In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:1-2
Some key things mentioned about John the Baptist in the Bible include being prophesied “Elijah” as mentioned in Malachi. He knew his place and served to always point to Jesus; he knew his assignment and he finished his race. With reference to the book of Matthew, John’s assignment was to prepare God’s people, to make them ready for His coming.
What is Repentance?
Is it simply a new way of thinking? Repentance is openly challenged today. More accurately, the understanding of repentance has been redefined and repackaged.
Here are some statements that are making their rounds within Christian circles. They sound really good but are actually inaccurate and highly deceptive:
Repentance in the New Testament simply means to change the way you think about God and to come into agreement with Him. But, what is your thinking based on? Just one portion of Scripture? Also, our worldview determines the lens with which we read and understand Scriptures. This taints our thinking.
All your sins – past, present and future – have been forgiven at the Cross. When we accept Christ, our past sins up until that point are forgiven; and God remembers them no more.
But when we walk, we still sin and that has to be dealt with. Forgiveness is transacted as we acknowledge sins that we have committed along the way.
There is no longer a need to confess your sins.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) “Confess” is in present tense, which implies ongoing action, and the need to keep on confessing. This represents an ongoing relationship with God.
The Holy Spirit does not convict believers of their sins.
Some go as far as to say that the Holy Spirit does not convict unbelievers of sin too. But this was cited by Jesus Himself in Revelation 3:19: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.Therefore be zealous and repent.”
God does not want you to feel bad about yourself.
This is a sign of superficiality, immaturity and selfishness. The Bible is full of rebuke and admonishments. Consider again the words of Jesus to the seven churches, with the most famous one to the church of Laodicea “because you are lukewarm…I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15)
God sees you as perfect, righteous and holy; not sinful.
But, remember that the kingdom is here but not yet. We are in the process of constantly being sanctified. And we will only be fully sanctified when we meet God face to face.
What about Repentance in the Old Testament?
Here are some examples where the word “repent” or “repentance” was mentioned in the Old Testament.
“…yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of those who took them captive, saying, ‘We have sinned and done wrong, we have committed wickedness’;” (1 Kings 8:47).
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.” (Ezekiel 18:30)
We see that repentance is not merely a change of one’s mind. Neither is it simply agreeing that something is wrong. So, what constitutes Biblical repentance then?
Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins (Matthew 3:5-6).
When John called for repentance, the people responded by “confessing their sins”. To confess is to openly agree with God that we have strayed from Him and His ways. That is what sin is – a straying from His ways, the missing of the mark/target. But, repentance is more than just acknowledging and admitting a wrong. Consider, Pharaoh admitted his sin but that was it. Many are like that too. We may agree that we have sinned but promptly justify why we have sinned. We blame it on the situation, on others, on God.
There has to be contrition, or in layman terms, sorrow over sin. This means a deep realisation that what we have done has offended God and knowing that our sins hurt others too. Recall, David’s adultery with Bathsheba had hurt many people along the way. But ultimately, David acknowledged that he had sinned against God. Nonetheless, repentance is more than just admitting sin and feeling bad about sin.
There has to be conversion, which means turning from sin and returning to God. This is a call to be rightly aligned with the coming King and His kingdom. We accept the need to turn if we are moving in an opposite direction. However, we might also have deviations of varying degrees and we might justify these as okay. The truth is we need constant correction and alignment along the way to stay on course.
The 3 “Cs” of Biblical repentance:
Confession (admission of sin), Contrition (sorrow over sin) and Conversion (turning from sin, returning to God).
Repentance is really a constant realignment to God and all He stands for. It may start with a drastic U-turn but continues with regular checks as we are prone to veer along our journey.
What is God’s instrument of revealing this to us? kingdom assignments. When we go about our assignments, we realise how unaligned we are with Him and His purposes. There will be a need for constant repentance, correction and realignment to keep us on track with God and to fulfil our kingdom assignments.