In his classic devotional book, My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “The entrance into the kingdom of God is through the sharp, sudden pains of repentance colliding with man’s respectable 'goodness.' Then the Holy Spirit, who produces these struggles, begins the formation of the Son of God in the person’s life (see Galatians 4:19). This new life will reveal itself in conscious repentance followed by unconscious holiness, never the other way around. The foundation of Christianity is repentance.”
Whenever we do things wrong we most often try to justify our actions. We might agree that what we did was wrong, but we search for excuses. We feel sorrow, regret or remorse. But we seldom, if ever repent. Perhaps the idea doesn’t even cross our minds.
When John the forerunner introduced Jesus to the world, he did so by calling people to repent. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.’” (Matthew 3:1-2) Thousands sought him out, confessed their sins and were baptized as a sign of repentance.
When Jesus launched his public ministry He also preached repentance. “From then on, Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.'” (Matthew 4:17). On one occasion, Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you also will perish.” (Luke 13:3).
Most of us understand repentance as a decision to stop doing bad things. To turn from our sin and to turn to God. John the forerunner defined repentance by our actions. He urged the crowds to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” To some he said, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” To the tax collectors he said, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to.” To the Roman soldiers he said, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:7-14).
Repentance enables us to move beyond remorse and hating ourselves for what we have done. Judas felt remorse after he betrayed Jesus and then hanged himself. Peter also felt remorse for denying Jesus and wept bitterly. But, unlike Judas, he repented, was forgiven and served Christ the remainder of his life.
Repentance is a gift of God’s grace. We cannot simply repent on our own. It must come from God. After Cornelius was converted, the disciples concluded, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18). Paul wrote, “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25).
Repentance is more than an act of the will, it is a transformation of the mind. The word translated “repent” is the word metanoia, which means literally “transformation of the mind.” This is why Paul encouraged believers not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. (Romans 12:2). When we repent and place our faith in Christ we see God, the world and ourselves in an entirely new light.