When I grew up attending a long-established church, it never occurred to me to question its teachings. That is, until I was challenged to compare my beliefs to what the Bible actually said. As I began studying the Scriptures I was astonished to learn that much of what I had had been taught previously was incorrect.
I also discovered that the way I was living was displeasing to God since I was not fully obeying His commandments. After learning all of this I came to realize that I needed a complete change in the spiritual direction of my life—from following what I thought were God’s ways to actively pursuing His priorities as given in Scripture. In other words, I needed to yield control of my life to my Creator.
If you consider yourself a Christian, have you ever asked yourself if you could unknowingly be going in an incorrect spiritual direction? Maybe you feel you have turned your life over to God. But have you really? These are difficult but highly relevant questions we’ll consider. But let’s first briefly examine biblical examples that show similar questions can apply to entire nations.
Examples of national repentance
Beginning with the story of the prophet Jonah, you may know that he initially balked at God’s command that he go to the great capital city of ancient Assyria to warn them of their need to repent of their wicked conduct (Jonah 1:1-2). When Jonah finally did carry out God’s instruction, he walked through the streets of Nineveh proclaiming God’s critical message (Jonah 3:4).
What happened as a result? Led by Nineveh’s king, the people fasted and “turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them” (verse 10, emphasis added throughout). Although the citizens of Nineveh may have thought they were living correctly, God’s prophet told them otherwise, and they responded in a positive manner.
In another example, King Solomon of ancient Israel offered a lengthy and earnest prayer at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. In it he acknowledged that the Israelite nation likely would fall into sin and be punished. However, he also asked God to forgive the people if they acknowledged their sinful conduct and turned their lives around (2 Chronicles 6:26-31).
Let’s examine another biblical illustration of national repentance. Prior to Hezekiah becoming king in Judah, the nation had descended into idolatry and Sabbath-breaking. In response, when Hezekiah became king, he launched reforms including the worship of the true God, the renewal of sacrificial offerings and the observance of God’s annual festivals, including Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (2 Chronicles 30:1-27).
The result was that many people—who likely had not realized how far they had fallen from God—turned back to Him. As a revival spread throughout the nation, God was pleased and blessed the nation (verse 20; 31:21).
And later, when the Assyrian king Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem in an attempt to conquer the entire Judean nation, Hezekiah sought God’s intervention in deep, humble prayer (2 Kings 19:14-19). Responding swiftly to the king’s heartfelt appeal, God sent an angel to destroy 185,000 Assyrian troops in a single night (verses 35-36).
These examples show that a nation can indeed repent of its sins, resulting in God’s forgiveness and favor. He confirms this by promising, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
While the Bible reveals that national forgiveness took place in the past, can it occur in the sinful countries of our world today if they repent of their wrongdoings? Yes. As God further tells us, “The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it” (Jeremiah 18:7-8).
So national forgiveness certainly can still happen, and we hope and pray that it will!
Our personal obligation to our Creator
However, even if nations do not turn from their evil ways, each individual—including you and me—has the personal obligation to do so.
In this regard, let’s now return to the question posed earlier: Is it possible you could be headed in an incorrect spiritual direction and not really know it?
Perhaps you love God, read the Bible and pray and are trying to be a good person. But have you really turned your life over to God in sincere repentance? Are you worshipping Him in the manner He commands in Scripture?
What does Jesus Christ require of His followers? He made many definitive statements about what He expects. For example, He stated, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).
Christ also said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Merely claiming Christ as Lord or Master is not enough. We must live as God commands us to!
When a young man asked Jesus what he needed to do to obtain eternal life, Jesus told him, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). He then listed a number of the Ten Commandments to make clear what He was referring to (see verses 18-19).
If keeping the commandments was necessary in Jesus’ time, it is certainly required today since God says, “I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). Hebrews 13:8 tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” So if you consider yourself one of Jesus’ followers, are you keeping all of the Ten Commandments as Jesus instructed—including the Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20:8 “to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”?
The devil’s influence in today’s society
From these passages it’s clear that obedience to God is essential for a Christian in today’s lawless world, which is heavily manipulated by Satan the devil. Many don’t realize that Satan’s influence is so pervasive that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). Ephesians 2:2 further explains that Satan influences people’s minds as the unseen “prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.”
Perhaps as you read this you might think: “At least I’m safe from the devil because I’m a Christian. Since I believe in and love Jesus, I’m certainly not deceived by Satan.” Before engaging in biblical study, I felt nearly the same way. However, I learned that the Bible plainly reveals that because the entirety of human society has been influenced by the devil, that included traditional Christian churches and their believers. It included me.
Actually, most people who profess Christianity today have no idea just how incompatible many of the doctrines and practices of long-established churches are with true biblical teachings. Religious ideas, beliefs and observances of human invention and even demonic origin are falsely considered “Christian.”
What does the Bible actually say about changing God’s laws or the manner of worship He prescribes? Many people tend to think they can individually choose how to worship God, as long as their intent is to give Him honor.
But God has a different view! He simply doesn’t accept worship that He has not initiated and sanctioned. He told ancient Israel, “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32). But that didn’t stop the people of that time or since from contravening God’s instructions. Jesus said, “In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).
Yet how was it possible that authentic biblical instructions could be supplanted by fictitious teachings? Jesus’ apostles gave repeated warnings about the coming of false teachers who, being unwittingly influenced by the devil, would promote seriously flawed beliefs (2 Peter 2:1; 2 Corinthians 11:15).
Even Jesus Himself strongly cautioned His disciples to watch out for widespread deception by those claiming to represent Him (Matthew 24:4-5). He elsewhere described them as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15).
Examining your religious beliefs and assumptions
The apostle Paul said that even though these frauds would appear virtuous, they would actually be “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13).
Jesus said that large numbers of people would assume they are Christ’s true followers, yet would not be due to disobedience: “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:22-23).
Let what Jesus and His apostles warned about in the above passages motivate you personally to seriously examine your own religious beliefs and assumptions!
What can you do to ensure you are not being led astray spiritually? Crucial to this end is personally studying the Bible and carefully obeying all of its instructions (Psalm 119:172; Luke 4:4; Hebrews 4:12). That includes accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior while diligently seeking God’s Kingdom and His righteousness (Galatians 2:20; Matthew 6:33). It also means living your life in the same manner Jesus did—keeping all of His Father’s commandments (John 15:10).
All of this has a great deal to do with what the Bible refers to as repentance (Acts 11:18; 17:30; 2 Timothy 2:25-26). Did you know that the first recorded statement Jesus made in beginning His public ministry was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”? (See Matthew 4:17.) In saying this, He was calling on all people to reject sinful conduct, which the Bible defines as lawlessness (1 John 3:4).
Genuine repentance means submitting to God in every area of our lives. This includes abandoning false religious teachings and traditions and instead following God’s Word in practicing the worship He commands (Isaiah 55:7-9; John 4:23-24), such as observing the seventh-day Sabbath and God’s annual Holy Days.
It also involves fellowship with other obedient Christians and engaging in regular Bible study and prayer. And critically important, repentance means changing the way we are living by forsaking our own selfish ways and thoughts (Philippians 2:3).
Repentance: turning your life over to God
In essence then, to repent means that we completely surrender and turn our lives over to God. In doing so we acknowledge that He is perfect in knowledge, wisdom and authority, and as our very Creator, sets forth the way of life we are to live.
When God the Father opens our minds to scriptural truth and grants us repentance, He shows us our real inner nature. The apostle Paul explained it this way: “The mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it is unable to do so” (Romans 8:7, Christian Standard Bible).
Paul also stated that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14, English Standard Version).
When God begins working with us, we start to see that our normal, natural way of life—which appears well and good to us—leads spiritually nowhere. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” God wants us to understand that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
As mentioned earlier, Satan deviously influences the minds of all human beings (1 John 5:19). However, a person whom God calls to repentance has the magnificent opportunity of having Satan’s yoke of bondage cast off (see Galatians 5:1) and replaced with the easy or agreeable yoke of Jesus Christ. As He said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Through repentance we place ourselves in our Creator’s capable hands, which is the only way to obtain lasting joy and genuine peace of mind (James 4:6; Philippians 4:7).
Our yielding to God doesn’t mean He is somehow creating androids devoid of independent thinking. He desires rather that we use our minds, our reasoning capacity, to with His help through His Word come to understand and prove in our own lives that His way is right and good (Hebrews 4:12; Ecclesiastes 7:25; Romans 16:19). “Solid food [true biblical knowledge] is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong” (Hebrews 5:14, New Living Translation).
A new life filled with God’s divine nature
When a person responds to the Father’s calling, repents and is baptized, he or she receives the gift of God’s divine essence and power that is the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). That person then begins a new life of spiritual growth as the old, selfish human nature is gradually replaced with God’s selfless, loving, divine nature (2 Timothy 1:6; 2 Peter 1:4).
This is a life of total transformation.
Considering that and all you’ve read, are you willing to honestly examine your ways and beliefs in light of what you discover in the Scriptures? Are you prepared to make changes in your life to reflect what the Bible really says?
It takes genuine faith and courage from God not to follow the ideas and beliefs of the world around us (Matthew 7:13). And beyond that, it is through God’s calling and intervention in our lives that we come to recognize our true inner sinful nature and receive the power to change and truly please Him.
I know personally that without God’s calling to help me comprehend spiritual truth and my need for repentance, I would have remained ensnared in a self-centered way of life. Yet God graciously showed me a new and better way to live and how to prepare for an amazing future as one of His immortal children in His coming Kingdom (Romans 2:4; James 1:25; Revelation 21:7).
And, just as He has for me, God is prepared to do the same for you. He wants to help you understand your nature and grant you the divine grace and opportunity to repent of your sins and fully turn your life over to Him in humility and obedience.
Will you answer His call and follow His lead? He awaits your answer!