1 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matt 3:1-2 (NASB77)
These are the first words recorded in Matthew of John the Baptist, however, do we really understand what it means to repent?
As Christians we talk to unbelievers as if we are talking another language and still expect to connect with them. In many cases, I believe that many Christians do not understand the concepts them self, let alone try to explain it to someone else. With many churches embracing a selfism or consumerism “what is in it for me?” mentality, it seems that repentance is getting the second seat; if any seat at all. It is the only way through Christ that leads to the saving grace that is given by God to us. It is not about us, it is about Him!
Repentance needs to be a focus for the Church. After all John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2), Jesus (Matthew 4:17), Peter (Acts 2:38), Paul (Acts 17:30), The Twelve (Mark 6:7-13), and many others all began their ministry with this message. You would think that we would get the hint of how important that the message of turning to God is. Jesus was even more concerned about the soul of a paralytic, then from his ailment in (Mark 2). Repentance should be a big focus of our churches today.
Basically repentance means, to turn 180 degrees. Pastor Fowler from Christ Church Assembly of God used to say, “You cannot turn 179 degrees and expect to end up in the same place. It may work for a while but eventually you will be way off track.” I always think back to this sermon when I think about repentance. However, it never really sunk in until recently when I took a class with Dr. Rodney Woo for “New Testament 2” at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, what true repentance is.
We talked about the difference between Godly Sorrow and Worldly sorrow. It is discussed in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 followed with the seven marks of true repentance.
9 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. – 2 Cor 7:9-11 (NASB77)
Understanding the difference between Godly sorrow and worldly sorrow is the key to repentance. It is Godly sorrow that brings repentance that leads to salvation while worldly sorrow only brings death. Here is the difference:
- Worldly sorrow is self centered and could be summed up with the statement, “I am sorry because I got caught.” However, worldly sorrow doesn’t bring real repentance because there is no real want for change. Most of the time, when it does deal with changes, it is because they don’t want to be caught again. Worldly sorrow cannot sustain itself because it doesn’t have enough gas or energy to have any staying power. It is always looking for a way out, or how close to the line they can get without getting into trouble.
- Godly Sorrow is God centered. David said it beautifully in Psalms 51:4, “Against you and you alone have I sinned.” The sorrow is a sort of “soul anguish” because of the hurt that we place on God by our disobedience. The difference is that this kind of sorrow bring about real change because we don’t want to hurt our heavenly Father. It produces “repentance without regret, leading to salvation.” Real repentance only happens when we realize the hurt we have done to God.
I believe this is why so many people can come to Christ, live years trying to do the right thing, but ultimately lose their faith. It is because they never truly repented. Fruit is not about what we do, it is about who we are. It is time that we learn that repentance is brought about by Godly sorrow through the action of changing our mind and heart to reflect that which God has intended: a life fully devoted to him. That is basically the definition of a disciple and it shows in the fruit of change in our lives.