“Sorry,” Ethan mumbles. He’s just knocked his cup of water onto the floor while talking and flailing his arms. We reminded him several times to move his cup away from the edge of the table.
“Sorry, mommy,” Emery says and scurries back to the bathroom. She’s left her dirty clothes on the floor…again.
“I messed up,” I confess to Bill after I discover that I didn’t pay a bill last month. As a result, this month’s bill is doubled AND we owe a late fee. Now we have to adjust our budget.
In each scenario, we said we were sorry for something we did wrong. In each scenario, we felt badly because of what happened.
This is what I always thought repentance was – feeling sorry when you did something wrong…maybe even taking it a step further and confessing your sin and asking someone to forgive you.
But my understanding of the word missed the mark.
Maybe it’s more accurate to say that some of the richness of the word was lost in translation.
In English, the word is typically used to mean feeling regret or feeling sorry and asking forgiveness. That’s how I always used it.
Then, I encountered another, richer meaning when I read Matthew’s gospel. In Chapter 3, Matthew introduces John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who prepares the way for Jesus’ coming.
John said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2)
When I read commentary on this verse, I saw that, in the original Greek, the meaning of the word translated “repent” was “to change one’s mind.”
Also, I read that, when the Greek word for repent was used in the Old Testament, it meant to change your attitude toward God, to “turn from one way of thinking and living to a different way.”
The same commentary said when John the Baptist used it in Matthew 3:2, he was calling “for people to remove obstacles from their lives that might hinder their reception of the Messiah and his Kingdom.”
The discussion caught my attention; repenting went deeper than I realized.
To repent meant much more than simply saying I was sorry. It meant more even than asking someone to forgive me.
I kept repeating what I read:
Repent – change your attitude toward God
Repent – turn from your old way of thinking and living
I fixated on that word – repent; I wanted to know more. So, I turned to a strategy I learned called word study: I look up the word in the concordances of my Bibles so I can read other verses where it’s used. This usually gives me a fuller understanding of the word as I read how it is used in scripture and as I read the discussion of that scripture in other commentaries.
During my word study on repentance, I read another commentary that explained that the word can refer to “the desire to turn from sin and restore one’s relationship with God.” 2 Corinthians 7:9
You see, sin separates us from God. I cannot come before God with unrepentant sin in my life. So when I am convicted of my sin, I have to repent – not just feel bad, not just ask for forgiveness, but change my mind about the sin and turn from it toward God.
Repenting isn’t just a feeling I have.
Repenting is something I must do – an action; I have to change, and I have to turn.
It’s the whole “turning to God” piece that really convicts me, I think. To truly get rid of the sin, I have to change my mind about the sin and then look to God.
Since I have been walking with God, I have been asking Him to show my sin to me, to convict me of it. Since learning about the true meaning of repentance, I have started asking Him to not only show it to me, but to help me change my mind about it and then to tell me what to do instead.
The funny thing about talking to God and asking Him to do things is that He sometimes does what we ask 🙂 Especially the part about showing your sin to you and telling you what to do instead.
Next week, I’ll share a sin-trap I am falling into and how I am turning from it toward God.