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What Does It Really Mean To Repent?


Repent. It’s a word that usually makes me think of angry people holding up bright yellow picket signs in front of heavy metal concerts or a sandwich board next to a street preacher at the beach.

The person holding the sign is often shouting and passionately calling those walking by to repent of their sin or they are going to hell. These types of situations have always made me uncomfortable. I frantically look for a way to avoid the person holding the yellow repent sign at all costs.

I have to imagine that at one point, this approach towards sharing the good news of Jesus worked for someone, but I’m not so certain it still does. Maybe it never did.

For a very long time, I’ve understood the act of repentance as being framed towards the non-believer. It’s the act of turning away from your sin, so that you can turn towards salvation. For someone who has yet to receive a saving faith in Christ, one of the big things they need to do is repent. Once you do that, you can receive salvation and move on to the other things of the faith.

Now, I understand that might sound like a bit of an overgeneralization, but I can’t think of an instance when I’ve heard the theology of repentance framed towards the believer.

Due to the heavy call of repentance being directed to non-believers, believers have a way of framing their call to repentance as an isolated, one-time event. Once a person moves from non-believer to believer, they tend not to see the importance of maintaining a posture of repentance.

Repentance in Relation to Salvation

The bible is clear that genuine repentance leads to salvation. In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul talks about the role repentance plays in salvation. There must be a turning away from sin and a turning toward God.

Once you realize the weight of sin, it should bring you to a place of regret and remorse. This realization would be too much to bear and only leave us feeling hopeless under the weight of sin. But godly sorrow offers a better way – to not leave you in that place of regret or guilt. A posture of repentance coincides with salvation.

If you’ve been around the church for even a small amount of time, I don’t imagine I’m sharing anything you haven’t already heard. But we can’t minimize the life changing truth of repentance leading to salvation. The very grace of God is that he offers a way for us to not be suffocated underneath the weight of our sin. The opportunity to repent is part of the good news of Jesus.

Repentance in Relation to Faith

The aspect of repentance that we don’t know as well is that Christians are also called to live in a posture of repentance. It is not merely a single event that happens prior to or during salvation. (Theologians debate about the exact timing repentance has in the salvation process.)

What we hear less about is that once we become Christians the call to repentance is ongoing.

Part of our continual pursuit of godliness is the continuation of a repentant spirit. Our hearts should always hate sin and seek to be more like Jesus. We should always be willing to see and turn from the sin that continues to linger in the dark corners and crevices of our hearts, regardless of how long we’ve been walking in the faith.