What is Repentance?
NOVEMBER 15, 2023
You may not know it, but the source of unbelievably rich spiritual power is available to you.
This spiritual power is not the result of being more religious, acquiring more knowledge about God, moving to a monastery, being more obedient, or praying more often. I suppose there is nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t yield spiritual power. The source of spiritual power is repentance (the very opposite of self-righteousness).
Wait, wait. Repentance isn’t what you think it is. It’s so very different from what most people think that I tried to find another word for it. When the word repentance comes up, most of us think of a weird little man holding a sign that reads, “Repent! The end is near!” or some kind of other “turn or burn” message directed at horrible sinners to scare the hell out of them.
That’s not what repentance is at all. In fact, it’s a wonderful word.
Repentance is from a Greek word meaning “to change one’s mind.” When it is applied in a biblical sense, it doesn’t mean changing your ways (or else!). It means that you recognize God is God and you aren’t. It means that you don’t get a vote on what is right and what is wrong. It means that when you recognize God’s authority, you go to God and tell him so. In short, repentance is knowing who you are, who God is, what you’ve done or haven’t done, and then going to God in agreement with him and his assessment.
Repentance isn’t changing; it’s God’s way of changing us if that is what he wants. Changing, though, isn’t even the issue. If the Bible is right in that all our sins are covered by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and Christ gives his righteousness in place of our sinfulness, change may happen, but it isn’t what this whole thing is about.
Let me tell you something that might shock you. Your disobedience, your failure, your rebellion, your struggle to be better—in short, your sin—is the greatest gift God has given you if you know it. Not only that. Your obedience, your faithfulness, your success, and your getting better is the most dangerous place you can be when you know it.
The anger of Jesus was never directed at those who were great sinners, but at those who seemed not to be. In fact, he said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees [the most patently righteous people Christ’s hearers knew], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). And just a cursory reading of Matthew 23 should make the most religious, obedient, and righteous among us wince. There Jesus pronounces seven woes on religious people. It’s not pretty.
Free sins are a gift—but only if you know you need them. Repentance is a source of great power, but only if you know you need to repent.
Adapted from Steve’s book, Three Free Sins
Published by Howard Books, copyright 2012 by Steve Brown. Used by permission.