Monday, September 14, 2015

What does it mean to repent?

What does it mean to repent?

“Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."”       Luke 13:1-5 NASB

We have studied these verses for the last several days. (Links to previous posts in this series are here: Remembering 9 11, Unless You Repent, and The Difference Between the Crowd and Disciples. Click to read)

Before we move on, we will look at Jesus' repeated admonition, "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." 

Repentance is a critical element for our eternal destination, so it's important to understand what it is, and what repentance is not.

The word translated as "repent" is metanoeō and literally means "to perceive afterward" with the implication of change. It indicates a change of mind from a previously held view to one for the better, and brings with it the idea that the repentance, or mind change, will be accompanied by a change in behavior.

The problem we often see is that we agree with God about a certain action, ask forgiveness for the action, then do the same thing again and again. All we do is repeat the cycle, not disrupt it. 

Inherent in the idea of metanoeō is CHANGE. 

I'm as guilty as anyone of what I call "Scarlett O'Hara repentance". In the novel Gone With the Wind, Rhett Butler says of Scarlett, "You're like the thief who's very, very sorry he got caught, but not at all sorry he stole." Scarlett O'Hara repentance makes for an interesting storyline and keeps the action moving. It's good fiction writing. It is not, however, godly repentance.

When Jesus calls us to repentance, to metanoeō, He calls us to change both our minds and our behavior. This is not an emotional response to conviction, but an active response of mind and body.

For example, if I repent of adultery, I agree with God that adultery is sin and my actions have been sinful. I ask for forgiveness based on my repentance. In my repentance, my mind's opinion changes. I no longer view adultery as an acceptable behavior. 

In addition, my actions change and I no longer commit adultery. I completely remove myself from the relationship. That's repentance. Asking God for forgiveness on my way to or from my adulterous lover's house is not repentance.

Adultery is an extreme example, but it holds true for every sin, from pride to unforgiveness to a critical, judgmental spirit. "Thought" sins are harder to change, but by the grace of God, true repentance is possible.
"I can't help what I think" is a commonly held opinion in our culture, but that's not what Scripture says. "Take every thought captive," Paul wrote (2 Cor. 10:5). If we take our thoughts captive, when a sinful thought enters our mind, we immediately reject it and turn our thoughts toward those things that are good and pleasing to God.  

For example, when you encounter someone about whom you have ungodly thoughts, train yourself to speak (aloud or silently) only that which would be pleasing to God. Don't dwell on the negative. If you can't think anything positive, pray for the same grace toward them that you want toward yourself.

Repentance is not optional. 

We have two choices concerning eternity. Stay the same and perish. Repent and not perish (i.e. have eternal life). We can't have it both ways, so we must choose wisely. Repentance is the only sensible option. 

We will all decide. Repent or not. Which will you choose?
Our Father, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Help us to do more than say words, help us to truly repent and change our actions. In Jesus' name, Amen.
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