What Does It Really Mean to Repent?

Repent. It’s a word that usually makes me think of angry people holding up bright yellow picket signs in front of heavy metal concerts or a sandwich board next to a street preacher at the beach. 

The person holding the sign is often shouting and passionately calling those walking by to repent of their sin or they are going to hell. These types of situations have always made me uncomfortable. I frantically look for a way to avoid the person holding the yellow repent sign at all costs. 

I have to imagine that at one point, this approach towards sharing the good news of Jesus worked for someone, but I’m not so certain it still does. Maybe it never did. 

For a very long time, I’ve understood the act of repentance as being framed towards the non-believer. It’s the act of turning away from your sin, so that you can turn towards salvation. For someone who has yet to receive a saving faith in Christ, one of the big things they need to do is repent. Once you do that, you can receive salvation and move on to the other things of the faith. 

Now, I understand that might sound like a bit of an overgeneralization, but I can’t think of an instance when I’ve heard the theology of repentance framed towards the believer. 

Due to the heavy call of repentance being directed to non-believers, believers have a way of framing their call to repentance as an isolated, one-time event. Once a person moves from non-believer to believer, they tend not to see the importance of maintaining a posture of repentance. 

Repentance in Relation to Salvation

The bible is clear that genuine repentance leads to salvation. In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul talks about the role repentance plays in salvation. There must be a turning away from sin and a turning toward God. 

Once you realize the weight of sin, it should bring you to a place of regret and remorse. This realization would be too much to bear and only leave us feeling hopeless under the weight of sin. But godly sorrow offers a better way – to not leave you in that place of regret or guilt. A posture of repentance coincides with salvation. 

If you’ve been around the church for even a small amount of time, I don’t imagine I’m sharing anything you haven’t already heard. But we can’t minimize the life changing truth of repentance leading to salvation. The very grace of God is that he offers a way for us to not be suffocated underneath the weight of our sin. The opportunity to repent is part of the good news of Jesus.

Repentance in Relation to Faith

The aspect of repentance that we don’t know as well is that Christians are also called to live in a posture of repentance. It is not merely a single event that happens prior to or during salvation. (Theologians debate about the exact timing repentance has in the salvation process.)

What we hear less about is that once we become Christians the call to repentance is ongoing. 

Part of our continual pursuit of godliness is the continuation of a repentant spirit. Our hearts should always hate sin and seek to be more like Jesus. We should always be willing to see and turn from the sin that continues to linger in the dark corners and crevices of our hearts, regardless of how long we’ve been walking in the faith. 

This is what Paul preached wherever he went. “… I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20). There should be an outward working of our ongoing repentance.

Repent – In Your Relationships

It’s all too easy to see the call to repent as directed solely toward God. Certainly, that is part of it, but there is almost nothing about our faith that has only vertical implications. Most things are equally meant to be applied horizontally through our relationships with others. 

To put it another way, when we are called to love God, we are also called to love others. And when we are to turn away from the sin, we are to view that in the way we relate to our fellow humans. 

You should be open to reproof and correction from those around you. When you have wronged someone and are made aware of it, you should be led toward repentance. Christians must put aside their pride and replace it with repentance. 

There is almost nothing about our faith that has solely vertical implications. Most things are equally meant to be applied horizontally through our relationship with others. Click To Tweet

Repent – In Your Churches

Recently, there have been many grave offenses being brought to light among church leaders. Highly influential churches and leaders have committed sins that continue to be covered up.

In light of these devastating revelations, many Christians have responded by saying, “Well everyone sins, so who are we to judge?” But the biblical response should be to repent. These organizations and churches should turn away from their sin and turn towards God. We need institutional repentance. 

And this isn’t to be flippant about it. The cost of truly turning away from sin can be high. This is why we try to hide our sin, or at least frame it in a way that softens the offense. In our broken way of thinking, we understand sin is wrong in principle, but we still don’t want to lose everything else attached to that sin. 

For many leaders who’ve walked in blatant sin, repentance looks like stepping down from their leadership role. For some organizations, repentance might look like closing their doors. The call to turn away from sin can exact a high price that’s difficult to pay. But we must. Our Christian organizations and leaders must lead in repentance. 

The cost of truly turning away from sin can be high. Click To Tweet

Repent – In Our Communities

The idea of communal sin is commonplace in scripture. Through one man, sin entered the world. There isn’t one person alive today who disobeyed God in the garden of Eden, but there’s no denying we’re living in the effects of the decision of one man. 

In the same way, the bible says it’s through one Man that salvation enters the world. Jesus took on the sins of the entire world so that we can enter into a relationship with God. This may be a foreign concept for us as Americans, but it shouldn’t be foreign to us as Christians.

We should live with a posture of repentance, not only as individuals, but as entire communities. Even if we didn’t directly commit a sin against another, we see and participate in the ongoing effects of the sins of those around us and must repent. 

In the same way that turning away from sin isn’t easy for church leaders and organizations, it certainly isn’t easy for communities. But we can’t allow our communities to side step repentance because of how great the cost. When there is systematic sin happening around us, we must be part of turning away from the sin and turning toward Jesus.

We should live with a posture of repentance, not only as individuals, but as entire communities. Click To Tweet

Repent – Over and Over Again

Until the day when we see Jesus face to face, our need to repent will be new every morning. 

This doesn’t mean we need to continue repenting for the same sin over and over again, lest we lose our salvation. But it does mean we need to be aware of sins, new and old, that are taking up residence in our hearts, churches, and communities. We must never stop turning from our sin and turning toward Jesus. 

This will be our lifelong pursuit and one we should keep on the forefront of our minds. 

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