Turing back to God
Repentance is a change of mind Godward that leads to a judgment of self and one's acts: 1 Kings 7:47; Ezek.14:6; Matt. 3:2; 9:13; Luke 15:7; Acts 20:21; 2 Cor.7:9,10. It means changing your mind concerning your views, values, goals, and ways in such a thorough way that your whole life is lived differently. Mind and judgment, will and affections, behaviour and lifestyle, motives and plans, all these are involved. Repenting then means starting to live a new life.
As regards man in his relationship with the Creator, repentance (metanoia = change of mind) is necessary and foundational for everything else. God does not despise or reject a broken and a contrite heart. Repentance is the indispensable precursor of our experience of grace.
The call to repent was the fundamental summons in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2), the Lord Jesus (Matthew 4:17), the Twelve (Mark 6:12), and the early church (Acts 2:38), both to the Jews and to the Gentiles (Acts 17:30; 26:20). The glorified Christ in heaven urged His people on earth to repentance (Revelation 2:5,16,22; 3:3,19). It is part of Jesus' summary of the gospel that was to be taken to all the nations (Luke 24:47).
The urgent call to repentance is not new: the prophets of old constantly called the people of God to repentance, to turn back to God from whom they had strayed (Jeremiah 23:22; 25:4,5; Zechariah 1:3-6). Repentance is always set forth as the path to the remission of sins and restoration to God's favour, while impenitence is the road to ruin and destruction (Luke 13:1-8).
Two motives for repentance are found in Scripture: the goodness of God that leads to repentance (Rom.2:4); and coming judgment, on account of which God now commands all men to repent (Acts 17:30,31).
The fact that men turn to God, seeking His favour, this motivation and power is not to be found in themselves but rather of God's grace. It is for His glory that this door of return to Him is granted (Acts 11:18). God still takes the initiative in approaching men in grace and by His glad tidings, consequent on his righteousness having been secured in the death of His Son.
Hence God's testmony is "repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). These two - repentance and faith - are so intertwined and inseparable that where there is the one the other must necessary be active too. If evangelical faith is not there, then repentance is sub-standard and fake.
The Westminster Confession says that in repenting "a sinner, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God, and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for and hates his sins as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments" (15:2).
Feelings of remorse, self-reproach and sorrow for sin generated by fear of punishment, without any wish or resolve to forsake sinning should not be confused with repentance. David expresses repentance in Psalms 51, having in his heart the serious purpose of sinning no more, and of living a life pleasing to God (Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20).
Repentance is also spoken of as a change of thought and action where there is no evil to repent of (2 Cor.7:8).
The Christian's life is one of constant repentance. You repent once and continue in a state of repentance. This being so, such a serious and solemn theme ought always to be regularly sounded from the pulpit and in Christian families.
Some twenty years ago I experienced repentance, wrought by the Word (Acts 2:37; Jer.23:29) and Spirit (Acts 10:44; Zech.12:10). Together with my simple trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose message was presented to me (John 10:10), it was the start of a new life to me (2 Cor.5:17), all as the immediate and visible result of the new birth which the Spirit effected in me.
My life has radically changed; the orientation and direction is far different. Sinful practises, such as the occult, a filthy tongue, and so forth, were exchanged for new practices, such as a love for the Scriptures and witnessing.
My repentance was not simply a legal terror; it was not only a resolution against sin; and it was not only the leaving of many sinful ways.
The repentance granted to me from above humbled me inwardly and reformed me visibly. As a result: