There’s more to repentance than “I’m sorry.”
by Karen O’Connor
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:19).
Long before Peter repented of his own sins or preached about repentance to others, Jesus taught on this subject during His public life. The Pharisees found fault with Him for eating and drinking with tax collectors and “sinners,” so Jesus challenged them with these words: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31, 32).
Even today many people miss out on the times of refreshing Peter spoke of in Acts, because they misunderstand what repentance is. They don’t realize that Jesus came to reconcile them to God by His death on the cross. His refreshing can be theirs only when they turn from sin, grieve for sin, and evidence God’s forgiveness through Jesus.
The meaning of repentance
Be earnest, and repent (Revelation 3:19).
To repent means to turn away from sin and make a change for the better. It’s not enough simply to acknowledge wrongs or to feel bad about getting angry or drinking too much or lying to our spouse or cheating someone out of what is rightfully his or hers. It’s the turning that makes the difference.
Turning from sin starts with being willing to turn. Consider for a moment how your sins have weighed you down, how bursts of rage, outright lies, vicious gossip, lingering thoughts of sexual impurity have sapped your energy, pulled at your health, robbed you of joy, and desensitized your feelings toward those close to you.
By examining your weaknesses and admitting how they have led to sin, you can choose life anew, to repent and then receive the forgiveness God has for you. Ask Him for the faith to be willing to change. He will meet you where you are.
The need to grieve
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret . . . (2 Corinthians 7:10).
While we shouldn’t be overwhelmed by grief, true sorrow over our sin leads to repentance.
This was the case with David, one of Israel’s greatest kings. In the Old Testament we read about his sin of adultery. He looked at Bathsheba, another man’s wife, through an open window as she was bathing, and he coveted her. This initial sin quickly spiraled downward: David called for Bathsheba to be brought to him, he slept with her, and she conceived a child. To cover the sins of their affair, David ordered her husband, Uriah, to be killed.
God was gravely displeased. He sent the prophet, Nathan, to David to show him his sin by means of a story. When David realized that the story was really about him, he was filled with shame and great remorse. What a dark day it was. God’s beloved — the man God had anointed king and to whom He had given abundant provision, privilege, and power — had undermined all that God had given him and his people.
When David saw what he had done, he cried out in repentance, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 11:13). Psalm 51 is David’s personal expression of grief and plea for God’s mercy: “Against you, you only, have I sinned. . . . Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice” (vv. 4, 8).
God forgave David but not without consequence. The son Bathsheba was carrying would die — a public demonstration of God’s displeasure and the first bitter fruit of David’s sin.
But the “times of refreshing” were ahead. David was restored in the sight of God and over his kingdom. God also gave David and Bathsheba another son, Solomon.
Peter, God’s chosen disciple, was another who discovered “times of refreshing.” The night Jesus was arrested and taken before Pilate the authorities asked Peter if he was a friend of Jesus. Peter denied knowing Him — not once but three times — until the crowing of the cock reminded him what the Master had said earlier that evening: “I tell you the truth . . . this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (Matthew 26:34).
Peter had argued with Jesus. He couldn’t imagine doing such a thing, yet he did. And when he realized the depth of his sin, he broke down in sorrow and repentance.
Jesus forgave Peter, restored him, refreshed him, and later set him over His church. None of this would have happened had Peter not turned from his sin and repented in true sorrow.
There is no room for arrogance and self-righteousness before God. Unless we turn by our own willingness, we separate ourselves from the God of our salvation — dooming ourselves for all eternity.
The fruit of repentance
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).
The scene was a public baptism at the Jordan River, and John the Baptist was preaching repentance to a crowd that had gathered. He admonished individuals with two tunics to give one away. To the tax collectors he said not to collect any more tax than they were required to, and he told the soldiers to be content with their pay.
Why did John say these things? Because there must be evidence that we’ve genuinely repented. Our turning from sin and sorrow for wrongs must produce fruit of sharing, compassion, and contentment. Others must be able to see a difference in our lives. If there is no fruit, the tree will wither and die.
Do the people in your life see the change in you? Do your words and deeds reflect your life in Christ? Is the “refreshing” something apparent and tangible? Once you have the assurance of God’s forgiveness, you are set free to be a blessing and an example to everyone you meet.
Look to the future
Is there something in your life separating you from God? Have you denied Him by living the way you want to live instead of by His grace and guidance? Turn to Him in repentance and receive His refreshing.
Pastor Mark Slomka of Mt. Soledad Presbyterian Church in La Jolla, California, once said, “God has given us the past as a gift to keep us oriented to our future. [The past can be our friend] if we remember that Christ died for our sins, as well as the sins committed against us, if we repent of the choices we made that we didn’t have to make, if we receive God’s tender mercy through Jesus Christ. We can then enter the process of being made clean” — our times of refreshing.
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.
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