The Real Meaning of Repentance

Sometimes our words become emptied of any meaning due to their overuse and familiarity. ‘Awesome’ is one such word, as is ‘honestly’ (as in the song, ‘I honestly love you’). In the church, the word ‘repent’ is another. This word has become reduced to meaning a person must turn from their sins and seek forgiveness in the salvation which Christ provides. Here is why I don’t like this definition of ‘repent’. Christ is presented as a solution to a problem (sin), and by turning to him (repenting), and confessing our sins, our problem of sin is removed.

The relevance of Jesus as a ‘problem solver’ leaves me with the impression that Jesus merely offers a type of spiritual therapy. We are now free to move on with life (the problem of sin has been resolved), and there is no further requirement to consider what demands he might make of us. But consider the alternative view. When Jesus exploded onto the political and religious scene, he announced, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1 vs 15).  We assume he is speaking of the repentance of sin. But is there something more here? In contrast to the superficiality resulting from our empty use of ‘repent’, the rich meaning of this word is determined by the words which precede it – the ‘kingdom of God’. Jesus is issuing a call to redefine your life and its meaning, what we consider true and good, even our values and aspirations, and to orientate every aspect of our lives to his rule, his values and the salvation he is bringing. We are called to ‘believe the good news’ of the liberation he provides, such as the forgiveness of our sins by his death, but there is much more than the mere cleansing from sin. Repentance is not the narrow sense of turning to Christ to gain ‘forgiveness of sins’, but the wider meaning that Jesus as THE Lord, THE Son of God, has commanded us turn from self-centred living with its preoccupations (which cause us to sin), and to surrender to his rule as king. This results in a deep, distinctive lifestyle change and is the antidote to the superficiality of much which passes as ‘Christianity’ today.


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