What is the key to long-term spiritual growth and change? Is it Scripture knowledge? Strong self-discipline? Perhaps a good family upbringing? Maybe seminary? All these things are good, but one thing stands out as the golden key to growth: repentance.
This theme rises to the surface across Scripture: "Repent" is the first part of the core message of Jesus in Mark 1:15 when He started His ministry. "Repent" is an oft-repeated exhortation by the prophets of old to backsliding Israel (ex: Ezekiel 14:6). "Repent" is the explicit command of Jesus to many of the churches in Revelation (ex: Rev 2:16). John the Baptist called his listeners to "bear fruit in keeping with repentance" in Matthew 3:8, and even Peter needed to be rebuked by Paul and called to repentance in Galatians 2. And finally: God desires all to repent (2 Peter 3:9) and calls all to repent (Acts 17:30).
What exactly is repentance? Pastor Ben Stuart describes it as "one motion, in two parts", turning FROM our sin, and turning TO God Himself. You could also say that repentance is admitting you are wrong, stopping your wrong behavior, and beginning to live differently. It's that definitive moment of humble admission, "I am wrong. God is right."
So when should you repent? Answer: REPENT RIGHT NOW. Continually. Immediately. It doesn't matter how much you've sinned, or how little, you should ALWAYS repent the instant God grants you the conviction and realization that you have been sinning against Him. This is the gift that God gives by His Holy Spirit, repentance that leads to refreshment in His presence (Acts 3:19-20). Your sin is killing you, it's a fast poison that requires immediate attention. The first step towards life and healing is repentance. And it's not a once-and-done act. Continual repentance is THE mark of the Christian life. Consider Martin Luther's famous first thesis in 1517, "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance."
Sometimes we think that we shouldn't or can't repent RIGHT NOW. Either we think we're repenting "too soon" because we convince ourselves we're not really sinning or we sinfully don't WANT to repent until we've received the promise that sin has offered us. OR we fear we've waited "too long" to repent, and it's too late. We've gone too far, God won't accept us back, not again for the thousandth time. Both are wrong! We've never gone too far in our sin to not be able to repent, and there's no safe amount of sin that we can try before we need to repent. Consider the example of David in his sins with Bathsheba and Uriah in 2 Samuel 11. David could have repented at ANY time in that whole chapter. Consider each verse as you read it, right THERE could have been the moment of repentance! But each time David chose to continue in his sin.
So let's get practical. Here's some examples of what repentance RIGHT NOW could look like:
- A few seconds after you've said something angry and hurtful to a friend, repent. Apologize for your unkind words, ask for forgiveness from God and your friend.
- Porn on the screen and your hand in your pants, repent. It's never too late! Turn away from this broken cistern, there is no life here.
- Tears in your eyes and the knife in your hand, repent. God is welcoming you to drink deeply from His fountain of Living Waters! His blood has been shed in your place.
- Scooping ice cream in the bowl, repent. Yes you chose to grab the ice cream, but you don't have to eat it. God is gently calling you to rest in Him.
- After you've already been sexual active before marriage, repent. Yes you have sinned but God still calls you to repent. It's not "too late". It's never too late to repent. God is honored by your obedience in walking in purity, even after your failure.
- When you realize you've been complaining and grumbling, repent. Start praising and thanking God for all His amazing blessings. Maybe even write a list of 100 things you're thankful for.
Where is God calling you to repent RIGHT NOW? Is the Holy Spirit convicting you of a particular sin? Repent. Do not hesitate. Be swift in your obedience. Do it. "Repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15) God waits with open arms to cleanse you of your sin and welcome you back! Run to Him in repentance. Right now.
Fighting for Repentance,
The Relentless Fight