What is Repentance?
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What, in God's sight, demonstrates that our repentance is genuine?
"Then [John the Baptist] said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance ... Every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:7-9).
"First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, [Paul] preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds" (Acts 26:20, NIV).
Genuine repentance produces a change in the way we live, even in the way we think. Those who say they have repented but produce no "fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:8) deceive themselves. "They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him ..." (Titus 1:16). "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:23-25).
What is the attitude of the truly repentant?
"And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'" (Luke 18:13).
"My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself, and repent ..." (Job 42:4-6, NIV).
True repentance is more than just acknowledging we are wrong. Even the desire to do wrong should become repulsive to us. God wants us to "hate evil" (Proverbs 8:13), especially the evil we come to recognize in ourselves.
We must earnestly want God to change our hearts. Like King David of old, we should ask God to create a clean heart and a right spirit within us (Psalm 51:10). We must see ourselves as sinners and be genuinely remorseful. We must recognize that our sins originate in our thoughts, often motivated by our pride and selfishness, anger and jealousy, our lust and greed-in short, our human nature.
Does Jesus confirm that sin starts in the heart?
"For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person" (Mark 7:21-23, NRSV).
Some of these inherently human traits may be more pronounced than others. Nevertheless, if we sincerely ask God to open our eyes to see ourselves as we are, we should be able to recognize in ourselves many attitudes and behaviors that the Scriptures define as sinful. Then we should go to God in prayer for the power we need to turn away from those ways and replace them with the nature and character of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.
Does repentance include changing our attitude toward others' sins against you?
"And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses" (Mark 11:25-26).
"Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him" (Luke 17:3-4).
Since God's law is based on loving Him and loving others even as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31), forgiving others is a significant part of our repentance. Jesus taught: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you" (Luke 6:27-28, NIV).