Let’s talk about repentance. The Bible calls us to repent – so what does that mean? What does it look like? Didn’t I do that when I was saved? Now that I’m saved, do I still need to repent? If we are calling our church to repent, what does that mean? I’m going to touch a little on each in this
Let’s start with a definition. Most people define repentance as a turning away from sin or turning to God. It’s certainly true that repentance is the result of those actions, but that’s not the precise definition. Looking at the Bible’s original language, the word “repent” means to change one’s mind. This is extremely important for us to grasp – to repent means to change our mind about something.
All change in our life has a beginning. All turning away from or turning to something has a beginning. Before we can turn, we must first change our mind about it. To turn away from sin we must first change our mind about it. Very often, sinners participate or engage in sin without thought or concern. The first step to turning away from sin involves changing their mind about it. But where or who do you turn to? You must also change your mind about God in order to turn toward Him. Do you see how “changing our mind” must come first?
We see illustrations of repenting throughout the Bible. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter’s first public sermon was made to thousands of people. Verse 38 – Peter calls each to “Repent and be baptized every one of you”. He’s calling on them to change their mind. Change their mind about what? Verses 22-24 – change your mind about “this Jesus whom you crucified and nailed to a cross”. He died for your sins. God raised Him from the dead and He is Lord! Change your mind about your sins! Change your mind about Jesus! Repent and be baptized. This is the repentance that brings salvation.
OK, so now what? I’m a Christian. Is that it for repentance? Is it over? No. Ask David in Psalm 51. God had anointed David as king over Israel and David’s heart for God is revealed in many of the Psalms. David wrote Psalm 51 in a time of mourning over his sin. David had fallen into temptation. He committed adultery with another man’s wife. He conspired in the murder of her husband. David fought to justify his actions and live with them. However, the prophet Nathan confronts him. A child had been conceived and later died as judgment of God’s displeasure with David.
After committing such terrible sins and trying to justify and live with them, David writes in vs 3-4 – “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned. This is confession (we’ll talk more about that next week) – but the words I want to focus are those first three, “for I know”. What’s David saying? He’s saying that he’s changed his mind about his sin. He’s saying that, “I know what I thought before. I was okay in making those choices and then I tried to live with them – but now I can’t. I’ve changed my mind about them.” David repented. He changed his mind and he turned to God.
This is repentance and if you read David’s life as a believer in God, he stumbled into many sins, suffered many consequences, and had to turn towards God many times. Each time was a changing of his mind that resulted in a constant turning away from sin and turning towards God. David’s life is a picture of every Christian who trusts in Jesus Christ.
Every Christian still suffers from our own sin. Hopefully we’re experiencing victory over the sins of our old flesh and yet sometimes we struggle with the same sins – but the point is we all struggle with sin. However, the more we study God’s Word, and pray that He reveals to us any wicked way within us, we’re learning. As we learn, our mind is changing from what we once thought was right, to what God’s Word says is right. That’s repenting. Therefore, a true Christian lives in a constant state of evaluation and repenting as we’re being made more and more into the image of Christ.
The question is, does this describe you? Be honest. If you’re saved, are you living in a constant state of humility, ready and willing to change your mind or your life as God speaks to you through His Word? Keep in mind that Satan wants to distract you from living your life like this. He wants to make you feel full of life and opportunity. There’s no need for self-evaluation, seeking God, changing your mind about sin, and turning to God in repentance. I know because I lived my life like that for many years, and I see the same pattern that I lived among many in our churches. It breaks my heart because they’re missing out on what a life of repentance brings.
And that brings me to my last point – is there something we need to repent of as a church? Is there something we need to change our mind about on churchwide scale? There aren’t many churches who evaluate the need for corporate repentance.
There’s only one place in the Bible where Jesus calls a local church to repent and that’s his letters to the seven churches in Rev 2-3. I’m not going to go into detail here, but this is something we must take seriously. These letters were written to seven local churches and to their
pastors. Two of those churches were not charged with sins to repent of, however, 5-churches were charged with specific sins to repent – to change their mind about. Jesus told them what the sins were and what they needed to do to address it. Their examples pave the way. There’s a self-evaluation that every church member must do, and it’s the role of the pastors who lead and are accountable to Christ to evaluate the church. We must self-evaluate our church.
Recently, I surveyed the 5-churches and came up with questions directly from the text.
- Have we lost our passion and fervent love for Christ? (Ephesus)
- Have we allowed or not addressed sexual immorality in our church? (Pergamum)
- Have we allowed a spirit of self-indulgence to exist amongst our members? (Pergamum)
- Have we allowed or does our church suffer from some form of idolatry? (Thyratira)
- Have we allowed or not addressed members who are not spiritually engaged or are spiritually dead? (Sardis)
- Are we lukewarm and not filled with spiritual zeal? (Laodicea)
- Are we hypocrites, professing to know Christ, but not truly belonging to Him? (Laodicea)
- Do our members live as though we “are rich, have prospered, and need nothing”, not realizing we are poor, wretched, and naked? (Laodicea)
Let me assure you that this is something that our Elders are taking a hard look at. And while we’ve gone through plenty of self-evaluation in recent times, we’ve never gone through these specific questions in evaluating our church – but we are now.
Why? First, we love our Savior and would never want to bring reproach on His great name. Second, if we truly want to do the work of the Gospel in our community and across the globe, then we need to keep ourselves always in check with the purifying nature of the Gospel. This is a difficult, but a necessary, good work that leads us back to Psalm 51.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,Psalms 51:10-13
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Notice vs 13 – the key word there is “then”. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Restore to me your joy. Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will return to you. Our effectiveness as a church in our community and across the globe hinges on that word “then”. If we want to see our usefulness increased in our community, for God’s great glory, then we must evaluate ourselves both individually and as a church – and repent of our sin.