feelings, instead of God's love and promises, to tell them whether or not they are right with Him.
The bad news is that most people think repentance is a bad feeling, and that God wants them to "feel bad" when they sin, so that maybe they won't do it again.
The good news is that the Bible has a better definition for repentance. And it tells us that God's love and mercy cause us to stop sinning. He does not want us to feel bad!
2 - What Does The Bible Say?
The word that the Bible uses for repentance, in its original languages, has nothing to do with feeling bad. It has nothing to do with feeling good either. In the Bible, repentance means "to change your mind."
The word "repentance" in the Bible means to learn something that changes our mind about what we are doing, and as a result of this our actions, and our whole lives, become different. Of course, if we discover that we are doing something that God does not like, we will feel badly about it - but that is just a natural result of discovering sin. The actual repentance is the learning that takes place, and the decision - the change in the mind - to turn completely away from the thing that we have discovered in sinful.
If we have just become believers, and are just committing to a life free from sin through Jesus' power, repentance means admitting that the things we were doing before were not pleasing to God, and deciding to be forever separate from those things. If we are already believers, and we are growing, repentance means that if we find we have been doing something wrong without realizing it was sin, we confess that thing, and we allow God to take it from us completely. There will naturally be some feelings of sorrow and regret for these actions, in both cases, but we must not confuse the feelings with the changing of our minds, or the decision to remain faithful to God's plan.
Repentance is an important part of the Christian's life. However, because we understand what this word means in the Bible, we are not saying that sorrow, or regret, are a part of what God wants for His people. This is very important, because there are many churches teaching that guilt and regret are common and natural feelings for a Christian to have. This is not true!
The Christian life is a victorious life, and a victorious life is a joyful, content life. Everything that our Heavenly Father gives to His people is for their safety, joy and success. Even the rules and commandments, these are not for our limitation, but for our pleasure. God said to Moses, "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!" (Deuteronomy 5:29) In other words, if God's people were to trust Him, and always obey His commandments, they would discover that they are the best thing for us, and for our children.
Repentance, a word so often misunderstood by Christians, is a blessing. It is a power to change our minds from the world's way of thinking to Heaven's way of thinking. It is an invitation from God to think like Him, and to make good and holy decisions in every part of our lives.
3 - Summary
Repentance is a word and an idea that is often misunderstood. Especially where religion is concerned, repentance is often considered to be sorrow and guilt for sin.
It is true that sin leads to sorrow and guilt, but that is the very reason why God wants to save us from these things. Repentance is the way in which we are made free from sin through God's grace. It is the way we learn our Father's judgment on the acts we do, and the way we change our minds to be in agreement with His perfect wisdom.
Repentance is a part of every Christian's life, but this does not mean our lives are filled with sorrow or guilt. It means that our lives are filled with growth and good choices. It means that we are working along with God to become less like the sinful world, and more like the saints that He is preparing for the holy experiences of Heaven.