Repentance

Preaching and Worship Resources about Repentance

God's assignment for sinners, repentance is deep remorse over transgressions and shortcomings and significant turning away from them.

Repentance has psychological, emotional, and active components. It means recognizing sin, feeling sorry for it, and turning away from it. It usually starts with a guilty conscience, stirred by the Holy Spirit, leading to a broken-hearted plea for God's grace (Ps. 51:17). To be genuine, however, repentance must lead to a renunciation of sin, though accomplishing that may take many "turnings."

In Scripture

God's response to David's repentance "But when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented concerning the evil, and said to the angel who was bringing destruction among the people, `It is enough; now stay your hand'" (2 Sam. 24:16).

God consistently calls Israel to repentance, especially through the prophets (Isa. 30:15, Ezek. 18:32, Jer. 18:8). Israel's failure to repent receives an almost mocking reproof in Jonah, where the prophet reluctantly calls Nineveh to repentance, and, amazingly, they respond (Jonah 3).

Job repents "I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6).

The gospels begin with a call to repentance, first from the prophet John the Baptist and then from Jesus himself (Mark 1:4, 15). But now the call to repentance receives greater urgency: the kingdom of God has arrived. Repentance is "for the forgiveness of sins," (Luke 3:3) and therefore needs to precede forgiveness.

Return to the Lord "[L]et the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:7).

John the Baptist reiterates the need for repentance to be completed in action, calling the people to "bear fruit worthy of repentance" (Matt. 3:8).

God responds "[B]ut if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it" (Jer. 18:8).

When Pentecost arrives, Peter calls his hearers to "repent and be baptized . . . so that your sins may be forgiven" (Acts 2:38). In the light of Peter's previous words, Israel must now repent of its rejection of the Messiah and believe that Jesus is Lord.

Repentance is God's pleasure "Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezek. 33:11).

Paul warns against a kind of repentance he calls "worldly grief" as opposed to a "godly grief" that leads to salvation (1 Cor. 7:10). Being sorry is not enough; it must lead to a change of life.

Hold fast to love and justice "As for you, return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God" (Hos. 12:6).

Bear fruit "Bear fruit worthy of repentance" (Matt 3:8).

Jesus calls for repentance "From that time Jesus began to proclaim, `Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near'" (Matt. 4:17).

The good news of God "Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, `The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news'" (Mark 1:14 - 15).

Come to Jesus "I [Jesus] have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father" (John 6:65).

Repent, and be baptized "Peter said to them, `Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:38).

Turn to God "Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out" (Acts 3:19).

Repentance leads to life "When [believers in Jerusalem] heard [Peter's announcement that the gospel was for Gentiles too], they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, `Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life'" (Acts 11:18).

Turn from darkness to light "I will rescue you [Paul] from your people and from the Gentiles — to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:17 - 18).

God's kindness "Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" (Rom. 2:4).

Leads to salvation "[G]odly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret" (2 Cor. 7:10).

From idols to the living God "For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God" (1 Thess. 1:9).

Come to know the truth "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth" (2 Tim. 2:24 - 25).

Points to Ponder

Remorse and turning away Biblical words translated from Hebrew and Greek as "repentance" include the two themes of remorse over sin and of turning away from it. Both are of urgent importance. Remorse is an emotional driver of turning away from sin. But remorse without active turning away from sin is useless to the sinner's victims. (Men who repeatedly beat women may be remorseful every time.)

The false repentance the Bible highlights is close to feeling sorry for yourself. It can be a delicious feeling that makes us think real change is happening while, in fact, we are hardening our hearts to that change.

A better future Especially when people get addicted to their sins, such as in cases of lust, alcoholism, and gluttony, faith is required to believe that a future without practicing the addiction will actually be better. The addict needs a believable sponsor to assure him or her that repentance will be painful and totally worth it. Freedom may be reached only by going through repentance.

God Never Gives Up on Us Repentance is knowing that God never gives up on us, and so we must never give up on ourselves. Repentance means turning from the despairing feeling that we're stuck with our past, with all its habits and memories, to the hope of a fresh new beginning every single day of our lives.

Turning to Jesus Christ Christians believe that only God can enable repentance (Acts 11; 2 Tim. 2). On our own we are usually too stubborn and proud to do it. After all, to say "What I did was wrong, I'm really sorry about it, and I will amend my life" requires a death within our proud and stubborn self. We need to have Christ in us, enabling our old self with its fondest lusts to die and a new life — the Christ life — to shine through. And for this transformation we have to count the cost. It's going to hurt. But the alternative is personal disaster. So a full account of repentance includes not only turning away from sin, but also turning, or returning, to Jesus Christ.

Gift of Grace Repentance is as much a gift as grace. In fact, grace precedes repentance, because apart from knowing God forgives, we would never have the courage to be honest about our sin. As the psalmist says, "If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered" (Ps. 130:3-4)

Only sinners must repent Christians believe that only God can enable repentance, but, as defined, only sinners must do it. Repentance is God's assignment for sinners — to hate our sin, to grieve over it, and to run away from it. Here the sinner's failure is an inevitable and teachable moment. Failure to be good teaches us our utter dependence on Christ in us, which is really just a case of coming to our senses. Predictably, C. S. Lewis is eloquent on the topic: "In one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, `You must do this. I can't.'" Then the sinner tries hard again, fails again, appeals to God again. As in anything else, persistence fortified by the grace of God can prevail in the end. We have all met remarkably sanctified Christians. They are our sponsors for the road ahead.

Frederica Matthewes Green "[Repentance] is about our true condition. We begin to see our fallen inclinations the way God does, and realize how deep-rooted is the rottenness in our hearts. This awareness grows slowly, over many years, because God mercifully shows us only a little at a time. But he sees it all. His is like the eye of a surgeon, which sees through to the sickness deep within. There is no other way for us to be healed. It's when the surgeon says, 'All we can do is keep him comfortable,' that you're really in trouble."

Barbara Brown Taylor "Most of us prefer remorse to repentance. We would rather feel badly about the damage we have done than get estimates on the cost of repair. We would rather learn to live with guilt than face the hard work of a new life."

Brennan Manning "The saved sinner is prostrate in adoration, lost in wonder and praise. He knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven. It serves as an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness. Thus the sequence of forgiveness and then repentance, rather than repentance and then forgiveness, is crucial for understanding the gospel of grace."


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.