Repentance is turning away from sin. It is giving up the love of sin. It is setting aside our affections for everything that we know is wrong in our lives.
Repentance is a much-used word throughout the Bible. The Old Testament prophets called upon people to repent. Ezekiel 14:5-6 says, “The house of Israel . . . are all estranged from me through their idols. Therefore say unto the house of Israel . . . Repent and turn yourselves from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” John the Baptist cried out, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Jesus said, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Peter preached the Gospel and said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). When the Apostle Paul preached to the confused people at Athens, he said, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
We need to repent today. Without repentance we cannot be right with God. Multitudes of men and women are living in sin and following the ways of the world. Many are seeking for things that satisfy here on earth. Others are forgetting that some day they must face God. There is a definite need for repentance and a decisive turning to God.
There are two Greek words translated “repentance.” The one means little more than remorse. We read that Judas “repented.” But there was no real change of mind and heart. The other Greek word means “a change of one’s whole attitude.” This is the word that Jesus used when speaking about repentance, and it is the word used by Paul and John. Repentance is godly sorrow. It is a change of attitude toward God and toward sin. It is turning away from sin and turning to God. It is a complete “turn about face.”
One of the parables which Jesus told, states that a man had two sons. The father came to the first son and said, “Son, go work today in my vineyard.” His son said, “I will not,” but afterward he repented, and went (Matthew 21:28-29). He come to his second son and said likewise, and the boy answered “I will go,” but actually never went. Then Jesus asked, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They answered, “The first son.” The reason it is proper to say that the first son did the will of his father, is because he did what his father had asked of him. That is repentance. When a person repents of his sin, he leaves that sin and takes God’s side against it.
The Bible says that repentance is to be “toward God” (Acts 20:21). Why? Because our sin is against God. We speak about men sinning against themselves and against others, but our sin is primarily against God. This is what makes sin so terrible. David sinned wickedly against his fellow human beings. He committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, and then sent Uriah into the heat of a battle to make sure he would be killed. David then took Bathsheba to be his own wife and he thought his sin would be covered. However, David’s sin was discovered. The Bible says, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). And when David saw his sin in its true light, he cried out to God and said, “Against thee and thee only have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4). Sin is an offense against God.
Because sin is an offense against God, repentance must be “toward God.” If my repentance is not toward God, it is not true repentance. A ship encountered a great storm at sea. Some of the passengers were drinking; some were gambling; some were using profanity and dancing. The captain reported, “We are in trouble; the ship has sprung a leak.” The profane man stopped swearing; the gambler laid aside the cards; the drinking man set aside his bottle; and the dance floor was turned into a prayer hall. These people repented toward sudden death. However, if the ship had gone down, and they would have died even on their knees, this would not necessarily have been true repentance. Later, the captain came with these words: “All is well; we will most likely reach the shore.” The cursing man uttered an oath; the drinking man poured out a drink; the gambler began shuffling the cards; and the floor which had been used for a prayer service was again used for dancing. This was not true repentance toward God.
True repentance is not a mere concern about one’s reputation. A man who often got drunk and frequently had been beating his wife and children, was one time taken to prison. When he sobered up, he said, “What will people say about me? This will ruin my reputation.” You see, he was sorry, not because he became drunk and cruelly treated his wife and children, but because he was caught in his sin. True repentance is genuine sorrow for the deed, not mere sorrow for being caught.
A person may be convicted of sin and still never repent. No one really repents until he is deeply conscious that he has sinned against God. If people will keep going on in their merry way and do nothing about making a clear change in their manner of living, there is nothing left but punishment in a place of continual conscious suffering. Consider yourself as going down the highway in an automobile. As you approach an intersection, the signal light turns to amber, and then to red—telling you to stop. But it is another matter to stop! “Conviction” is the spiritual signal telling you to stop living in sin. “Repentance” is doing something about it.
It is godly sorrow that leads to repentance. That was the kind of sorrow that Peter experienced after he had denied Christ. He went out and wept bitterly, repenting of his sin. That was the kind of sorrow the publican manifested when he cried out, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
Conviction is a part of repentance; sorrow is part of repentance; but there is still one more factor in genuine repentance. One who repents, turns from sin. A man realizes that he is a sinner; he is sorry for it; and with God’s help, he gives it up. He breaks with the former way of living. During the Revolutionary War, General Washington and his men came to Brandywine Creek. After they had crossed the water, they debated whether or not they should burn the bridge behind them. One officer said, “Hadn’t we better leave the bridge there so we can retreat over it if the enemy drives us back?” General Washington said, “No, let’s burn the bridge; it is either victory or death.” Repentance is like that. It is burning the bridges behind us. It is forever leaving the old life of sin.
But some may say, “I need not repent because I’m not a drunkard, nor a murderer, nor an extortioner, nor a fornicator.” But then how about one having a tinge of resentment in his heart toward another person, or harboring incomplete forgiveness, or having made a shady deal in business, or uttering a slanted statement about another person in order to exalt self? C. M. Battersby, the writer of a hymn entitled “An Evening Prayer” expresses the thought very well:
If I have wounded any soul today,
If I have caused one foot to go astray,
If I have walked in my own willful way,
Dear Lord, forgive!
If I have uttered idle words or vain,
If I have turned aside from want or pain,
Lest I myself shall suffer through the strain,
Dear Lord, forgive!
Forgive the sins I have confessed to Thee;
Forgive the secret sins I do not see;
O guide me, love me, and my keeper be,
In Jesus’ name, Amen.