Repentance: A Profound Turnaround!

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Repentance

A Profound Turnaround!

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Repentance: A Profound Turnaround!

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“Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin” (Ezekiel 18:30 Ezekiel 18:30Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, said the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
American King James Version×
). “God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32 Acts 5:32And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to them that obey him.
American King James Version×
, New Life Version).

“Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” The question was addressed to Jesus Christ (Matthew 19:16 Matthew 19:16And, behold, one came and said to him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
American King James Version×
). What would your answer be?

Our sins place a barrier between us and God but committed obedience has the opposite effect.

Here was Jesus’ answer: “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” When the man asked, “Which ones?” Jesus quoted several commands from the Old Testament, mostly from the Ten Commandments (Matthew 19:18-19 Matthew 19:18-19 [18] He said to him, Which? Jesus said, You shall do no murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, [19] Honor your father and your mother: and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
American King James Version×
).

This is one of many, many scriptures that make it absolutely clear that God still requires obedience to His instructions—yet many churches teach the opposite! Why is this? Because of human nature influenced by Satan and this world under his evil influence! “For the outlook of the unspiritual nature is enmity with [or hostile to] God; it is not subject to the law of God and indeed it cannot be” (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×
, REB).

But God’s laws are good and good for us (Romans 7:12 Romans 7:12Why the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
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)! If we want to become more and more like Jesus Christ, God’s laws define the godly character He wants to see in us.

Two obstacles and a twofold solution

Two major obstacles stand in the way of our attaining eternal life. First, it’s impossible for us on our own human strength to perfectly obey God’s commandments. Second, even if perfect obedience from now through the rest of our lives were possible, it still would not make up for the guilt of past sins. The death penalty we had incurred would not be removed.

So what are the solutions? First, we must somehow receive God’s forgiveness for all our past sins. Second, we must receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit that will gradually replace our ingrained selfish nature with a new Christlike nature.

And what must one do to receive these precious gifts? In Acts 2 we read about the apostle Peter preaching to the assembled crowd on the day of Pentecost. His powerful sermon convinced those gathered that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that their sins were responsible for His death by crucifixion. How did they react?

“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37 Acts 2:37Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brothers, what shall we do?
American King James Version×
). They felt the deepest shame and sorrow. They were willing to do whatever it took to obtain forgiveness, reconciliation to God and salvation.

“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy 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×
).

Each part of Peter’s authoritative statement has great significance. And note that in this one sentence Peter refers to the twofold remedy for human sinfulness—forgiveness of sins and the gift of God’s Holy Spirit!

What is repentance?

On a later day, Peter similarly instructed others, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19 Acts 3:19Repent you therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
American King James Version×
). In both cases the first thing Peter said to do was “repent.” What exactly is that? It’s vitally important that we understand!

Dictionary definitions of “repent” and “repentance” emphasize feelings of remorse, regret, contrition and penitence for one’s wrongdoing. Indeed, God expects deep feelings of “godly sorrow” for our sins (2 Corinthians 7:9-10 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 [9] Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that you sorrowed to repentance: for you were made sorry after a godly manner, that you might receive damage by us in nothing. [10] For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world works death.
American King James Version×
). The more we recognize how numerous our sins have been, and how evil they are in God’s sight, the greater will be our shame and sorrow.

But feelings alone aren’t enough. Saying “I’m sorry” over and over again is not enough. The biblical meaning of “repent” emphasizes change—change of attitudes and actions to completely forsake one’s lifestyle of habitual disobedience.

A biblical synonym for repent is turn. Paul said, “I preached that they must repent of their sins and turn to God and do the things that would show they had repented” (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×
, Today’s English Version).

Besides one’s initial repentance, a person must repent each time he realizes he has slipped and sinned—and this applies long after conversion to the end of one’s physical life. When a person first comes to God, initial repentance is a surrender to God and an about-face from life aimed away from God to one of heading in God’s direction. After that, whenever a believer strays even a little from the “way of God,” He must repent or return to the right path, making a course correction to get back on track with God (Acts 18:25-26 Acts 18:25-26 [25] This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spoke and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. [26] And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him to them, and expounded to him the way of God more perfectly.
American King James Version×
).

What is God’s way? It is the way of genuine love, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8 1 John 4:8He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.
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1 John 4:16 1 John 4:16And we have known and believed the love that God has to us. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.
American King James Version×
). Jesus Christ taught that the two greatest commandments are love for God and love for our fellow human beings (Matthew 22:37-40 Matthew 22:37-40 [37] Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. [38] This is the first and great commandment. [39] And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [40] On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
American King James Version×
). And love for God includes obedience to His laws. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3 1 John 5:3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
American King James Version×
).

The Ten Commandments broadly define how to love God and how to love one’s neighbor, which includes everyone. The other spiritual laws in the Bible give us additional details about how to love God and all people. (For a broader overview, read our free Bible study aid The Ten Commandments.)

Repent of what?

This brings us to the question, “Of what do we repent?” The answer is sin. But what is sin? Ask a dozen people and you would likely get a dozen different answers. But the Bible is where we should look for the correct answers to life’s important questions.

The clearest definition of sin is found in 1 John 3:4 1 John 3:4Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
American King James Version×
: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” Any breaking or violation of God’s law is sin.

Repentance, therefore, means to turn away from lawbreaking and turn to lawkeeping! God summed up true repentance when He pleaded with His people: “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity [lawlessness] will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:30-31 Ezekiel 18:30-31 [30] Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, said the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. [31] Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby you have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will you die, O house of Israel?
American King James Version×
).

God then went on to express His deep love and desire to forgive and save everyone: “For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies … Therefore turn and live!” (Ezekiel 18:31-32 Ezekiel 18:31-32 [31] Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby you have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will you die, O house of Israel? [32] For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies, said the Lord GOD: why turn yourselves, and live you.
American King James Version×
). Yes, you can have a joyous life now—and, more importantly, everlasting life!

In addition to repenting of our sins, we must repent of sinful attitudes and the downward pull of human nature, as they are the main cause of our sinful actions. Jesus made it clear that, compared to God, all of us are evil (Matthew 7:11 Matthew 7:11If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
American King James Version×
). God said, “The heart is the most deceitful thing there is, and desperately wicked. No one can really know how bad it is!” (Jeremiah 17:9 Jeremiah 17:9The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
American King James Version×
, Living Bible).

Like King David, we must repent and pray, “Wash me … create in me a clean heart” (Psalms 51:7-10 Psalms 51:7-10 [7] Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. [8] Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which you have broken may rejoice. [9] Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. [10] Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
American King James Version×
).

Godly sorrow vs. worldly sorrow

God gave us a conscience so that when we are aware of wrongdoing, we will feel guilt, shame and sorrow. Once a person clearly sees the great love of his Creator plus his own lack of love, of gratitude and of righteousness, he should feel truly sorry—with godly sorrow!

Paul explained, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (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×
).

What is the difference between the two kinds of sorrow? Godly sorrow is directed toward God (Psalms 51:4 Psalms 51:4Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight: that you might be justified when you speak, and be clear when you judge.
American King James Version×
; Acts 20:21 Acts 20:21Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
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). It is grief and mourning over having disappointed and transgressed against Him, the One who gives us every good thing. It leads to a commitment to permanently change—to truly repent.

Worldly sorrow, however, is self-centered—feeling humiliated that one’s wrongdoing has been exposed, or feeling sorry for oneself because of the penalties he is suffering, such as Jacob’s twin brother Esau experienced (see Hebrews 12:16-17 Hebrews 12:16-17 [16] Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. [17] For you know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
American King James Version×
).

In Romans 7, we read how the apostle Paul felt deep sorrow over his sins of commission (doing sinful things) and sins of omission (failing to do the right things). In Psalm 51, we read of David’s heartfelt prayer of sorrow and repentance. When the patriarch Job came to better understand the greatness of God and at the same time his own weakness and self-righteousness, he said, “Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6 Job 42:6Why I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
American King James Version×
).

It is very hard for human beings to see their faults, admit them and apologize. But real repentance requires confessing your sins to God, telling Him how sorry you are and asking for His forgiveness—and determining to change, to strive with His help to turn from and overcome your sins. (God does not require confession of sins to a human priest or minister to obtain forgiveness, as some claim.)

David said, “I acknowledge my transgressions” (Psalms 51:3 Psalms 51:3For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
American King James Version×
). John said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 1 John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
American King James Version×
).

Maintaining our relationship with God—obedience and the supply of the Spirit

John wasn’t speaking to those who were not yet converted but to those who were already Christians—showing that confession of sins and repentance is an ongoing process through the Christian life.

But again, it isn’t enough to just admit our faults and be sorrowful. To maintain our relationship with God and continue to grow spiritually, we must commit to obeying God’s laws and follow through.

Consider our communication with God. The first spiritual tool covered in this booklet is prayer. Do you want your prayers to be answered? Then, as previously pointed out, you must be striving to obey God.

Our sins place a barrier between us and God: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2 Isaiah 59:1-2 [1] Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: [2] But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
American King James Version×
).

But committed obedience has the opposite effect: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep [in contrite repentance]! … Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:7-10 James 4:7-10 [7] Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. [8] Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded. [9] Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. [10] Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
American King James Version×
).

Then our prayers to God will be answered. John tells us that “whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22 1 John 3:22And whatever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
American King James Version×
).

What about hearing from God in the second spiritual tool we covered—studying the Bible? True spiritual understanding comes through God’s Holy Spirit: “God has given us His Holy Spirit that we may know about the things given to us by Him” (1 Corinthians 2:12 1 Corinthians 2:12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
American King James Version×
, NLV).

God’s Holy Spirit is a source of spiritual empowerment given to us from Him as a “supply” (Philippians 1:9 Philippians 1:9And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
American King James Version×
; Galatians 3:5 Galatians 3:5He therefore that ministers to you the Spirit, and works miracles among you, does he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
American King James Version×
). (To see that the Holy Spirit is not a person, as widely believed, read the Bible study aid Is God a Trinity?)

God initially gives the Spirit upon repentance in faith and baptism (see “Steps to Initial Repentance and Conversion”). Yet we are also told that “God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32 Acts 5:32And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to them that obey him.
American King James Version×
, NLV). This shows that our initial repentance must include committed obedience. And for the supply of the Spirit to continue, our commitment and obedience must be ongoing through our Christian lives, repenting and striving to obey anew whenever we slip and fall.

As we grow in obedience, so will our comprehension of God’s Word, thus making our use of the tool of Bible study more fruitful, as touched on earlier: “A good understanding have all those who do His commandments” (Psalms 111:10 Psalms 111:10The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endures for ever.
American King James Version×
).

Realize too that obedience through faith empowers further obedience. We need God’s help through His Spirit to continue in obedience. And when we submit to His help and obey, He supplies more of His Spirit to obey further. Then, as we obey more and more, it becomes habit—and eventually instilled as our character (see our the Bible study aid You Can Have Living Faith to learn more).

Of course, we will not achieve instant perfection. Our transformation is a lifelong process. But remember that whenever God’s children stumble, our Father in heaven is always willing to help us back on our feet. But we must repent, confess and ask for help. After that, know that God has forgiven you. Then joy and peace of mind should once again blossom and dominate your heart because you know that your sins are no longer separating you from God (Psalms 32:1-2 Psalms 32:1-2 [1] Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. [2] Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
American King James Version×
).

Remember also that God loves and wants to save every single person. He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
American King James Version×
). In Luke 15:10 Luke 15:10Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.
American King James Version×
, Jesus said, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Will the next one be you?

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