“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 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.”…
Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day— about 3,000 in all.
Have you ever changed your mind about something? What did it take for you to do that, especially if your previous belief was a strong one? For example, pretend you grew up in Alabama, cheering for the Tide, but then moved to Louisiana and became an LSU fan. Now that is changing your mind! Once your fan loyalty shifts, you begin going to LSU games, wearing LSU gear, shouting “Tiger bait” to Alabama fans, and so on. Funny example, I know, but follow with me. What you do flows naturally from the way you think. When your thinking changes, your behavior follows.
Luke records in the book of Acts how 3,000 people changed their minds, just like that former Crimson Tide fan did. The people listening to Peter preach about Jesus as Lord and Savior included Jews and people from other nations, all who deeply held certain personal and cultural beliefs. However, when they heard Peter preach, they felt deep conviction in their hearts that he was right and asked, “What must we do?” Keep in mind that no one was more adamant about their beliefs than the people listening to Peter. For them to ask, “What must we do?” was a huge deal. Peter told them to first change the way that they thought, and he used the word repentance to communicate his idea. Secondly, he told them to turn to God. We observe that changing behavior is important, but repentance begins with a change of heart.
To understand repentance, let’s start with what repentance is not:
- Repentance is not just feeling sorry for something we’ve done; that is guilt.
- Repentance is not just a one-time event; as followers of Christ, it actually happens throughout our lives.
- Repentance is not behavioral change alone, though actions certainly follow. Many people in the church talk about repentance as a 180 degree turn from sinful behavior alone; however, repentance is a transformed mind that is turned toward following Jesus and His ways. Have you ever asked someone to forgive you but begrudged doing it? Strange feeling, isn’t it? You know that your behavior does not line up with what you feel and believe in your heart. On the other hand, what about when you were deeply sorry for your actions and asked someone to forgive you? It is the same behavior (asking someone to forgive you), but it is more likely to produce lasting relational fruit because the apology came from your heart, the place of true repentance.
So what is repentance?
The Greek word for repentance is metanoeo. The word means to change the way that we think about something for good; to have a change of heart. The beauty of such a heart change is that it has lasting impact on our behavior and our lives. God doesn’t just help with momentary change; God, through the power of His Holy Spirit, empowers us for lasting life change. Let’s take a look at a few biblical references to repentance. The best place to start is with Jesus.
First, in the book of Luke, Jesus said, “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (5:32); and “You will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God” (13:3). Jesus was making the point that no one is righteous and all need to change the way they view both sin and God. Why? Because we are all sinners, and Jesus does not want anyone to perish. Jesus views sin as behavior that comes from a heart that loves other things or other people more than it loves God.
Take the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32), for example. The son left the father’s house, partly because he did not honor his father and partly because he did not understand his father’s love or his own position as a son. He got into a ton of trouble and eventually had to eat pig food because he wasted all his inheritance. It took the son hitting rock bottom before his thinking changed (that is, he repented). When he finally went home, his father accepted him with love and forgiveness.
What a great picture of God’s love for us, as well as the perfect picture of repentance! When we finally see how sin devastates our relationship with God and destroys our lives, we think differently (repent), and our behavior changes (we turn to God for salvation and a relationship with Him).
Like the prodigal son, in what areas of your life might you need to repent and turn back to God? What do you think God’s response to you will be?
A second example of repentance is found in Matthew 4:17. After overcoming some tough temptation from the devil, Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Repentance was central to Jesus’ message, and the command to think differently was for every person. So what was Jesus saying here in Matthew? He was saying, “Think differently about reality and turn to God because the very present power of God is right in front of you.” Wow! Think for a moment about any struggle you are currently facing. How has this struggle impacted your life? Jesus is saying that you should see God as the powerful, loving Father that He is and know that He wants to be present in your struggles. When you begin to see God for who He is, your struggles will begin to look different. As you see things differently, your behavior will begin to change. You will actually start seeking God before anything else—even a solution to your problem. Your life will begin to be organized by the power of His presence.
Take a moment and tell God that you want Him to be first in your life. Ask Him to give you His perspective on your life and on any struggle you are currently experiencing. As you repent, what behavioral changes might you expect to occur that you could not do or sustain on your own?
- Parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32)
- Think Differently Live Differently by Bob Hamp
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Note: As you watch, pay attention to Edmund’s changes in thinking and how that impacts his behavior.)
- “I Won’t Go Back” by William McDowell
- “Restore Me” by Anthony Evans