Before we became Christians, our pattern of life (what we did, where we went, how we spent our time and our money) was shaped by one of two principles. Paul mentions these in Ephesians 2:2-3. The first principle was that we did the things that we wanted to do. That, Paul said, was “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” The other principle was that we imitated what we saw others doing. Our lives took their standard from the society of ungodly people among whom we worked and lived.
However, when we became Christians that pattern of living had to end. We could no longer walk according to the course of the world. We had to do what Acts 2:38 required: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” That means a complete turn-around in our pattern of living. It is what Paul describes as a “transformation by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).
All through the Scriptures we are taught that we need to repent of the things we do that are wrong in our lives. This is not a word that is fully understood by many, even in the church today. So, what is repentance? It involves a confession that we realize we have not been living as God would have us to and that we have offended God by living as we want without depending on God’s help to turn our lives over to Him. A good example is the life of the Prodigal Son. Jesus said concerning this young man, “And when he came to himself, he said…I have sinned against heaven and before you” (Luke 15:17-18).
We are to have remorse for how we have lived outside of what God would have us live (Ps. 32:5; 51:17). As Paul said, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10).
Repentance is a move on our part to be obedient to God. We must resist the devil and his ways and draw in a closer relationship with God (James 4:7-10). We must also plead that God search us and find anything that is still wicked in us (Ps. 139:23-24).
The decisive principle in the life of a Christian is not that we do what we want, or that I do what others do, but that I do what God wants me to do. The old principles have been pushed to one side to make room for the one principle of Christian living.
While encountering Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul asked, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 22:10) He realized that he was not obedient and he wanted to be. He repented and began to live under God’s rules and requirements. We need to realize that repentance is not something we say, but something we live and it is very important that we realize what that means for us as Christians.
Over and over throughout the history recorded in the Bible, God has shown the necessity of repentance. He has, through the prophets and his messengers, made numerous calls for repentance to all of his people. Through Christ Jesus, the plea comes to all people and must be handled on an individual basis. We now must understand what the full meaning of repentance looks like.
True repentance takes place deep within us and it comes from a desire to not be separated from our God. To not be moving away from Him and drifting, but to experience the pain that comes from even the possibility of that separation and a deep desire to, both physically and spiritually, turn back toward Him, and a hastening to the safety of his side. The repentant soul is the one that searches the Scripture and searches themselves constantly with the goal of correcting what they find that is outside of God’s word. The true follower of Christ realizes that this is one the most important tasks they will ever undertake and could mean the difference between eternal life in Heaven, or eternal damnation.
Michael Morton is the pulpit evangelist for the Gastonia Church of Christ in Gastonia, NC. He can be reached at mike@gastoniachurchofChrist.com.