We don’t use the word “repent” in normal everyday conversations although the direction changing act is still a part of our experience. We may change our minds about any number of things such as business decisions, emotional outbursts, an opinion, a desire, or our favorite flavor of ice cream. But the Biblical concept of “repent” is more than just being sorry about a decision or changing our minds about something. It is more like stopping in our tracks, doing a 180, and walking with a new and completely different trajectory.
Understanding “repent” is important for us today because it is the first of Jesus’ commands we are going to explore. For those just joining in, we are beginning a new series that looks at the 28 commands of Jesus. Our first is, “From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17, NLT) This is the first general command spoken by Jesus and was the hallmark of His ministry.
We must first recognize that this is a specific repentance event. It wasn’t simply changing our minds and going to church. Although that may be the first step. This is a call to change all our thoughts, attitudes, and actions that are contrary to God’s will. To stop going our own way and turn around and walk with our face towards God. A complete change of direction and destination.
Jesus portrays this kind of repentance in the Parable of the Lost Son, also called the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. In short, the younger son left the family farm with his share of the wealth. He went his own way, did what he wanted to do, running fast and far from all his father had taught him. And then he ran out of money and friends. You could say that he came to the end of himself. Alone except for the pigs he was feeding. So hungry that the pig slop looked appetizing the lost son repented. He stopped in his tracks, recognized his sin, and turned his face back towards home and his father. Meeting his father, the lost son said, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.” (Luke 15:21, NLT) The father didn’t take him back has a slave but restored him as his son. That is what repentance looks like.
Here’s where we must examine our own lives, our own trajectories. Are we moving toward God or away from God? Not just in our outward behavior but in our heart; our inward attitudes, desires, and thoughts. Repentance is more than just glancing God’s way every now and again. Or hoping that God sees our good stuff and ignores our bad stuff. Jesus calls us to repent, to stop in our tracks, turn around, and run into His arms with every part of our lives. Repentance is the first step towards forgiveness and being born from above (saved, born again, converted, redeemed, and transformed). So, what is your trajectory? What direction are your feet traveling, your mind wandering, your attitudes calling, your desires pulling, your actions displaying? Perhaps it is time to stop, turn around and run towards Jesus with every fiber of your being.
I had intended to end this message above but there is one more thing to add. Repentance is not a one-time event but a way of life. Some of you may have read the above with an attitude of “been there, down that, took a picture, bought the t-shirt.” But in my own walk with Jesus I’ve had to repent many times over as He continues to mold and shepherd my character. Who I am today as a follower of Jesus is not the same as thirty, ten, five, or even one year ago. Some of those steps required taking risks, others learning new things, many were steps of repentance, all required faith and trust in Christ. I hope the same can be said of you as well.