Repentance can often feel like a dirty word. It’s not something that we typically have pleasant feelings about. However, the truth is that we all sin and as such, we all have a need for repentance. But rather than practicing repentance, we often hide our sins due to shame. Instead of confessing our sins before God and others, we bear the burden on ourselves. But this isn’t what God has called us to do. In fact, we see examples of repentance in the Bible over and over again. God has given us the gift of repentance that leads to the privilege of a restored relationship with him and one another.
I believe that a true culture of repentance leads to freedom. Repentance leads to restoration, restoration to reconciliation, and reconciliation to Godly freedom. Before we get into the how I want to explain what the Bible actually means when it speaks of repentance.
What is repentance in the Bible?
Repentance is a major theme in the Bible.
Since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, human beings have had a proclivity towards sin rather than God and righteousness. We all inherited a sinful nature from our common ancestors. Because we are so inclined to turn away from God and towards sin, we have a constant need for repentance. The Greek word used for repentance in the New Testament is metanoia. It simply means to change one’s thinking. However, we also see in the New Testament that true repentance is followed by action.
Two Kinds of Repentance in the Bible
The Bible describes two kinds of repentance that you should know about. There is the initial repentance that happens when we first become Christians. Then, there is the regular repentance that we practice as Christians since we do still sin. This article addresses both forms of repentance, though my focus is on the regular repentance we practice as Christians after salvation.
Joel’s Plea to A Sinful Nation
Repentance is not just sorrow for sin but a heart turned away from sin.
Even now— this is the Lord’s declaration— turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the Lord your God. For he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and he relents from sending disaster.Joel 2:12-13 (CSB)
Joel 2:12-13 is the prophet’s plea to the sinful nation of Israel to practice true repentance. In ancient Israel, sorrow for sin was often displayed through weeping, mourning, and the tearing of one’s garments. However, through Joel, God encouraged his people to “turn to [him] with all [their] heart… and tear [their] hearts, not just [their] clothes.” God wanted their hearts to be broken for their sin so that they could be restored.
Note the last sentence of this passage. God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and he relents from sending disaster. God doesn’t call us to repentance so that he can judge us harshly. Instead, it is so that he can have mercy on us.
Repentance leads to restoration
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.Psalm 51:12 ESV
When we repent, God restores us. In Romans 3:23, Paul famously explains that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. As a result of our sin, we have all lost our rightful place as members of God’s family. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance for his sin of adultery and murder. At first, David covered his sin with another sin – murder. Then he went about his life as usual without recognizing the gravity of his wrongdoing. However, the prophet Nathan brought David a sobering word. He recognized his sin and sorrowfully repented before the Lord.
In verse 12, David prays that God would restore to him the joy of salvation. This is in fact what God does when we repent. The truth is that sin robs us of a whole lot. It robs us of fellowship with God, at times, fellowship with others, peace of mind, and so much more. But when we repent, God restores these things that we’ve lost.
Repentance does not lead to condemnation
Hear me on this: repentance does not lead to condemnation. God does not reject a repentant sinner. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t sometimes consequences. But there is no condemnation when repentance is genuine.
We often attempt to skip over repentance to get back to the status quo. I believe we do this because of shame. If we speak out loud about the bad things we’ve done, somehow they seem worse. We attempt to hide our sin from God and others because confessing wakes us up to the reality that it is as bad as – or even worse than – we think.
And, you know what? It is. It is worse than we think.
Sin, Repentance, and Jesus’ Sacrificial Death
We know that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. But, I think we often take this truth for granted. Jesus’ sacrifice doesn’t make our sin any less offensive to God. Instead, his death provides atonement. As John tells us, when we sin, Jesus is our advocate.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.1 John 2:1 ESV
Consider it this way. If you read the Old Testament, then you know that many things accepted in our culture and sometimes within our church communities could get one the death penalty. Yes, one would die on the spot for many things we consider to be “normal” today. This is because God is infinitely holy and sin is a grave offense against him.
Sin is still a grave offense against God. It was because of our sin why the spotless Lamb of God went to Calvary. So my point is, Jesus’ death on the cross does not minimize the weight of our sin. When we confess just how horribly we’ve sinned, Jesus doesn’t come down and say, “Well, you know, it wasn’t really that bad.” Instead, he assures us that while it is that bad, in his mercy, he has already paid the price for us.
Repentance leads to reconciliation
But God’s goal is not just to restore what we’ve lost but to reconcile us back to himself. Sin made us enemies of God but repentance leads us back into fellowship with God. Through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, he reconciled us back to God. While it’s debated whether Christians need to be reconciled to God each time they sin, it is true that our sin leads to a feeling of separation from God. Our eyes aren’t fixed firmly on him anymore and rather than enjoying his presence, we tend to stay away.
Repentance leads to reconciliation for Christians in this sense because it gives us the confidence to enter into God’s presence once more. When we confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness, we put aside the weight of shame and joyfully commune with God once more.
Repentance leads to freedom
Finally, repentance ultimately leads to freedom.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.Galatians 5:13 ESV
A lot of people think that the Christian faith is filled with rules and restrictions. It’s not. In fact, the point of Christianity is freedom. We have been set free from slavery to sin and death so that we can live for Christ.
When we sin, we’re actually going against God’s original design. Genuine repentane leads us back to life as God intended. It is a life characterized by shalom, or wholeness. We are free to enjoy fellowship with God and others. We no longer carry an unbearable weight. We can set it aside and worship God freely.
Repentance is something we should be doing regularly as Christians. We sin regularly. Whether it’s a so-called major sin or a so-called lesser sin, we need to be repenting often. God is holy and any kind of sin is an offense in his eyes.
We are not outcasts or strangers. We are a part of God’s family. If your child made a mistake, how would you react? Would you banish them away from your presence and have nothing to do with them again, or would you forgive them? I’m sure you’d forgive your child. Likewise, those who have been saved by Jesus’ blood are children of God and God is quick to forgive us when we sin. We have an advocate in Jesus Christ, who not only forgives us of our sins, he also restores us and reconciles us back to God.