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What is Repentance?

I came across someone’s definition of repentance on social media the other day. It said, “Repentance Defined: ‘Admit it, quit it, and forget it.’” This is basically how I have understood repentance growing up. As a pastor, I’ve even taught that repentance is basically confessing your sins (1 John 1:9) and not sin anymore (John 8:11). So simple a child can understand.

Until that child discovers they can’t stop sinning and falls into despair.

Church folk believes they are teaching the truths of Scripture by quoting verses about God’s hatred for sin and his wrath. The solution they have for sin is “quit it.” When someone who can’t stop sinning hears these words from church folk they feel frustrated, outcast, and condemned. Paul illustrates this frustration and despair in Romans 7, “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The people who would preach “quit it” would do well to see how even Paul was unable to “quit it”.

Repentance is more than just “Admit it, quit it, and forget it.” The Greek word translated as ‘repentance’ is metanoia. It means “to know after, to change one’s mind.” Repentance is a re-orientation of your thoughts and actions. You turn away from how you’ve always thought, how you’ve always done things, and turn towards how Jesus thought, how Jesus did things. So, when Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,” (Mk 1:15) he was saying, “The kingdom of God is here! Change your mind from doing things your way and doing them the kingdom way.”

Though Jesus doesn’t expect you to do this on your own. He sends his Holy Spirit to help us.

This is why Paul in his despair can say, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, I am delivered.” He said those who are led by the Spirit have a new mind. They think about things of the Spirit and not things of the flesh. Later in chapter 12 of Romans, he says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

How are you transformed? By being in Jesus (Rom. 8:1). By abiding in Jesus (John 15:5). By relying upon the one “who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless…” (Jude 24).

We cannot quit sin on our own power. We need Jesus.

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