Monday, January 26, 2009

Repentance -- the Path to Freedom

Admitting that we are all sinners is not so difficult. I don’t believe that I have ever met anyone who said that they’ve never sinned, even though I hear that there are some out there who may actually believe this. Ironically, I think for someone to even say that they’ve never sinned is a sin in and of itself, for it denies what God has said in His Word (Romans 3:23).

What then, is repentance? Is it merely an admission that we are sinners? Certainly it has to be more than that, because most people would say that they are sinners, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve truly repented.

Unfortunately, the word repentance has fallen out of favor with many in today’s world because it forces one to recognize that there are absolutes of right and wrong out there and that there is someone whom we are ultimately accountable to (mainly, a holy God), and few are willing to admit or consider that sobering thought. Secondly, we’ve all seen those rather interesting people who stand at athletic events or on street corners whose view of evangelism is holding a picket sign that simply says, “repent or die.” Never mind that there is an element of truth to it – it doesn’t seem to be the most sensitive way to reach someone for Christ. (But hey, take a look at the prophets and apostles and you might change your view of that a little bit). Nonetheless, our culture has a measure of disdain for such approaches, and therefore the word repentance may not really mean much to some due to its association with such strategies.

But at the heart of the Christian gospel is repentance and faith. Paul basically summarized his mission to proclaim the gospel by saying that, “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). Repentance, then, must mean more than simply an admission of sin – because all who admit sin are not necessarily saved. And it has to be more than simply a sorrow for getting caught, which Paul says is nothing more than a “worldly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10).

But there is such a thing as “godly sorrow” that brings forth genuine repentance. This true repentance is something that involves a deep conviction of the heart that recognizes the offensive nature of sin (to both man and God – thus “godly” sorrow). And this kind of sorrow will lead someone to renounce the sin and turn from it altogether, so that there is even a commitment made to forsake it in the future. That’s what repentance is. It is admission, sorrow, renouncing, and forsaking.

If repentance is genuine, it will always bear fruit, almost immediately. Thus even John the Baptist, when confronting the Pharisees and Sadducees with respect to their utter hypocrisy, wouldn’t allow them to simply claim that they were repentant, but commanded them to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matt. 3:8) They were masters at giving lip service to God, even claiming to be repentant. But unless it produced a life of godliness and obedience, it was all just a show.

For the heart that does truly repent from sin, there is freedom and release. In fact, Peter stated it this way: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19). There is nothing more refreshing that a clean conscience – it breathes life into weary bones, bones that have been weighed down by the destructive power of sin. It restores fellowship with God.

The Holy Spirit not only brings conviction for sin, but the enabling power to forsake and overcome it so that it will no longer hold us in its awful grip. Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart, but follow through with what he calls us all to embrace, a heart filled with genuine repentance and faith in Jesus, Who died to set us free. Be free, my friend, be free and refreshed. And forgiveness will be yours. Repentance will then be your friend, and your entryway to the “life that is truly life.”