True Repentance

shutterstock_209293042_PRESSIn the movie the “Princess Bride,” Vezzini, one of the main villains, kept saying, “Inconceivable!” One of his partners, Inigo Montoya, finally had enough and said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” And the same thing could perhaps be said about the word repentance. People keep using that word, but it doesn’t mean what many think it means. Many people think of repentance as simply a change of behavior, and so whenever they hear the word repentance they conjure up in their mind a picture of some cranky street preacher yelling at everyone to change their ways. They think of someone beating you up for your sins and telling you how you need to stop sinning and start obeying God. It’s viewed as a very negative thing. Obviously, it’s good to stop sinning and start obeying, but if that’s all you think repentance is then it can easily turn into nothing more than legalism and outward, dead religious morality. Repentance just becomes an exertion of your will power to say no. So, what is repentance? And what leads us to repentance?


The nature of repentance

The Greek word in the New Testament for repentance is metanoia, which means a change of mind. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for repentance means a turning to God. Repentance is a change of mind that leads you to God. C.H. Spurgeon defined repentance as, “A change of mind of a very deep and practical character, which makes the man love what once he hated, and hate what he once loved.” John Piper said it this way, “Repenting means experiencing a change of mind that now sees God as true and beautiful and worthy of all our praise and all our obedience.” So, repentance is not another name for good works; it’s a change of mind that produces good works. That’s why John the Baptist told people to, “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8), and the Apostle Paul said to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1). In other words, if there’s been a real change of mind and turning to God, then there will be a real change of life. So, you could say that repentance is a profound change of mind that makes a profound change in you. Repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of life. But what leads a person to true repentance?


The way to repentance

The Apostle Paul spelt it out when he wrote, “It is the kindness of God which leads to repentance” (Romans 2:4). Notice, Paul didn’t say the judgments of God or the wrath of God; he said it is the kindness of God that leads people to change their mind about God. A prime example of the nature of repentance and the way to repentance is the younger brother in Jesus’ famous parable of the prodigal son. The younger son thought that his father was keeping him from experiencing life as it was meant to be lived, and so he left his father only to soon find himself in a terrible condition. One day the boy came to himself and remembered that even his father’s servants had more than enough bread to eat, and so he resolved to return home. But what led the son home? It was changing his mind about the kindness of his father. It wasn’t the wrath of the father that lead him to repentance; it was his grace and kindness. Likewise, it’s only when people see the beauty, grace and kindness of God that they actually want God, come home, and now see his commandments as their good.

Remember Peter’s denial? The Apostle Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers, denied that he knew Jesus three times, and after the third denial and the rooster crowed, Jesus looked at Peter, and then Peter went out and wept bitterly (see Luke 22:62). Now think about it; in keeping with a biblical view of repentance, it probably wasn’t a look of disgust that Jesus gave but rather a look of tender love. And it’s that look of loving kindness that changed Peter deep within and everyone else who encounters it. But again, notice the order. The order matters. The look of love came before the change of mind. As one preacher pointed out, “Peter didn’t weep and then Jesus looked; Jesus looked and then Peter wept.”

It’s God’s look of kindness and mercy upon a person that leads him or her to experience a profound change of mind that leads to a profound change of life. Christianity is not about God looking for repayment; it’s about God looking for repentance. He’s wanting people to see him as he really is – the source of all goodness and joy in life – and to come home. You used to think this way about God, now you think this way. You used to think this way about sin, now you think this way. You used to be far from home, and now you’re returning home. Condemnation says, “You’re guilty, go away from me!” But conviction says, “You’re guilty but come to me.” That’s the heart of the Father that Jesus wanted people to see more than anything else, the heart of God that is calling sinners to change their mind and to come home.


Jeremy McKeen is the lead pastor of Truth Point Church. Jeremy received his B.A. in communications and philosophy from Florida Southern College and his MDiv from Know theological Seminary.


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