What is Real Repentance?
What does it mean to “repent”? Is real repentance merely an emotional feeling? And is repentance really necessary? The answers to these crucial questions are found in the Bible. Every human being has behaved contrary to God’s way of life. We have all contributed our share to law breaking in this world (Rom. 5:12).
A Change of Direction
God tells us we must demonstrate that we no longer wish to continue in that way of life. We do so by changing our way of living. That change of direction is called “repentance” in biblical terminology. But what, exactly, do we repent of? “Repent therefore, and be converted, that your transgressions may be blotted out…,” said Peter (Acts 3:19).
"Sin is the transgression of any of God’s spiritual laws. Notice the definition in the Bible: "…sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4). “Therefore to him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17).
To repent simply means to “change direction.” We turn from the way of “get” to the way of “give". “We begin demonstrating our willingness to change and ask God to forgive our past way of life, He applies the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. (Heb. 9:14).
What is The “Natural” State of Man?
Real repentance involves change on our part. But why change? And change what? To really answer these questions, we need to understand the natural state of every individual.
1. God inspired Jeremiah to describe the basic motivations of the human mind, or “heart,” of man? Jer. 17:9. Is the natural mind of every human being subject to vanity and law-breaking? Rom. 8:7-8, 20.
COMMENT: Incredible as it may sound, what we commonly call “human nature”—is from Satan! Satan is revealed as “the god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4), who has deceived all nations (Rev. 12:9). He is further revealed as “…the prince of the power of the air…” (Eph. 2:2).
Satan “broadcasting” his basic attitude. He is actually “on the air.” The spirit that is in every human (Job 32:8; I Cor. 2:11) is “in tune” with Satan’s “wavelength,” he does not broadcast in words. He broadcasts attitudes of vanity, selfishness, greed, jealousy, criticism, envy, resentment, hatred, bitterness and rebellion which our minds receive, like a radio receives signals.
Few people realize that “human nature” has a spiritual side and a physical side. On its spiritual side, it is vanity. Vanity loves to exalt the self. It is self-centered, selfish and greedy. It “comes natural” to resent and resist authority. Even a child begins very early to resist the authority of his parents. As he grows and matures, this tendency to be hostile toward authority increases.
On the physical side, there are “natural” physical pulls and drives that seek to be satisfied regardless of any resultant injury or harm that may come to others or ourselves. Obviously there are certain physical desires that are not wrong and which God created in us. But improper use lead to breaking God’s law.
3. Are the expressions of Satan’s nature criminal in God’s sight? I John 3:4.
COMMENT: There is a law against the works of “human nature.” It is the Ten Commandment law of God. The expression of Satan-inspired nature is clearly illegal in God’s sight.
But don’t some few people really love others?–“put themselves out”- spending their time serving? To a degree, some have learned it is better to give than to receive. Perhaps they have not followed Satan’s philosophy as far as others who are totally “out for number one.” A few of God’s teachings in the Bible have “rubbed off” on them. But most deeds have an ulterior selfish motive—believe it or not! Those who God will ultimately change from human to spirit as the sons of God—are those who repent of this “natural” state of mind, and then strive to overcome it from that point on.
4. What did Jesus Christ say we are to become like if we expect to enter the Kingdom of God? Matt. 18:2-4.
Contrast the “natural” mind of a human being
with that of God. God is not preoccupied with self. He is totally outgoing
in character. He loves all people. He is
not hostile, defiant, rebellious, resentful, selfish. God wants everyone of us to eventually become like Him. He
wants us to turn from and strive to overcome the influence of Satan’s attitude on our thinking and doing while still human. This is essentially what repentance is all about!
It All Began in Eden
When God created the first man and woman, He made them physically perfect. They were created in the shape and image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). And everything about them was “good” (verse 31).They were not composed of spirit but of flesh made of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7; 3:19). And they had a natural self-concern. God gave this concern to humans for a good purpose. It causes us to have a natural and proper interest for our own welfare, our lives.
Remember, God nowhere says that it is wrong or sinful to have a right and proper love for self: “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourished and cherished it…” (Eph. 5:29). However, we are told to love others as much as we love ourselves (Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:33; Eph. 5:28). It is only when we love ourselves beyond the necessary self-concern, and at the expense of others, that it becomes wrong doing.
When Adam and Eve were created, their nature was “neutral” toward God. It was not antagonistic to God. Neither was there any built-in “programmed” tendency to do right and to obey Him. They were—as first created—entirely humble and teachable, like little children (Matt. 18:3-4). They let Satan appeal to their desire to be “wise". Deciding for themselves right from wrong. They rebelled against God’s authority, disobeyed the law and disobeyed God. By this act they chose and acquired the attitude of law breaking from Satan. This is how wrong doing “entered into the world” by one man (Rom. 5:12).
The original words in the Hebrew and Greek from which “repent” and “repentance” are translated, mean to turn, to change direction. And true repentance is exactly that. It is a complete about-face from disobedience toward God’s law. When we are finally brought to real repentance, we mean business. We are truly sorry for our sins—and we are ready and willing to make a permanent change. We are now ready to “turn around and go the other way.”
God can begin the process of
creating spiritual character in us by placing within us His Spirit–His
nature—which will give us the spiritual power to overcome the
Satan-inspired pulls. You and I were born incomplete. We need to face that fact squarely and, ask
God’s guidance and seek to receive God’s Spirit- His mind.
True Repentance Is of the Heart
1. Should true repentance be a deep, moving and heartfelt experience? Joel 2:12-13.
COMMENT: God will not accept those whose “repentance” is only outward, or where there is no real change of attitude and actions.
2. Does a heartfelt repentant attitude open the way to a close relationship with God? Ps. 34:18.
3. Is spiritual repentance clearly toward God? Acts 20:21.
4. What did Job say, when finally stripped of his self-righteous shell? Job 42:5-6.
COMMENT: At this point you might ask: “I can see the need for repentance, but how would I go about it?”
First of all, you should understand that you can’t drum up a deep feeling of repentance on your own ,it has to come from God!
5. Does God’s mercy lead one to repent? Rom. 2:4.
It is an Unconditional Surrender to God
Right now, before Christ returns, he is calling individuals to surrender voluntarily to His authority. To “repent” also means to surrender ourselves to God’s will unconditionally.God’s Spirit begins to influence our ways of thinking and living. This is the right that God claims once we have completely surrendered to Him. Nevertheless, God’s Spirit does not take away our free choice or will—our free moral agency. It won’t force us to do anything. It will only LEAD US in the direction of God’s truth and give us added strength to follow the will of God.
2. Did Jesus say that whoever would stop being his old self, would live? Matt. 16:24-25.
COMMENT: Jesus is actually talking about giving one’s life in total obedience and service to God—even giving up all things, including our own lives, if He should ever require that of us. But repentance is not a matter of “giving up” everything good, it is positive. Not only do you escape the penalties through repentance, it is also the way to positive benefits in this life!
Repentance does not mean we must give up the use or appreciation of material things. What God is interested in is the attitude we have toward material things—whether we seek first His Kingdom and His character.(Matt. 6:33). God wishes for us to prosper and be in good health (III John 2). He wants us to give up only those things which are bad for us—which hurt us spiritually and physically. Repentance and conversion make possible our intelligent use of God’s material creation through the guidance of His laws and His Spirit.
3. Must we first “count the cost”—realizing the depths of what surrendering
to God really entails? Luke 14:28-30.
We Must Turn to God’s Law
We are not excused from keeping God’s commandments, overcoming and growing in spiritual character.
COMMENT: The whole spiritual intent and purpose of the law is love. Jesus showed that God’s law has two basic aspects to it: The first is to show us how to love God, which is the basic intent of the first four of the Ten Commandments. The second is to show us how to love our neighbor, our fellow human beings. The last six of the Ten Commandments teach us how to do this.
COMMENT: We do not necessarily expect God to make us wealthy, but we certainly can expect Him to provide for all our necessities—and add some luxuries as we are able to handle them.
Everyone is Commanded to Repent!
1. Six hundred years before Christ, what was God’s warning to the nation of Israel as given through His prophet Ezekiel? Ezek. 33:7-9. Whose way were the people to turn from in repentance? Verses 9, 11; Prov. 14:12; 28:26.
COMMENT: The ancient Israelites did that which was right in their own eyes because they were motivated by their natural, disobedient minds (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 8:7-8). They did not have God’s Spirit within them which would have enabled them to resist Satan and to obey God. This was because God’s Spirit was not generally available in Old Testament times.
Ancient Israel’s terrible example is a lesson to us who can receive God’s Spirit. By possessing His Spirit, we can" bring forth the fruit of the Spirit” Galatians 5:22-23. But without God’s Spirit, we—as did Israel bring forth the “works of the flesh.” Some of these “works” are listed in Galatians 5:19-21. All are transgressions of God’s spiritual law. Mankind today is still learning the hard way by experiencing these “works,” or results, of doing what comes naturally.
2. Only a few decades later, did God use Zechariah to reiterate the same call to repentance? Zech. 1:2-4.
5. Did Christ say repentance would be preached among all nations? Luke 24:47.
6. When God’s Spirit came on that memorable Day of Pentecost as Jesus had promised it would (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5), what message did God inspire Peter to preach to the multitudes gathered in Jerusalem? Acts 2:37-38; 3:19.
COMMENT: The same call to repent is a vital part of the message of God’s Church in this age. What Peter commanded his listeners to do is what God commands us to do today!
COMMENT: There are many who feel they are “good humble folk” who have never personally done anything really wrong in their lives and so have little, if anything, of which to repent. The Bible says all have sinned!
8. Does God specifically command all people everywhere to repent? Acts 17:30.
9. But if anyone chooses to remain in an unrepentant attitude, what
does he lay up for himself? Rom. 2:5. What is Jesus’ solemn warning to
those who will never repent? Luke 13:3-5. What will be their ultimate
fate unless they do repent? Rom. 6:23; Rev. 20:15.
Beware of False Repentance
Don’t make the mistake of overlooking repentance as a necessary step. Don’t assume that you can be made right with God by some man-devised method which is falsely called “repentance.” Repentance is not only a matter of feeling. It is not just a matter of stirring up one’s emotions. It is a matter of heart and mind as well as emotion. It is a heartfelt realization that you have thought, spoken, and lived contrary to God’s spiritual laws and that you should stop doing so!
1. Can people actually worship Christ, acknowledging that He is “Lord,” and yet not enter His Kingdom? Matt. 7:21. How else can one worship Him, and yet not be made spirit at Christ’s coming? Matt. 15:7-9. Then who will enter God’s Kingdom? Matt. 7:21, last part.
COMMENT: Listen to what else Jesus said about people who want to worship Him without obedience to God’s commands: “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…. you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition” (Mark 7:7-9).
Man would rather do almost anything else than surrender himself to God. His natural mind (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 8:7-8) rebels at the thought of submitting to God’s law. Therefore men have substituted their own laws and customs for God’s commandments, thinking they can still ‘receive salvation’ by only believing in Christ as their Savior.
Human nature wants to be right, but it doesn’t necessarily want to do right! So people often say, “Well, here’s the way I look at it”—putting their concept of righteousness above the Bible. If it “looks right” to them, it becomes their law. This is nothing but self-righteousness. And we already know where doing what “seems right” to us will lead (Prov. 14:12; 16:25), unless we repent of this kind of thinking.
Clearly, no amount of human works can bring about the forgiveness of law breaking. Even the great sacrificial laws of the Old Testament could not bring about forgiveness and a clear conscience. They were only a type looking forward to the supreme sacrifice for law breaking, Jesus Christ—who was to come much later (Heb. 9:9-14; 10:4-10).
There is simply no way we can “make up” for our wrong doing. Beads, indulgences, penance,or some other way will not erase the guilt of our transgressions either. You cannot punish yourself for wrong doing. Only the sacrifice of Christ can pay that ultimate penalty, by accepting it and forsaking your past life of disobedience—by repentance!
COMMENT: Many people profess to be religious—they attend churches- they have a “form of godliness.” But, as these verses plainly show, they display the very attitudes and practices that have made this present world evil. This is not the repentance God commands. God requires a complete reversal in the direction each one of us has been going. In other words, total repentance of following the ways that seem right to human conscience, and a complete turning around to begin following the way of God as revealed in the Bible.
COMMENT: Here is the very starting point. God commands us to come out of this world and forsake its wrong ways. we are to become like Christ by allowing God’s Spirit to renew our minds.
5. What is the end result of this world’s kind of sorrow, or “repentance”? II Cor. 7:10, last part. But what kind of sorrow for law breaking does God accept, and where does it lead? Verse 9 and first part of verse 10.
COMMENT: It is commonly believed that a temporary remorseful feeling
over past mistakes—without a real “turning” and “change,” and beginning
to grow in Godly character—is all there is to being “saved.” God says such “repentance” is totally unacceptable and leads only to
death! Repentance is something far more than an “experience.” True repentance-
“Godly sorrow”—involves a complete about-face in our thinking and being,
as well as a change of allegiance.
The Conversion of Moses
3. Did Moses succumb to vanity (as most of us would have done) when God said, “I will make of you a great nation”? What was his reaction? Ex. 32:11-13. Was he actually responsible for causing God to change His mind? Verse 14. Did Moses go around trying to elevate himself above others? Num. 11:27-29; 16:3-5.
COMMENT: Meekness is not necessarily synonymous with weakness, but meekness definitely is the opposite of arrogance. It is the attitude of a repentant mind. Moses was very meek, but he decidedly was not weak. Moses was strong, both physically and spiritually. The converted Moses was more concerned for the good of others than for self. His life, in general, was truly focused on God. (Num. 14:11-20--be sure to read these verses).
4. But had Moses always been meek and humble? Or had he formerly been filled with vanity and self-assertion? Ex. 2:11-14. Did Moses at first think he could deliver Israel by his own power? Acts 7:23-25. What did God have to do to humble him? Verses 26-30.
COMMENT: Moses was trained in all the learning of Egypt and was a member of Pharaoh’s court. He was the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter (Acts 7:20-21; Ex. 2:10), and was “mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7:22). But God then began to deal with Moses’ arrogance. Moses, in the height of his pride, was struck down. It was God who forced his flight into the wilderness to bring about Moses’ conversion. There, for forty years, he was trained by a man who apparently really knew God (Ex. 2:15-21; all of chapter 18).
When Moses became meek and humble, God showed him that he could, after all, succeed in delivering Israel. But he would have to do it in and by God’s power—not his own! All of us must also at some point in our lives come to realize our own utter insignificance and need to totally rely on God—as did Moses, Job, Daniel, Paul, and other similar examples recorded in the Bible.
A Modern-Day Example
There are many ways by which God can bring a man to repentance. We thought it would be of interest to learn how God dealt with Mr Herbert Armstrong as in excerpts taken from his autobiography:
“I had been beaten down. God had brought that about—though I didn’t realize it then. This made surrender less difficult. Repeated business reverses, failure after failure, had destroyed my self-confidence. I was broken in spirit. The self in me didn’t want to die. It wanted to try to get up from defeat and try again to tread the broad and popular way of vanity and of this world. But now I knew that way was wrong! I knew its ultimate penalty was death. But I didn’t want to die now!
“When I read and studied the Bible, God was talking to me and how I loved to listen! I began to pray, and I knew that in prayer I was talking with God. I was not yet very well acquainted with God. But one gets to be better acquainted with another by constant [daily] contact and continuous conversation.” This was the experience of deep, heartfelt repentance Herbert Armstrong went through.
Have You Really Repented?
Have you come to the place where you see yourself as you really are—as God sees you?Based on Ten Commandments, do you see where you fall short? Are you willing to keep all of God’s spiritual laws?
If you have come to see yourself as Job saw himself; if you have asked God for pardon and forgiveness as David did; if you have begun to change your attitudes, your thoughts, your actions and your ways; if you have been really broken up about your past life; if you have repented from the heart; then you have made a complete about-face in your life. It is clear from what you’ve learned that you have begun to start the true Christian way of life.
The apostle Paul tells us, “Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; prove your selves. Know you not* how that Jesus Christ is in you ?” (II Cor. 13:5). John told the Pharisees and Sadducees, “bring forth therefore fruits … for repentance” (Matt. 3:8). How can you prove yourself? By comparing your life, thoughts, words and actions with the bible examples. Check the fruits of your life! “By their fruits you shall know them,” Christ said (Matt. 7:20). Does your life reveal God’s Spirit in you, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, temperance [self-control]? (Gal. 5:22-23.)
God looks to those who are of a meek and contrite spirit. God recognizes a repentant attitude of mind—a humble seeking for forgiveness and mercy. He will truly honor the attitude of all who are willing to turn from works and deeds which His Word says is law breaking.
True repentance requires a permanent change of direction. It is a total commitment to a course from which there is no turning back. It is not the tear-jerking emotional response so prevalent today. You have learned that it is something much deeper and vastly more profound!
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