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What Does It Mean To Repent?

 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2).

 (Reprinted with permission from B.J. Funk and Good News Magazine)

 By B.J. Funk

I have a theory about my generation of girls from the south. We have a harder time understanding repentance than most. Why? We were brought up to have manners, to wear white gloves and hats to church, and to be a lady.  Somewhere in the sermons on love, acceptance, and forgiveness, some of us received the wrong message. Not that this was taught, but it is what some of us heard. At least I know I did.

The message was this: Christianity and being good are synonymous. We were to be good, never talk back to a grown-up, be sweet, and to mind our parents.

As an adult, I stumbled on to Mark 10:18, in which Jesus says, "Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone." Ooops!

I am confident that sin was preached, along with repentance and our need for a Savior. Yet, I reached adulthood without the clear understanding that I was a sinner in need of repentance.

In his book I Surrender, Patrick Morley writes that the church's integrity problem is in the misconception that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin. It is a change in belief without a change in behavior. He goes on to say, "It is revival without reformation, without repentance."

In some ways, the word Repentance is an obsolete word.  The late David Wilkerson wrote in an article entitled “Whatever Happened to Repentance" that "You rarely hear the word in most churches today. Pastors seldom call for their congregations to mourn and grieve over wounding Christ by their wickedness."

"Some Christians believe repentance means simply to 'turn around' and go in the opposite direction," Wilkerson writes in another article. "But the Bible tells us repentance is much more than that. The full, literal meaning of the word repent is 'to feel remorse and self-reproach for one's sins against God; to be contrite, sorry, to want to change directions.'" The difference in meanings here rests on the word want.

True repentance includes a desire to change. "A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:17).

It was not until I had lived a long time that I ever thought I could seriously wound Christ, that my sin actually hurt him. Oswald Chambers reminds us that obstinacy and self-will stab Jesus. Once I realized that I was able to move from shallow repentance to deep repentance.  I let go of the "good southern girl" image, and bowed before him as a sinner, in great need of a Savior. A refined Southern lady dressed in filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

Compare shallow repentance with that of the man who cries out to God with deep feelings of sadness over his life of sin, who hopes that God will accept him, even in his sin. He practically runs to the altar and falls on his face before God. He is tired of the old life and ready for the new. He can't stop crying.

John 2 reminds us that Jesus did not trust himself to any man because he knew the heart of man. He saw through the outward facade and into the darkness in man's heart. He knew that we desperately needed to understand repentance. 

Streams in the Desert devotional book speaks of shallow repentance when it describes the serious implications of those who fall into that category. "The natural heartstrings have not been snapped, and the Adamic flint has not been ground to powder, and the bosom has not throbbed with the lonely surging sighs of Gethsemane; and not having the real death marks of Calvary, there cannot be that soft, sweet, gentle floating, victorious, overflowing, triumphant life that flows like a spring morning from an empty tomb."

Repentance is the first step toward a life of freedom in Christ. Without it, our ship sails on bumpy waters. Let it go. Give it up, and walk into newness in Christ. Breathe in the deep freedom that will now be yours. Repentance as life-changing as this could never he shallow.