What is Repentance?

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 Luke 3:7-9 7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say to you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 And now also the ax is laid to the root of the trees: every tree therefore which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
American King James Version×
).

“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 Acts 26:20But showed first to them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
American King James Version×
, 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 Matthew 3:8Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
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) deceive themselves. “They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him …” (Titus 1:16 Titus 1:16They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and to every good work reprobate.
American King James Version×
). “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 James 1:23-25 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like to a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was. 25 But whoever looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
American King James Version×
).

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 Luke 18:13And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote on his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
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“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself, and repent …” (Job 42:4-6 Job 42:4-6 4 Hear, I beseech you, and I will speak: I will demand of you, and declare you to me. 5 I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees you. 6 Why I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
American King James Version×
, 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 Proverbs 8:13The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogance, and the evil way, and the fraudulent mouth, do I hate.
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), 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 (Psalms 51:10 Psalms 51:10Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
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). 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 Mark 7:21-23 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
American King James Version×
, 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 Mark 11:25-26 25 And when you stand praying, forgive, if you have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
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“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 Luke 17:3-4 3 Take heed to yourselves: If your brother trespass against you, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. 4 And if he trespass against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to you, saying, I repent; you shall forgive him.
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).

Since God’s law is based on loving Him and loving others even as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31 Mark 12:30-31 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
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), 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 Luke 6:27-28 27 But I say to you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, 28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which spitefully use you.
American King James Version×
, NIV).