A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
13th July 2003
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The Christian Gospel demands from us repentance. If Jesus is Lord of creation and judgement, because of His sacrificial death for humanity’s sin and His victorious resurrection - then the appropriate response for a sinful human is to repent.
But what is repentance?
For many people repentance is synonymous with sorrow. I repent when I feel sorry for something. It can be a deep emotional experience over evil or a light-hearted apology for a minor social gaffe. In fact the Webster dictionary has this as the first usage of the word “to feel regretful or contrite for past conduct;…”
But the Bible distinguishes godly sorrow that leads to repentance and worldly sorrow or grief that leads to death. To feel sorrow or regret over your behaviour may be right and appropriate but it is not the same as repentance.
Other people see repentance as penitence or penance. It involves admitting that we have done the wrong thing and then making up for it by some act of punishment, atonement, or penance.
But the Bible’s teaches that there is nothing we could ever do that would pay for our wrongdoing and that Jesus death is the atoning sacrifice not only for our sins but also for the sins of the whole world. Therefore we are incapable of offering some satisfactory penance for our sins. Furthermore trying to offer penance indicates a lack of confidence in the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.
The Bible’s word for repentance is derived from the idea of changing our mind. It is the genuine change of mind that changes behaviour and life as a result.
In one sense it is not emotional or regretful at all. I can change my mind about which TV show I watch and consequently change channel (or even turn the set off). This may not be a matter of sorrow or unhappiness just a change of mind that issues in changed behaviour.
However when we are talking of repentance of life or repentance from sin, we are talking of rejection of our past behaviour as wrong morally spiritually and personally. Christian repentance over sin is not just that I no longer do it but that I have consciously rejected it as wrong. A change in sinful behaviour is not repentance without a renunciation of the past.
Failure to repent of sins is a serious spiritual matter that needs to dealt with. Sin is can be one of ignorance - not knowing that God’s word condemns certain actions. It also can be deliberate - knowing that such action is wrong but continuing anyway. This leads to hypocrisy and pretence.
Worse than hypocrisy is shamelessness. Knowing something is wrong, refusing to repent and openly and flagrantly continuing to practice that which is wrong. This is sinning defiantly - “with a high hand”. It is an attitude of unrepentant shamelessness that needs to be repented of even more than the sinful actions.
Pray that God would give to us all such repentance that we will always confess our sins, renounce our sinful behaviour and nature, and seek to change the way we live - because Jesus is our Lord.