You’d think at 71 I’d be better at it. I still struggle to repent. It doesn’t come easy. Am I more aware of the sins of others? Sometimes. Sad. I want the kingdom to come and I know it shows up through repentance. John the Baptist made that clear. His simple message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:3). When he was arrested, Jesus continued with the same message (4:17)! Must be important.
If what follows helps, go for it. If not, learn it some other way. But learn it, if you want to see the rule of the King in your life and beyond. Some of us are convinced that a great revival is coming—soon and very soon!
Obedience is inward and outward. A toddler can obey on the outside and be rebelling on the inside. So can I. Repentance is a heart issue. What is covert often needs changing more than what is overt. I struggle with defensiveness.
Omission ranks as high a commission. When we totem-pole sins, the ones we omit hardly get honorable mention, but they do in heaven. In three sober stories in Matthew 25, all hinge on the little word “not.” The foolish virgins did not get the oil. The passive servant did not invest the money. And the goats did it not to the least. It didn’t go well with the “nots.” Passivity is a killer for 21st century Christians.
Emotion comes in second to action. Go ahead and feel badly about something, but if you didn’t change, you didn’t repent. Repentance means to change the mind, which changes the behavior. Peter repented, Judas only regretted. Repentance is not the same as beating yourself up. Jesus took the beating we deserved. So we don’t get hard on ourselves as if to say, “Now you don’t have to be hard on me,” or we punish ourselves to pay for our sins. That is an insult to the cross. Good to feel badly. Better to repent fully—and walk away cleansed.
Repentance is a gift. The Holy Spirit can work it in us—but we do it. You can’t wait half asleep for it to come. “Bring forth the fruits of repentance,” and God will touch your hard heart.
Repentance in general brings forgiveness in general. Get specific. Telling God you’ve fallen short is hardly repenting. When my kids would drone, “I’m sorry,” I would ask, “What are you sorry for?” It took them great pain to say exactly what they did. Do the same with God. You need it—He doesn’t! If you didn’t tell the whole truth, confess lying. The brutal death of Jesus deserves brutal confession, not skimming and summarizing. That is best done by confessing to someone other than God. Look at the context of I John 1:9 and confess to a friend, mentor or pastor. Conviction is contagious. It has often been used to spark revivals.
Repentance prepares for the government of God. Take responsibility for doing it in a sober way. Read the Sermon on the Mount if you need fuel. Or ask your spouse or closest friend. Repentance calls for humility rather than a good self-image. Jesus said to the churches of Revelation, “I have this against you.” Good to find that out. Humbling yourself gets the attention of heaven. It invites grace, which we desperately need. We overestimate our time with people and underestimate our time with God. I once said to a pastor friend, “I want to learn more about repentance.” He said in response, “I want to repent.” If you do, expect the kingdom in greater measure.