Duane Vander Klok
Imagine that you are driving down the highway. The map tells you to turn east at the next highway, but you accidentally turn west instead. You don’t realize your mistake until you have been driving an hour in the wrong direction. It would make no sense to keep driving in the wrong direction because you will only end up going farther and farther from your destination. You need to change direction. Biblically speaking, you need to repent!
Repentance is a firm inward decision that results in an outward turning around to move in a completely different direction. It is a change of mind that involves turning to God and turning away from sin. You could think of it as an inward and outward U-turn.
Changing direction starts with realizing that you have been moving in the wrong direction – away from God. When you begin to make a relationship with God more important than anything else, your focus shifts and you make a U-turn towards His heart.
Not an Emotional Experience
Repentance is not an emotional experience filled with tears and sobbing. While emotions often accompany sincere repentance, someone can cry and weep over their sins without being at all repentant.
A number of years ago, I heard about a female missionary. In her community, there was an alcoholic man who was known for disrupting church services. Periodically, he would stagger in, create a scene, and start breaking the pews.
One particular Sunday, the missionary was preaching on Romans 10:13 when the man came in and sat down. She was thinking, “Oh no, here we go again!” To her surprise the man sat quietly through the entire sermon and came forward when she gave the altar call.
He fell to his knees and cried out, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Save me! Deliver me!” A short time later, he got up, but everyone wanted him to get back on his knees. Because he had not cried or shown any outward emotions, they thought nothing had happened to him.
When they tried to pray for him, he said, “No. That verse said whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. I called on Him and I’m saved!” From that day on, there was a change in his life. Each day he chose God over his own desires. He stopped drinking and disrupting services, and eventually became the pastor of the church. He had truly repented.
Repentance is not “doing penance.” Penance is an act of self-punishment to compensate for sin.
When I was a missionary in Mexico, I saw a group of over five thousand people making a walk of one hundred and twenty miles. They believed that, once they arrived at a certain place in Mexico City, all of their sins from the previous year would be forgiven. The walk was their penance. It was how they believed that they could pay for their sins.
The fact is, you owed a debt you could not pay. If it were possible for you to have paid for your own sins, Jesus would not have needed to come. If you remember, when Jesus was praying before His crucifixion, He prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me,” (Matthew 26:39). It was not possible because there was no other way your sins could be forgiven.
Not Just “I’m Sorry”
Repentance is also not merely telling God you are sorry. Don’t get me wrong; it is good to apologize, but too often, apologies are little more than empty words.
This became clear to me years ago when I was praying and felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was confessing my sins because the Bible tells us to. I told God, “I’m sorry did this, I’m sorry I did that, please forgive me.” God spoke to my heart: “You’re sorry, all right. You’re sorry that I don’t like your sins. You like them, and you wish I did, but I don’t!” I thought I was repenting, but all I was doing was apologizing. Repentance is not saying you are sorry and then continuing in the same direction.
We can’t only be sorry we got caught in our sins. A bank robber may only be sorry because he didn’t get away with his crime. Repentance is not simply feeling bad about having sinned or being sorry for your actions; it is a change of heart and mind.
Fruits of Repentance
Repentance is changing the direction of your heart and mind to seek God above your earthly desires and sin. You cannot follow both God and your sin at the same time because they are in opposite directions. But repentance shifts your focus toward God and always produces fruit because your actions will follow your focus.
John the Baptist urged the Pharisees and Sadducees saying, “Therefore bring forth fruits worthy of repentance,” (Matthew 3:8). The Amplified Bible says it this way: “Bring forth fruit that is consistent with repentance [let your lives prove your change of heart].”
Your fruit may not be immediately visible to others, but it will be visible to you because you know what is going on in your heart and in your life. You will know when there has been a change, and after a while of consistent living, others will see your fruits of repentance too. Your life will prove that your heart has changed.
Remember the account of Joseph in Genesis 37-45? His brothers had betrayed him, and many years later, when their paths had crossed again, Joseph did not immediately trust them even though he had already forgiven them. He watched and listened to them, and only when he saw the fruit of their repentance did he know that they had truly changed their hearts and minds.
Genuine repentance comes from the heart and is always accompanied by a change in behavior. True repentance says and means, “If I had to do this over again, I would do it differently.”
Do Not Harden Your Heart
Repentance and shifting our focus back to God also makes it easier to hear His voice and know where He is leading. When we repent we change direction from chasing our sin and earthly things to chasing God and His heart.
In Hebrews, we are told, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness…Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…” (Hebrews 3:12-13, 15 NIV).
When God speaks to someone and they say no to Him, their heart is hardened. As He speaks to them repeatedly and they continue to say no, their heart gets harder and harder.
There was a woman who went to the doctor to get her ears checked because her hearing was fading. When the doctor checked, he found lots of leftover cotton from cotton balls stuck in her ears. The woman had been frequently dying her hair, and every time she would place cotton balls in her ears to keep out the dye. But each time she was leaving more and more leftover cotton in her ears which affected her ability to hear. Each time we ignore the voice of God, we are putting cotton balls in our ears and each time, it gets harder and harder to hear His voice.
Thankfully we have a choice; we do not have to have a heart that is hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Instead, we can recognize that God’s dealing with our heart is a gift from Him. Instead of saying no to God, we can say yes.
So today, when you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart. It makes no sense to keep going in a direction that takes you farther from your destination. Repent by turning to God and turning away from sin, and your heart will remain tender toward God.