When Jesus was on earth, He repeatedly called all people to repent of their sins. He didn’t preach much about God’s love, blessings or prosperity. Jesus’ central message was “repent!” God places so much importance on repentance that Jesus died on the cross, to make repentance possible. Have we missed the point?
(See Chinese versions: 简体中文 > 从心悔改 | 繁體中文 > 從心悔改)
Matthew 4:17 ESV From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
To repent is to feel remorseful for something we have done – and to be so conscience-stricken that we choose not do it again. Without real repentance and obedience in following God’s Word, there can be no real salvation. The Bible has a frightening warning for Christians who do not repent but “who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth“. Such believers can only expect to meet God’s terrible punishment, anger and wrath one day and perish.
Luke 13:3 ESV No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Romans 2:5-8 NLT But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness.
Sadly, the message of repentance is lost in many “feel good” messages today. Many Christians falsely believe that they can define life on their own terms and still go to heaven. Others may even look righteous and perform “mighty works” in God’s name, but harbour unrepentant hearts. Sadly, Jesus denounces such people and promises to reject them.
Matthew 11:20, 23-24 ESV Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.
Matthew 7:21-23 ESV “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Q: What are some quick signs of an unrepentant heart?
Below are some signs of someone who has not fully repented before God.
- Addictions and lust
- Arrogance and pride
- Confusion and division
- Discouragement or depression
- Guilt and shame
- Fears and anxieties
- Irritability and frustration
- Insensitivity and selfishness
- Judging, sarcasm and slander
- Resentments and unforgiveness
Q: What are some common misunderstandings about repentance?
Godly repentance does not involve:
- Blame / excuses: “I know I sinned, but it is because of ….”
- Comparisons: “I know I have sinned, but she/he is worse than me.”
- Shame: “I have sinned. I can’t face God, I feel unworthy.”
- Self-accusation / self-condemnation: “I’m bad. I am condemned. I am incorrigible.”
- Self-inflicted punishment: “I must punish/renounce myself on God’s behalf so I feel better.”
- Remorse / regret: “I feel sad / bad that my sin has been exposed.”
You will notice that none of the above statements points to God’s grace and love. Instead, we turn the focus on ourselves or other people.
True repentance is a matter of being so conscience-stricken by godly sorrow (Joel 2:13.. “tear your hearts”) that our thoughts, words and actions have offended God that we can’t go back to doing it again. It says, “Father in Heaven, I am so sorry that I have sinned against You. I ask that You please forgive me in Jesus name. I will do everything in my power to not let this happen again.” This is the type of repentance that leads to spiritual life and growth.
2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.
Joel 2:13 NLT Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate…
God isn’t interested in our empty words and actions (Joel 2:13.. “don’t tear your clothing”), where:
- Our hearts are hard and unrepentant e.g. blame, comparisons
- We mock the power of the cross and Jesus’ promise to wash us clean e.g. shame
- We self-righteously take over God’s seat as Judge e.g. self-condemnation, self-punishment
- We love our sins more than God and find it hard to let them go e.g. regret
Intimacy with God involves our hearts, not our words. Otherwise, God says our worship is meaningless and worthless i.e. in vain.
Matthew 15:8-9 NIV “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain…
Q: What must I do to repent?
1. Be humble
Before we can truly repent, we must first humble ourselves. To sin is basically to choose our own way over and above God’s will for us. People who hold on to their pride and believe they know what’s best are not truly repentant.
1 Corinthians 8:2 NLT Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.
Proverbs 16:5 ESV Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.
2. Acknowledge and confess
Full repentance requires us to acknowledge all of our depravity and surrender everything to God. We must be ready to be humble, vulnerable and contrite – and confess our sins to someone we can trust and pray with*. Only when we confess our sins to someone else can we be free of shame, because we bring what was once locked in a dark prison of shame and exchange it for the “light of life” through Jesus.
James 5:16 NIV Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
John 8:12 ESV Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
* Be sure to choose a mature god-fearing Christian who also practices repentance to confess to, not a hypocritical believer.
3. Seek God first at all cost
We must be willing to seek God first and turn away from things He considers wicked, even things that we used to see as normal, cool or wise. This includes even “harmless” things like grumbling, having an ego, showing off, putting others down, using curse words, practising taichi or yoga etc. Fearing what people say or think of us i.e. the fear of man leads us into a trap, because we make other sinners’ opinions more important than God’s.
Pleasing God must become more important than the ridicule and persecution we may receive as a result of our repentance.
Proverbs 29:25 NIV Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.
4. Be baptised with water and the Holy Spirit
Baptism is a commandment given by Jesus, it is not an option.
In His Great Commission, Jesus told us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV) The apostle Peter instructed early Christians to repent, be baptised and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:38 NLT Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Water baptism is a one-time act that declares in the spiritual realm that we no longer belong to this world (Satan), but now belong to Jesus. It was never meant to be an optional decorated ceremony. Something significant happened for Jesus when He was baptised in the Jordan River. He received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Him. What more us? We too must be baptised with water and the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 3:16-17 ESV And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
The Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee that we are redeemed by Jesus Christ. Only when we are filled with His Holy Spirit will we have the wisdom and conviction to choose God’s will over our own and turn away from our fleshly desires.
Ephesians 1:14 NLT The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.
Ezekiel 36:2627 ESV And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
4. Renew our thinking
We need to consciously peel off years of worldly corrupted thinking – like the way we burn unhealthy fat off our bodies through exercise. This requires us to study the Bible so diligently that God’s values and commandments become second nature to us. Only then will we prosper and succeed in all that we do.
Joshua 1:8 NLT Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.
5. Choose to obey God
We all suffer from a restricted, biased and self-centred world perspective based on our upbringing and influences. True repentance involves an embrace of God’s will for our lives and an acceptance that He knows best.
1 Corinthians 3:18-20 ESV Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
Q: Can I repent and then continue to live as I choose?
It is not possible for someone who has truly repented to go on sinning. Such a person would be guilty of crucifying Christ once again and mocking His sacrifice on the cross for our sake.
Hebrews 6:4,6 ESV For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, …and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Someone who continues to sin will eventually extinguish the Holy Spirit and lose the guarantee of his or her redemption and salvation.
Ephesians 4:30 ESV And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
1 Thessalonians 5:19 ESV Do not quench the Spirit.
Q: How is a godly sinless life possible?
We may never reach sinless perfection but we should certainly make it our goal. Why? Because “without holiness, no one will see the Lord”.
Hebrews 12:14 ESV Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
We are all called to “work out our own salvation”. Thankfully, this is a job that God partners with us to do. God promises to complete His good work in helping us overcome sin and become more like Jesus Christ.
Philippians 2:11 ESV Therefore… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
Philippians 1:6 ESV And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
In 2 Peter 1:3-4, the Bible states that God has given us everything we need to live godly lives. The apostle Peter says we are the ones who should “make every effort to respond to God’s promises” and develop:
- Moral excellence
- Patient endurance
- Brotherly affection
- Love for everyone
2 Peter 1:3-7 NLT By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life… he has given us great and precious promises… that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.
Q: What hinders repentance and a godly sinless life?
Here are common stumbling blocks to repentance. Let us not waste any time in putting away our ignorance, pride and fears about repentance as we review the list below.
1. Beware the influence of our culture
We live in a world that promotes self-gratification. Our culture tells us:
- “Do what you think is best for you.”
- “If it feels good, do it.”
- “You only live once. / Life is too short. Try it!”
- “Everything is worth trying. / You should try it to know how it feels.”
- “You can’t help yourself. It feels too good.”
- “Only this can satisfy you. Nothing else can.”
- “You don’t have to answer to anyone for your life.”
When our senses are constantly bombarded by such hedonistic, self-centred messages, we will subconsciously start to buy into them. It will be incredibly hard for us to humbly bow down to God and submit everything to Him.
We don’t even recognise when we rebel against God and choose our will over His. Here are some subtle ways a spirit of self-will and rebellion sneaks into our thinking as Christians. You may notice how prevalent this sort of thinking is in your own circles.
- “This makes perfect sense to me. I will do it. (There’s no need to ask God first.)”
- “I really like this teaching because it suits my personal agenda. (I’ll choose this over God’s hard truths.)”
- “I don’t understand parts of the Bible so I’ll reject it (even though my highest wisdom is still foolish, compared to God’s.)”
- “Other Christians are doing this (sinful thing), so it must be okay.”
- “I haven’t heard from God yet, but I will just go ahead. (I won’t wait on God.)”
- “I couldn’t help myself. There’s no one who can help / understand me. (I’ll ignore God’s presence and only put my faith in what I can see.)”
2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Such thinking leads us to sin against God, without realising we need to repent. Let us beware how we are being influenced by the world around us.
2. Identify the enemy’s lies
Satan works very hard to keep us from repenting by planting lies about God and His character. If we doubt God’s intentions, like Eve did, we can be easily manipulated to sin and stray away from God.
The enemy’s ultimate goal is to make sure:
- We see a false image of God
- We are confused about His intentions
- We can’t decipher what is good from evil
Thankfully, God has provided a counter answer for every lie that Satan plants into our imaginations. Here are some common ones.
- “God doesn’t help sinners” | Romans 5:8 NIV But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- “I haven’t done enough to deserve God’s forgiveness” |Titus 3:4-5 ESV But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
- “God doesn’t care for or love me” | Romans 8:35-39 ESV For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- “God has abandoned me” | Isaiah 41:10 ESV Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
- “God doesn’t want good things for me” | Jeremiah 29:11 ESV For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
- “God is far away” | Psalm 145:18-19 ESV The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.
- “I am sure God will let me get away with this” | Proverbs 11:20-21 NIV The LORD detests those whose hearts are perverse, but he delights in those whose ways are blameless. Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished, but those who are righteous will go free.
Let us watch out for Satan’s lies by filtering our thoughts according to the Bible. We are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” and stay pure in our hearts before God.
1 Peter 5:7-9 NLT Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith…
2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
3. Develop a healthy love for and fear of God, don’t test His patience
The more you learn about the heart of God, the more you will find yourself falling in love with Him. At the same time, we must keep in mind that God is Holy, He is not just our Friend but also our Judge. God is gentle and forgiving but if we keep rejecting His love, we can only expect His fearsome wrath and impartial judgment. Let us not test God’s patience and mercy, and repent quickly.
Romans 2:4 ESV Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
Psalm 7:11-12 ESV God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow;
Matthew 4:7 NIV Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
4. Make the Holy Spirit our best friend
No one in this world will be able to guide and protect us like God’s Spirit can. He will help us distinguish what is false wisdom from the world and what is God’s true wisdom and will for us. The Holy Spirit will also convict our hearts when we fall into sin, so we become aware of the need to repent.
John 16:8 ESV And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment
Yet too often, we listen to Satan and people, and drown out the Holy Spirit’s prompting. We do this to our own destruction.
1 Corinthians 2:9-11 ESV But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
Let us choose to listen only to the Holy Spirit and beware all the other voices from this world that will tell us otherwise. That includes pressure from our family, peers and work, remembering that all these relationships are temporary and do not exist in eternity.
5. Ask God to reveal the issues of our heart regularly
As sinful people, we inherently like to believe we are good. The biggest lies we tell ourselves include:
- “I’m doing fine.”
- “Look at how good I am doing. God must be pleased with me.”
- “I can handle this on my own.”
- “I’m doing what (I assume) God wants me to do.”
- “This good opportunity came along so I assume it must be from God.”
King David knew better than that, he regularly made time to be quiet before God and wait on Him. He prayed for God to search his heart and reveal anything that was offensive in him and asked God to lead him down the right path again. Let us make self-reflection, confession and repentance an ongoing habit.
Jeremiah 17:9-10 ESV The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
Psalm 139:23-24 ESV Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
6. Remember that God rejoices over you
God calls us to repent because He loves us and wants to restore us to a healthy relationship with Him. Let us remember that there is joy in heaven each time we repent, and repent with gladness.
Luke 15:10 ESV Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Q: What are the rewards for repentance?
God is generous and gracious. He promises to reward us when we turn our hearts back to Him in repentance. Not only will He hear and answer our prayers, He promises to prosper us and our families in numerous ways.
2 Chronicles 7:14-15 ESV if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.
Deuteronomy 28:11-13 NLT “The Lord will give you prosperity in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you, blessing you with many children, numerous livestock, and abundant crops. The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do. You will lend to many nations, but you will never need to borrow from them. If you listen to these commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today, and if you carefully obey them, the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you will always be on top and never at the bottom.
We will also experience the entire fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is the type of “fruit” that comes with repentance.
Matthew 3:8 ESV Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Q: What should our response be?
God has stern warnings for those who refuse to repent and continue to sin. It is terrifying to read all His decrees for the disobedient in Deuteronomy 28:15-67. Just as He is exceedingly generous to those who humbly follow Him, He also has exceedingly stern consequences for those who reject His loving guidance, in the hope that the distress we undergo will turn us away from sin.
2 Corinthians 7:9-11 MSG You let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from him. The result was all gain, no loss. Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets.
Too many people today see the church as a “personal development centre” and miss seeing God for who He truly is. We were never meant to live life on our own terms with a bit of self-help from the Bible, but to live the full, transformed life that God had planned for us. In order to way to live that radical new life from Jesus, we must first repent of our old selves. Without repentance, there is only spiritual death, both on earth and in heaven.
Before Jesus came to earth, God overlooked people’s ignorance. But after Jesus came with His message for all people to repent, we no longer have the luxury to say that we don’t know. There are no more excuses left. We have Jesus’ testimony, we have the Bible and we have the Holy Spirit.
Acts 17:30 ESV In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
Let us all repent and not test God’s patience any longer.