Note: This is a condensed version of a longer teaching. For the longer, more thorough version, just click here, The Joy of Repentance.
What do you think of when you think about repentance? Does it bring to mind an Old Testament scene of rolling around on the ground in sackcloth and ashes? Or do we think of something like groveling before God and crying out as we rip our hair out or rent our garments?
Here is the problem: I don’t think we really understand how repentance works. I don’t think we even understand the process of repentance. Now, I will ask another question: What does repentance look like today? What do you think of when you imagine yourself repenting before God? Don’t we all think or have thought at one time that it is like a one-time action? We say to ourselves, “I must repent”; so we hit our prayer closet with a cry out to God “I repent!” And by merely feeling sorry for our sin and crying out to God, we think we have repented. Is that all there is?
What if I told you that repentance is a joyous affair, an opportunity to allow God to enter into our lives in a way we never thought of, and an occasion where our lives can significantly change? Not only that, but what if I told you that revival can only come out of this true and biblical repentance? If the balance were to tip the scales in the right direction for our post-modern Church, don’t we know that only true repentance will cause such an occurrence? If we have been doing it wrong, don’t we owe it to ourselves, our God, and even our society to get it right? The resounding response to this question is “YES and AMEN!”
We are going to explore the beauty and joy of true repentance. Now this is not my idea or my construct or anything new, although it is new to me for I have recently been led by the Spirit to this Truth. This journey, if taken to heart and explored through the Scriptures, will prove to enlighten you in a way that will empower you to reach new heights in your walk with the Lord. The possible chain-reaction is nothing less than earth-shattering. As people learn how to truly and affectively repent, the Lord will do what He has promised to do.
The final point to my introduction will be the glaring truth that I have discovered. The discovery is that repentance isn’t merely an act but rather a process. In a microwave, “got to have it now” world, this would appear to be a less than joyous message.
So let us begin this epic journey together by starting in the Scripture where it was birthed. Acts 3:19 says,
“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;” (NASB)
Defining the word “Repent”:
Notice in this verse that we are to “repent and return”. So how is the word “repent” meant in this context, or rather, what is repentance? The Greek word here is Strong’s #G3340, metanoéō, and its origin is as follows: (from 3326 /metá, “changed after being with” and 3539 /noiéō, “think”) – properly, “think differently after,” “after a change of mind“; to repent (literally, “think differently afterwards”).
Did you catch that? The definition of the word assumes a primary occurrence of before or there could be no after or afterwards! So if we are “changed after being with”, whom were we with? You know the answer to this already. So if we “think differently afterwards”, what should be the accepted response to this new thinking? The answer is found in our original text…return! So if we think we can repent by ourselves, then we are incorrect in our thinking. Why do I say this? I say this because by definition the meaning of the word repent assumes you have been with someone or think differently afterwards!
See, we have this false notion that change happens by something we heard or something we have “taken to heart”, but in reality, this is simply not the case. Change happens by being with God. When Moses was exposed to the glory of God, his face shone; his face glowed so much so that he had to veil his face. When the scruffy fishermen of Galilee began their ministry, the elites of the religious community could tell “they had been with Jesus”. Even today, it is glaringly obvious when someone has spent time with the Spirit of God; we use the phrase “the Spirit is on them”. You see, we must confess and embrace the truth that real change and real, true repentance happens after being with Him.
In my own seeking of what true repentance looks like, the Spirit led me to a familiar verse for most of us. I had never seen this very familiar verse the way the Spirit showed it to me. It flooded my spirit and I was taken completely off guard! God is so awesome, I realize I scarcely fathom His deepness and tenderness. When He speaks to the depths of our spirit, it leaves us breathless. I am overwhelmed by Him regularly, and it is a healthy habit to put oneself in the posture to be overwhelmed!
The Spirit led me to 2 Chronicles 7:14.
As I was praying and asking the Lord to give me eyes to see what repentance really, really looked like, He whispered, “2 Chronicles 7:14”. Are you kidding me? Reluctantly, I turned to the worn-out page of my Bible to this Scripture and the words literally jumped off the page and slapped me right between the eyes.
Let me show you what He did, and I hope you are as amazed as I was! The verse became personal and illumed as the Spirit spoke this verse to me, to you, and hopefully to the Church.
Here is what He said: “If you, Insert Your Name , called by My name, will repent, I will hear from heaven and heal your heart.” Now say this out loud to yourself and put your name in the verse.
But the actual verse says this: “and if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (NASB)
In an instant, two searing truths hit me:
- This is a formula for personal revival
- The process of repentance is specifically and clearly defined right here
Before we move forward, let me state some points to consider:
The first thing to contemplate is “My people”. I would assume, that most of us reading this consider ourselves to be “God’s folk” or “bought with a price” and call ourselves a follower of Jesus. So this verse is aimed directly at you! This verse is not intended for society as a whole, or for your city, or your nation, or even the world in general. This is God talking to “His peeps”!
Secondly, notice the order in which it is presented. This is the recipe for repentance! All this time, we wonder to ourselves what repentance looks like or what it truly involves, and here it is in black-and-white. Now, before we all collectively shout “Amen”, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. Do we understand what each of the ingredients are? Do we truly comprehend what it means to “humble ourselves”? Do we enter into prayer with a goal in mind? Pointedly, to the goal of repentance? And what on God’s green earth is meant by “seek My face”? Of course, we all know what “turn from our wicked ways” means!
Lastly, how many of us have erroneously thought that repentance starts with “turn from your sin”? OOPS! That is the last part of repentance according to this verse, and to be completely candid, most of us don’t even see the sins that keep us from God’s healing! I’m just keeping it real here. I would not make this statement if it were not applicable to me. God, forgive me. You see, we associate repentance with being sorry for sin, but the stark reality is that the process of repentance points us to the sin. True repentance is a process that puts us on the operating table of the Almighty that He might cut out the root of the problem! Asking for forgiveness of sin is biblical, necessary, and a prime ingredient of the Christian faith. But repentance by its very nature is the tool to expose what’s “really going on”. Repentance, I now know, is a divine tool to expose the disease as opposed to just identifying the symptoms of that very disease. The process of repentance gives us eyes to see clearly that which ails us. This is the godly, jagged pill of truth that is painful going down, but glorious in its ability to heal.
Defining the Process of Repentance
Step One: Humble Yourself
To become humble literally means to bow before, to be brought low, to succumb to authority. The word in Hebrew for humble is kânaʻ and means: properly, to bend the knee; hence, to humiliate, vanquish:—bring down (low), into subjection, under, humble (self), subdue. Let’s talk about this for a minute.
The Bible exudes a principle that we dodge, explain away, and avoid most of the time; that principle is what is called “the fear of the Lord”. Proverbs tells us that this fear is the beginning. The beginning of what? The beginning of wisdom. Contrary to popular opinion, and even in opposition to many stated and unstated positions in our churches, this fear of the Lord is a serious matter. Unfortunately, this primary building block is conspicuously missing or has been watered down to mean “a profound respect for” or something that smacks of “He is God and I am not”. If you do a word study on the word(s) for fear, you simply cannot duck the bullet of what this fear really means. It means to be terrified; yes, gentle reader, it means fear in a real bad way. Even Jesus fires a round off at His listeners when He says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (NASB)
See, even you weren’t fast enough to dodge that bullet. Ironically, it is for our own good to fear God. You know why? Because it brings us to the threshold of step number one in repentance: humility. By yourself, you cannot humble yourself. Just as we cannot create within ourselves spiritual states such as peace, joy or love, so we cannot “muster up” humility. Who can wake up each day and command themselves to be full of joy? Who can survive the stress of the world by conjuring up peace out of thin air? And who can willfully make themselves humble? The answer: no one! And if anyone out there doubts this truth, they wouldn’t have made it this far into the teaching! Plus, if you think you can muster up humility by yourself, then you are full of pride, and pride is the opposite of humility. See the absurdity? It is the catch-22 of the spiritual life.
What is missing in the world today is the fear of God; it should not be missing in our Christian lives. We have a hard time rectifying the notion that God is love and yet also a God that rages like an inferno towards sin! A Christian life full of sin is an oxymoron. Who, after being released from prison, chooses to stay in their cell while the door is wide open?!
All that to say, the fear of God is what brings us to humility. By now, we realize that pondering God and contemplating His greatness causes us to “bow down before Him”, to “bring ourselves into subjection”, and to lay prostrate at His feet. By His very nature, even a mere glimpse of His greatness creates the fear. If you don’t fear the Lord, just ask Him to grant this to you…He is more than happy to accommodate that prayer!
There are ways to be humbled besides the recognition of God’s awesomeness. For instance, life can humble you. Loss can humble you. Consequences for bad choices can humble you. And even God Himself can directly humble you. It is MUCH better to fear the Lord and enter into humility by spiritual discipline, but if you missed that opportunity or refuse to enter through the front door, then the Christian life will unashamedly slide you in the back door and get you there one way or another! If you love Jesus, and you know He loves you, then He will ensure that you get the amazing gift of humility.
Often people will quote from the Bible, “it is the goodness of God that leads a person to repentance”, and I say “AMEN!” It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance, but it is the fear of the Lord that leads a man to humility. And you can’t enter through the door of repentance without the key of humility.
Fearing the consequences of sin is not, I repeat, not the doorway into repentance. Fearing God lights the ember of humility, which then kindles the wildfire of true repentance, and this is the beginning of revival in our hearts first and ultimately spreads until He consumes us in His love and the baptism of fire!
So step one is humble yourself. Special Note: you can’t skip this one…
Step Two: Pray
The second step is to pray. This prayer is not The Lord’s Prayer, this prayer is not intercessory prayer (don’t repent for your nation, church, or city before repenting for yourself!), and this prayer is not a time to lay out your laundry list of wants, needs, and desires. Even if your “wants” include the desire to please Him, even if your “needs” are to receive mercy, grace, and forgiveness, and even if your “desires” include a more intimate relationship with Him, a more holy life or whatever noble desires you might have. This prayer is the prayer of repentance. It is a time to humbly come before God and admit your weaknesses, it is a time to confess (don’t ask for forgiveness here) your known sins, it is a time to apologize, and it is a time to weep at His feet. If we humble ourselves before the Lord, He will lift us up! (Thank you James) Any false pretense or shallow motive will be burned up as dross. This is not the time to ask for anything! The prayer of repentance is steeped in sorrow. Without true humility, this sorrowful prayer simply cannot be infused into the air of His sanctuary. The spiritual offering of sorrow and humility is a sweet smelling aroma to our God indeed! If you are not floating in the raging sea of sorrow on your tiny rowboat of humility here, then you never completed step one. It’s OK! God is patient with us. Just continue to knock on the door of humility until He opens it for you. Just seek Him in the Word to see how perfect and terrifyingly magnificent He is. And simply ask for the gift of vision to see Him clearly and to see your depravity without Him. Holy Spirit will guide you and comfort you; if He doesn’t take you through this, then you will find it impossible because it is, no doubt about it, impossible without the Spirit. His glorious response is found in the next step.
Step Three: Seek My Face
This step is in and of itself worth any effort to achieve. This is where most of the work of repentance is accomplished. This IS the before. The immeasurable beauty of this step is that God has the opportunity to do His work! If the first two steps are defined as “drawing closer to God”, then the third step is Him “drawing closer to us”! This is where you stop and He starts.
Let’s look at some Scripture concerning this:
Psalm 27:8 says, “When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O LORD, I shall seek.”
Psalm 105:4 says, Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually.
1 Chronicles 16:11 says, “Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually.” Notice these two verses are word for word! One from David and one from the chronicler!
Hosea 5:15 says, “I will go away and return to My place Until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.”
Let me break it down like this: If I look at your face, your expressions, and into your eyes, what can I learn about you and your disposition towards me? Did you know that 80% of your communication comes from your body language and more importantly, your facial expressions? Can I not see love in your face, can I not see pain in your eyes, and can I not notice joy radiating from your demeanor? Of course I can! From the face we derive words from the mouth, a window to the soul through the eyes, and an overall expression of the heart.
So we must understand that “seeking God’s face” is seeking His expression toward us. Seeking His face is to seek what God thinks of you, what God is feeling towards you, and what God wants to express towards you! We are, in essence, in His presence and wanting to know God’s heart toward us! We are seeking His heart…NOT HIS HANDS!!! We are seeking not what He can give us, but rather only Him.
Do you see why I warned us not to ask for anything in our prayer of repentance? The reason is that you really don’t know what to ask for! God gives us the truest desires of our heart, and whether we recognize it or not, all we have ever wanted is…is…Him. It all boils down to seeking His kingdom, where He rules, and His righteousness, where righteousness is refined into the purest treasure; the purest treasure is KNOWING HIM. To know God is to love God…there is no other response. Dallas Willard, in his book, The Divine Conspiracy, says it best: “When we see Jesus as he is, we must turn away or else shamelessly adore him.” We as Christians can never truly turn away, but as we present the Christ to a dying world, many have and will turn away. If you don’t turn away…you repent!
To seek God’s face is to discover His thoughts of you, His love for you, His words for you…personally. It is one thing to read the Word and read of His love, it is another thing to hear our preachers, teachers, and pastors tell us of His love for us. But nothing takes the place of a one-on-one, face-to-face encounter with the Father. To hear the words from His mouth, to see the love in His eyes, and to behold the glory of the Creator of the universe is to know for sure. He answers the unasked question with, “Yes, I forgive you” and He answers an even more important unasked question, “Yes, I love you more than you will ever know”.
This is all in spiritual terms of course. Have you ever noticed that Jesus Himself defined the gospel as the present reality of the Kingdom of God? Do a little research and you will see. In every gospel, He boldly proclaims the purpose of His coming to earth as “to proclaim the Kingdom of God”. This kingdom is unseen by the natural eyes, although its workings, like the wind, have an effect on the natural world. When you are “changed glory to glory”, you are being changed into a more spiritual creature, you are born again in the spiritual realm (John 3), and you are learning how to operate as a light in the world (Matthew 5:14-16). The gospel, or the good news, is that there is a whole fantastic experience of the REAL world, right here, right now. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, in me, right here and right now, as it is in heaven!” All things that are seen are temporary; all things unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18). So this face-to-face with God will eternally define who you really are!
Should we define ourselves as we see ourselves? Should we define ourselves by the world’s standards? Do we find our true identity by self-contemplation or listening to how others assess us? Shouldn’t we rather depend on our Lord to show us who we really are and find our true identity in Christ?! Here, in His presence, we find the pearl of great price, we find the treasure hidden in a field, and ultimately we find ourselves. To see yourself as God sees you is overwhelming, and every fiber of your being is drawn into His embrace. It is intoxicating…in a godly, good way.
From this step, we enter the final step of repentance.
Step Four: Turn From Your Wicked Ways
The final ingredient is turning from our wicked ways: Let’s be honest here. If you have humbled yourself, prayed, and been in the presence of the Almighty, now knowing His heart towards you, can you do anything else but turn from your sin?! You see, if we focus on the God-ordained recipe for success, then we are almost guaranteed victory over sin; but if we get the order reversed, as most of us do, then we are doomed to failure! Remember the steps of repentance. You don’t start with beating yourself up and saying to yourself, “I need to clean up so I can approach God”! This is backwards. Come as you are to the altar of repentance. Jesus replied to Peter when Peter refused to have his feet washed by the Master, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with Me.” He does the washing…not us! We are powerless to do so. You are going the exact direction that the enemy wants you to go!
Don’t be fooled. Without the resurrection power found in His presence, you will fail to conquer sin. After you fail, you will be rife with guilt. You will try again, and again you will fail. So turning from our wicked ways is made possible only by the biblically prescribed method:
The fear of God ushers us into humility which is the proper posture for prayer. The prayer of repentance has no pretense; the only intent of repentant prayer is to fall at His feet, confessing our wretchedness. This worship in “spirit and in truth” translates us into His presence, where seeking His face is desiring nothing more than His heart and thoughts towards us. And finally, empowered by an unquenchable faith rooted in love, we turn from our sinful ways.
The Recipe For Success!
So now we come to back to the original Scripture. What is the purpose of repentance? So that, refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord! Do you know what this expression means? The phrase literally means: “to cool again, to cool off, recover from the effects of heat, and to refresh (one’s spirit); to recover breath, take the air, cool off, revive, and to refresh one’s self”! To walk in the coolness of the evening with our Lord is to truly find rest. Life can beat us up, cause us to see the natural as more real than the eternal, and spiritual battles fought incessantly by godly men and women cause them to grow weary. God wants to blow His cool breeze over the fiery battlefield of life! This applies to us personally, applies to our churches, applies to the Church, and will be applied once again to the world in the form of the “latter day rain” revival. (Notice the little prophecy I snuck in there?) It is coming, but it won’t come until we repent!
So who needs repentance?! Answer: ALL OF US. Of course, repentance is the first step in salvation. John the Baptist yells at the top of his voice, “Repent!” Jesus walks the dusty roads of Palestine announcing “Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, shouts from the rooftops, “Repent!” And today, we whimper in a corner, afraid to even whisper the word and wonder what’s wrong with the world!
Never forget that repentance is a change of mind and heart after being with Him! We must answer the question that the world asks us:
What shall we do that we may be saved?
Now, what about professing Christians?
So we need repentance to be saved, to recognize that Christ is the answer, that He is our savior, and that He is the only way back to our loving God. And repentance is also necessary to grow in the Lord. Think of all the verses in the New Testament that speak of “being transformed into the image of the Son”, of “being transformed glory to glory”, the “renewing of our mind”, of “sowing to the spirit”, or “seeking the Lord with all of your heart”. We never get too mature spiritually or too old physically to stop the process of repentance.
So the sheer joy of repentance is that it is the doorway that opens onto endless fields of untold riches and glory. Repentance sweeps us into the presence of the Almighty. And repentance promises us that “the mind of Christ” is a reality if we seek it. Remember, to repent is to change your mind, and I think the mind of Christ would be quite a change!
Charles Spurgeon states it this way:
Even while I rejoiced in being pardoned, I felt almost ashamed to look Him in the face and claim His mercy! To think that I should have sinned against such a Friend who was so ready to forgive me my guilt, made me ready to hide my head in the very dust! If He had bidden the thunders of His wrath to roll around me, I would not have been surprised. But when, instead of thunders, He gently said, “I love you and I forgive you,” then was my heart broken—
“Dissolved by His mercy I fell to the ground,
And wept to the praise of the mercy I’d found!”
My precious brothers and sisters, do we not understand that true repentance is the process of seeing God’s heart for us? You see, when we know His heart and thoughts, it exposes our hearts! And this causes a spiritual process to occur. Don’t think that repentance is just confessing your sins. Repentance starts with God giving us the vision to see sin that we never even knew existed! Oh, we are quick to judge others and ourselves on the obvious sins like breaking the Ten Commandments or sins like fornication, pornography, drunkenness, using drugs, and the like. But there are even more insidious types of sin that go undetected in our lives. What about self-righteousness, what about judgment of others, what about talking about people behind their backs? What about the egregious sins of envy, strife, and division that Paul rails on and on about? Ever notice that Jesus lovingly throws His arms around the sinner, but shuns the proud and self-righteous? Maybe one is ready for the process of repentance and the other feels no need of it.
Honestly, I think the greatest tragedy in Christendom today is that people have settled for “good enough”. They won’t say it out loud, but they ask themselves, “Is this all there is?” God has more…always more! The grand truth is that God is infinite and eternal, and therefore, we always have room to grow and reach new heights with Him. The joy of being a child of the living God is that He always beckons us into a deeper intimacy with Him. To settle for a perceived status-quo is to literally die a spiritual death. We must repent for settling for less than what He wants for us, and to be quite blunt, we must repent for not being the Church that brings light to the world! We are His Body, we are His hands and feet, and we are called to be on fire for our Lord. We cannot reach to the heavens and ignore the call to reach out to a dying world! Where will this revival come from? It will be born out of repentance and start with the person you see in the mirror.