- For most of us, the word “repent!” conjures up visions of bearded men in tattered robes carrying signs warning us that the end is near. But this word should have a special meaning to us who are Christians. Both John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus began their ministries with the word “Repent!” (Matthew 3:1; 4:17). Romans 2:4 says that repentance results from God’s goodness. 2 Timothy 2:25 says that it is a gift from God. What does it mean to repent? It is surely something more than to simply apologize or to say “I’m sorry.”
- Both John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus were encouraging their hearers to consider their old way of life, see its vanity, and turn to a new source for their living. Then, as today, people were consumed with studies, careers, families, and issues of morality. Yet they were still hungry. They needed a new life that rose above these concerns and linked them with an eternal life supply.
- In a sense, if you have ever gone on a diet, you have experienced repentance. Your old way of eating seemed enjoyable, but the result was unacceptable. To some, continuing as before may even have proven fatal. To go on a diet is to “repent” from your old eating habits and enter into a new and better way of life.
- To become a Christian is to pass through the gate of repentance. Once we see the vanity of a life without Christ, we turn to Him to take Him as our new life. Like a new diet, we are full of good intentions to live this way forever, fully convinced of its lasting benefits. But, like most diets, we soon find ourselves falling back on old habits. At first we may only sneak a piece of chocolate. Eventually we find ourselves eating like the old self we thought we had left behind.
- Consider the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. He was a genuine son living with his father, and so is a picture of us as Christians, sons of our Heavenly Father. He had all the advantages of a rich living with plenty of the best food. What caused him to leave? Perhaps he was bored with his rich life, or perhaps the attraction of the world seemed too strong. Whatever his reason, he left his father’s house and soon found himself eating from the world’s table. He was not able to repent until he saw this diet for what it was: swine food. It was hunger, not some high sense of morality, that caused him to repent. Only at the point of genuine dissatisfaction with his situation was he able to return to his father.
What about Us?
- As Christians we also may discover, quite to our surprise, that our diet has for some reason turned to “swine food.” It is no longer nourishing to the life within us. We should recognize that such a realization is our Father’s mercy. He is telling us that we have left His dining table and is calling us back. We must repent by leaving our “swine food” and return to the Father to receive the diet we were born to eat. Like the prodigal son in Luke, our Father is waiting for us with open arms. He desires to kill the fatted calf for us and throw a feast on our behalf.
- All Christians go through the gateway of repentance again and again in order to learn what it is to fully depend upon our Father. It is normal. Repentance is a gift from God, allowing us to return to Him again and again. Christian growth is not that we grow out of the need for repentance, but that we learn to repent all the more quickly. It is not a shameful thing to repent. The Father is always waiting.