The core concept of repentance (repent) is a redirection of self. It is the commitment to change self in fundamental behaviors and habits. It is the acknowledgment, "I am not who I should be" combined with the resolve to yield to God that "I may become who I should be." It is a lifetime commitment. One facet is immediate in the serious redirection of one's life. Another facet is continuing as one spends the rest of his/her life "fine tuning" the change. As the person matures spiritually, he/she constantly adjusts self in motive and behavior as he/she learns more completely what it means to be godly.
Several concepts/understandings are necessary for repentance to occur. (1) The person has to admit to himself/herself and others the existence of the need to repent. It is admitted to self to accept the reality of the personal need. It is admitted to others (a) to acknowledge "I have been wrong" or (b) to produce external accountability. (2) The need to repent rests on an understanding that I must not justify my motives or behavior. Ultimately, I must accept responsibility for my feelings and deeds. Knowing what others did to influence me helps me understand why I did what I did in the past. However, if I am to let God redirect me, I must yield to His redirection by realizing I am in charge of my "whys" and "whats." The person cannot continue in ungodly motives and behaviors and the ungodliness they produce by blaming (a) others or (b) circumstances. Repentance is an individual commitment to (a) acknowledge motives [understand his/her "whys"] and (b) accept accountability for actions. A commitment to change involves accepting accountability. The objective is NOT to punish myself for the past. The objective IS to free myself from my past by accepting God's forgiveness in Christ [see Galatians 5:13-17 and Ephesians 4:17-24].
The core reason for coming to God through Jesus Christ is to ESCAPE one's past. Your escape is no more difficult or improbable than was the first century person who came from a family who practiced idolatry for generations. Escape does not occur because you become the ideal person who functions with ideal motives that produce ideal behaviors. Escape occurs because you accept God's forgiveness in Jesus Christ and commit yourself to transformation [see Romans 12:1, 2].
However, for such escape to occur one must repent. God cannot help the person who is certain he/she does not need help. We come to God to practice godliness, not to evaluate others. God rescues people though Christ. We as Christians point people to God. It is by seeking to behave and have the relationships of a godly person that we help others see the value of belonging to God.
The core of John's message as he prepared the Jewish people for Jesus' ministry and message was, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:12). He told the Pharisees and Saducees who came to him for baptism that they were poisonous snakes who needed to produce the fruit of repentance. They came to John to submit to a correct act for an incorrect reason. Though they were religious leaders, they needed to repent.
The early emphasis in Jesus' message was on repentance. Matthew 4:17 states Jesus began his preaching by declaring, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Responding to the appearance of the kingdom of heaven required repentance.
The gospel of Luke records great emphasis on the need to repent including (a) Jesus ministry was to call sinners to repentance [Luke 5:31, 32]; (b) gentile cities would have repented had they seen Jesus' miracles performed in Jewish cities [Luke 10:13]; (c) repentance is necessary to escape God's wrath [Luke 13:1-5]; (d) there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who do not need to repent [Luke 15:7]; (e) people who refuse to listen to God will not repent [Luke 16:27-31]; and (f) unending repentance must be met with unending forgiveness [Luke 17:1-4].
Repentance is more than sorrow or regret. The right kind of sorrow or regret produces repentance. Consider Romans 2:4 and 2 Corinthians 7:9, 10. When a person (a) realizes what God did for us in Jesus' death and resurrection and (b) understands how his/her sinfulness hurts the kind, sacrificing God, he/she (c) is sorry for hurting God Who does not deserve the hurt. It is that kind of regretful sorrow that can result in repentance. It is that type of repentance that leads to salvation.
Christianity is a commitment to personal change. That commitment expresses itself in repentance. Repentance's direction and goal is determined by God's holiness. The more is learned about God's holiness, the more devoted the person becomes to God's character. The objective of the penitent is to reflect God's influence in his/her life. Consider Jesus' words in Matthew 5:13-16.
We do not repent to bring praise to ourselves. We repent to bring praise to God.
For Thought and Discussion
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 2
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