In Jeremiah 4:3-4 Jeremiah 4:3-4 3 For thus said the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.
4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.
American King James Version×, God illustrates the process of repentance and helps us to understand its value by comparing it to a farmer preparing the soil before planting seed.
Just as it takes time to properly prepare a field, so it also takes time to come to repentance—time to come to understand how the Bible applies in your everyday life, to recognize and admit the ways that you have sinned or disobeyed God, and for you to turn your life around. All of these matters are part of the process of repentance.
You may be surprised to learn that the word “repentance” doesn’t mean being merely sad, sorry or regretful, even though these adjectives appropriately describe the attitude we need to have in coming to repentance. The apostle Paul refers to a godly sorrow that produces genuine repentance and a worldly sorrow that does not produce the right result (2 Corinthians 7:10 2 Corinthians 7:10For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world works death.
American King James Version×).
The word “repent” itself refers to regret producing a turnaround in one’s life. The New Testament Greek word often translated “repent” is metanoia, referring to a change of thinking. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term shuv, meaning “turn” or “return,” is often used for repentance (the noun form being teshuvah ).
More than just turning away from sin, repentance requires that we turn toward God, that we do our best to live as He expects us to live. Consider what John the Baptist said to some who came to him for baptism: “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8 Matthew 3:8Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
American King James Version×). Of course, to really change our actions, our inner thoughts and motivations that give rise to them must change.
Showing our repentance through our actions doesn’t mean that we are attempting to earn salvation, which is not possible. Nothing we can do can atone for the sins we have committed. Only Jesus Christ’s sacrifice can pay the penalty of death we have earned. Rather, showing repentance through our actions—completely surrendering our lives to God—is part of the salvation process.
As figuratively portrayed in one of Christ’s parables, some people receive the “seed” or word of the Kingdom in a rush of enthusiasm only to lose interest after a while (Matthew 13:18-23 Matthew 13:18-23 18 Hear you therefore the parable of the sower.
19 When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not, then comes the wicked one, and catches away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that hears the word, and immediately with joy receives it;
21 Yet has he not root in himself, but endures for a while: for when tribulation or persecution rises because of the word, by and by he is offended.
22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.
23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that hears the word, and understands it; which also bears fruit, and brings forth, some an hundred times, some sixty, some thirty.
American King James Version×). It is a serious matter to start on the Christian way of life and later turn away from it. Jesus warned that doing so could literally cost us our eternal life (Luke 14:26-35 Luke 14:26-35 26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? 29 Lest haply, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, 30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sits not down first, and consults whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an ambassador, and desires conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be my disciple. 34 Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his flavor, with which shall it be seasoned? 35 It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that has ears to hear, let him hear.
American King James Version×).
True repentance ensures our mind and heart are thoroughly prepared to receive God’s Holy Spirit. Continuing Christ’s farming analogy from Matthew 13, true repentance helps ensure a good spiritual “crop.”
Some wrongly believe that conversion takes place by a momentary prayer of commitment, and that viewing obedience to specific laws as a requirement is “legalism” and contrary to living under grace. However, God is in the forefront of repentance: “The kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4 Romans 2:4Or despise you the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
American King James Version×, Modern King James Version).
In the course of attempting to turn your life around spiritually, you will often find that you come up short. But do not let that discourage you. It is only confirmation that you need the additional help of God’s Holy Spirit to be able to obey Him. Baptism and the laying on of hands by a minister of God is the next step of salvation after repentance, and that’s how you can receive God’s Spirit (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×).
Be sure to ask God directly to give you repentance. The Bible shows that coming to repentance is unnatural to the corrupted human mind—that it must come from God (Romans 8:7 Romans 8:7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
American King James Version×; 2 Timothy 2:25 2 Timothy 2:25In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
American King James Version×). Add that request to your regular prayers. If you continue to respond to God, He will continue to give you spiritual understanding and lead you into a Father-son relationship.
For more information, please read our Bible study aid booklet The Road to Eternal Life.