Repentance is more than something God requires of us. It is something He desires from us and something He helps us come to. In Leviticus 26:14-16, God begins a passage about the consequences the children of Israel would pass should they not uphold the law He set before them. Verse 40, however, changes tone, and God begins speaking of the forgiveness available to those that confess their sins and repent. Their humility has the ability to turn God’s judgment from them.
Repentance in the Old Testament
II Samuel 14, Absalom having killed his half-brother for sexually assaulting his sister, we have a wise woman speaking to Joab and David. She tells a story of two sons, one murdering the others, and she pleads for the bloodshed of vengeance to stop. She says, in verse 14, that God does not always exact justice, but instead seeks ways to restore the outcast. It is a lesson forgiveness, and it is a lesson about the repentance God desires from us.
After Joshua and his contemporaries die, we see the children of Israel turn aside to adultery in Judges 2:11. They sin in God’s eyes, but, time and again, God would raise up a savior to reconcile those who turned from Him. Yes, God’s word is full of warnings of the consequences of sin, but we also see a God who always wants His people to return to Him. He longs for us to repent, and He longs to forgive us.
In Amos 4, the prophet condemns the blatant idolatry in Israel. He goes through the signs and miracles as well as the consequences they have seen for their abandonment of God. He enumerates these things, revisiting a common phrase: “Yet you have not returned to Me.” He has given time, reason, and opportunity to repent, but His people continue to reject Him.
In context of these Old Testament passages, we can understand Acts 17:30, where Paul says God now calls all to repent. Also, Luke 3:8 records John the Forerunner calling on the people to bring forth “fruits of repentance.” Luke 13:3-5 has Jesus reinforcing the imperative nature of repentance, and II Peter 3:8-9 reassures us that God wishes for all mankind to come to repentance. From His dealings with the people of Israel to the New Covenant under Christ, God’s foremost desire remains the same – that all of us abandon our sins, turn from them, and be reconciled to His love.
Repentance, however, is not simple fear. It’s not stopping doing something because we fear the consequences. Repentance is not sorrow over those consequences, nor is it necessarily only reformation. In II Corinthians 7:9, Paul expresses joy for the congregation’s repentance – not only because they felt sorrowful, not only because they stopped. He is filled with joy by their true repentance from those sins. He sees their desire to abandon their sin and truly, fundamentally change their lives. It is an action of mind, a function of our will, that resolves to quit sin.
Repentance in the New Testament
We see this in Acts 8 when Simon the Sorcerer offers money to obtain the gift of the Holy Spirit. He believes and is baptized in verse 13, but he slips back into his old ways in verses 18-19. He finally truly changes his heart in verse 24 when faced with having to change his heart and mind, leading to a change in direction.
In Matthew 21:28, Jesus asks His audience about two sons asked to work by their father. One refuses but later repents, going to work. One affirms that he will work but does nothing. The first was initially rebellious, but he changes. He changes his heart and mind, and he determines to do the work set before him.
Finally, Luke 15 records the parable of a son who demands his inheritance. He wastes this inheritance on frivolous living, but verse 15 shows him coming to his senses. He changes his heart and mind, and he returns to the father he once rejected.
Repentance is a change of heart and mind that results in a change in directions. We can all look at our own lives and see reasons and opportunities for repentance. We have seen the consequences of our own sins. He has opened doors of repentance for us, but we seldom recognize these opportunities for what they are. Back in Amos, the prophet calls on His people to prepare to meet their God. They were not prepared, but we can be. We can change our hearts and minds. We can change the directions of our lives, repenting from our sins, wholly abandoning them, and leaning of God for our salvation.
lesson by Tim Smelser