Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. Acts 3:19
I don’t hear the word repentance very much. We may think of it as an archaic term, associated with men who walked around downtown with sandwich boards proclaiming, “Repent for the end is at hand.” The term seems outdated, patriarchal, narrow-minded, and restrictive.
Yet, I want to argue that it is one of the most loving things you can say to an individual. If churches and families lose this biblical concept and framework we are the poorer for it. Could it be we have raised a generation that has not inculcated this biblical teaching?
In one sense, the word is simple. To repent is to have a change of mind that results in a change of direction. But human nature resists that call to have a change of mind. And I worry that this call has fallen out of favor in Christian church.
Here are twelve truths to consider about repentance and why it needs to be recovered by today’s millennial who grew up in a Christian home and today’s parent who is raising children.
1. The call to repent is a call of love. Far from being harsh and religious, the most loving man who ever existed started his ministry of love with this message, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). The first recorded ministry words, lovingly spoken by the most caring person in history were – “Repent.” The call of repentance is a call of love.
2. The call to repent is a call to external standard of love. When God calls individuals to repent, it is not a power play, where he wrestles us until we say, “Uncle.” He is not trying to prove to us that he is bigger and stronger. God has commanded us to love: him and others. But he has not left the manner of that love to our discretion. He has told us how love operates. This is his law. When we don’t follow what is loving, when sin turns us inward, love calls it out and tells us to do what is loving.
3. The call to repent is a call to self-examination and self-awareness. While we may generally acknowledge that we fall short of some standard of love as revealed in God’s law, true repentance causes us to place ourselves under God, examining where we fall short. Rather than sitting in judgment of God, we are allowing him and his word to sit in judgment of us. We are examining ourselves first, not others. We are admitting that “We” not “They” have a sin problem.
4. The call to repent is a call of agency. While a call to repent seems unloving, the exact opposite is true. For one who has been the victim of sin (and haven’t we all to some degree?), providing only sympathy can be like giving anesthesia to a prisoner. He may feel better for the moment but the chains are still on. While acknowledging the pain, God’s call of repentance gives true dignity. In essence he says, “There are thing within your control that by my grace you can do to please me. You are not stuck.” This is a message of hope.
5. The call to repent brings a promise of refreshment. Here we reference back Peter’s sermon in Acts 3. The work of the Holy Spirit comes where there is soul-searching repentance. This digging down in our soul and cleaning out of the garbage allows more room for the Spirit to fill us. The Spirit honors this humility with renewed and increased presence.
6. The call to repent is a macro call to enter the kingdom. The way we enter the kingdom is by calling on the Lord Jesus Christ and turning from the sinful way of life. One might use the word “repent” in that moment and not really repent. Another might not use the word at all but in actuality forsake his old life. Whether emotional or not, if there is not some u-turn in the life, repentance has not happened.
7. The call to repent is also a micro call. It is an ongoing call of the Christian life. Martin Luther’s first thesis was this: “When our Lord said repent, he willed that the entire Christian life to be one of repentance.” Is this not the problem of the long time Christians whose life does not reflect the gospel? Is not this the problem of snarky “Christian” young people? They have not learned to practice repentance.
8. The call to repent strikes down self-righteousness and judgmentalism. The self-righteous one sees no need to repent. He or she understands why everyone else should repent, but cannot see himself as one who repents. Like the Pharisee, he is thankful that he is not Republican, Democrat, a tree hugger, a racist….. Self-righteousness is not a matter of age or religion. As we descend into a shaming culture, pride and self-righteousness fill the secular mind. It shames and bullies any who make one mistake, enjoying the power, and not stopping to consider its own sinfulness.
9. The call to repent involves mind, emotions, and the will. By adopting a heart position of repentance, we are admitting that all parts of us are disordered. Our mind needs to change its thinking to make it more like Christ. Our emotions need to change to become like the emotions of Jesus. And obviously our will is disordered. All of us needs a radical makeover.
10. The call to repent brings spiritual health. This is the flip side of #8. If lack of repentance brings pride and judgmentalism, true repentance brings humility and acceptance by God.
11. The call to repent often comes in our conversation with others. It is good when God’s Spirit reveals things to us in our minds as we open the word or in a sermon. But it is more painful and challenging when the call to repent comes from a fallible brother or sister. The question in the moment is, “Will I receive it? Will I look behind the brother or sister to see the God who is speaking?”
12. The call to repent is resisted by the proud. Finally, we must admit that all of us have pride that does not like this call to turn around. The ultimate u-turn is not one of behavior but heart attitude. There is one God and I am not him. I am a distorted creature he is redeeming along with his other children. I humble myself before him.
While a Christian home and church is to be full of love and acceptance, it is also to be a place that brings the message of love. Like Jesus, we are accepting but not affirming. All of us, young and old, need to hear a message that includes a loving call to repent.