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November 19, 2023

A Closer Look at Jesus' Call to Repentance

By Erin Conner 

Repentance is a beautiful word. It is the name of the road that leads out of darkness. It is the name of the road that leads to life. It is a Biblical concept that, depending on the type of church we grew up in or currently attend, may seem harsh, foreign, or antiquated. As a true follower of God, deep and ongoing repentance, the act of turning away from sin to wholeheartedly following the Lord, is a life-giving spiritual discipline. 


From a deep immersion into Scripture, we find that God never intended for repentance to be a spiritual discipline of the past. God never intended for his people to ignore His commands. In fact, Christ said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) He never intended His people to be “of the world,” obeying the world’s “commands” while neglecting His. (Romans 12:2) We find God never intended self-worship (or any other form of idolatry) to co-exist with the worship of God. From a deep immersion into Scripture, we also find that God never intended for people to go through the motions of repentance without a contrite heart.  

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Our hearts matter to God. From the first pages of Scripture to the last, the inward condition of man’s heart matters to our Lord. Try as we may to push things down and cover them over, we serve a God who sees and cares about our hearts and who wants to empower our obedience and sanctification through the Holy Spirit. After all, we are Christ’s ambassadors here on earth, and we can do nothing apart from Him. (2 Corinthians 5:20; John 15:5) Without deep and ongoing repentance, we simply cannot represent Christ to our children, our spouses, our church families, and our workplaces with the love and power that God intends.  


In Desiring God's article “The Heart of True Repentance,” Matt Erbaugh writes a clear and concise call to rend our hearts, not our garments, because what motivates our behavior matters to God. Erbaugh writes, "In Joel 2:12–13, the Lord calls to Israel, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” In the Old Testament, people commonly expressed great grief and anguish by tearing their cloaks. But more than caring about the proper “signs” of being upset about their sin, God cared that they actually grieved over them in their hearts — grieved to the point of weeping and mourning."

Erbaugh continues, "In his famous psalm of repentance, David reminds us that God does not delight so much in the outward signs of repentance (which included making a sacrifice), but “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). We’re not talking about the shame and condemnation the enemy wants to heap on us, but a godly grief."

Regardless of what aspect of repentance with which we each may struggle, the life-giving call of Christ is for today: "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).

Read Erbaugh’s full article here.


Learn more about a Biblical perspective on repentance here from Christian Union’s Seven Keys to Kingdom Advancement video teaching series.