Repentance - What Is It?

By: Peter Youngren
From: September - October 2011
Found in: The Gospel of Grace
Part 3 of a series from Luke 15. What is repentance and how does true repentance come?

A lifestyle or a Life

The Pharisees viewed repentance as changed behavior; to stop doing certain “sinful” things and begin doing other “holier” things.  To stop breaking God’s commandments and instead begin to follow them the best you can was the essence of their religion.  Unfortunately the Pharisees definition of repentance is much the same held by many Christians today – stop drinking, smoking, cursing, lying and instead begin to read your Bible, pray and begin to go to church.  Repentance then becomes something that has to do with our exterior and with our works, instead of turning from our “dead works” [Hebrews 6:1] to Jesus. Christianity becomes a new lifestyle, instead of Him, who is life - Jesus Christ Himself.

Christianity becomes a new lifestyle, instead of Him, who is life - Jesus Christ Himself.

Accept your acceptance

The moment of repentance for the prodigal son was not when he “came to himself” because when we come to ourselves we only find ourselves.  Even when the father ran towards the son, he continued to repeat his own ideas - he was going to pay off his debt to his father; he was going to correct the wrong and make everything right.  The father never commanded his son to stop his rehearsed speech but instead he embraced him with continued kisses and hugs.  Finally the prodigal son becomes silent – no more suggestion on what he himself is going to do but instead he accepts his acceptance from the father.

Finally the prodigal son becomes silent – no more suggestion on what he himself is going to do but instead he accepts his acceptance from the father.

That’s it: accept your acceptance.

The prodigal accepted the father’s love and was restored, not because of anything he had done, but simply because he was a son and loved because of who he is.  This is the real moment of repentance.  The prodigal surrenders his own performance and accepts the love that has been relentlessly seeking for him.

True repentance

How do we view repentance?  Is it about outward changes?  Is it about stopping and starting certain activities?  Give up one habit and create a new one instead? 

Is repentance about you pulling yourself up by your boot straps, to try harder to become a good Christian.  No, true repentance happens when we allow God’s love to embrace us, and we accept that we are accepted in Jesus Christ and loved by our creator.

Repentance has to do with a change of thinking.  The Greek word is “metanoia” which means to “change your mind” or “change your thinking.” We stop thinking that we ourselves must make everything right; that we are going to restore what we have damaged.  Instead, we receive the free love and grace that is offered to us by our heavenly Father.
A changed lifestyle and good works, which are necessary because we are created for “good works” [Eph 2:10], come only as a result of accepting our acceptance in Jesus Christ.
 

How to preach repentance

How do you preach repentance?  In Luke 15, Jesus uses the very word repentance more than any other place.  He clearly says that the story of the good shepherd and the lost sheep is about repentance.  In which way did the sheep repent?  Was the sheep truly and seriously sorrowful that it had walked away?  We are not even sure if the sheep knew that it was lost.  The repentance of the sheep was simply that it accepted its position on the shoulders of the good shepherd.  The sheep was now totally identified with its shepherd.

true repentance happens when we allow God’s love to embrace us, and we accept that we are accepted in Jesus Christ and loved by our creator.


Jesus says that the story of the woman who lost her silver coin is a picture of repentance.  In which way did the coin repent?  Undoubtedly this was a coin common to the Middle Eastern woman who would carry a necklace with coins.  In the case of the woman in Luke 15, she had 10 coins in her necklace and one was lost.  The necklace was now incomplete; something was wrong, out of place. When she finally found the coin everything was restored as it was intended from the beginning.  The coin simply accepted its place in the necklace.  Repentance is accepting the love that God has shown us through Jesus Christ. 
You may be questioning: What about living right, doing right and living holy? That all comes after our repentance from our dead efforts and dead works.  Good works are the result of the new life we received in our restored position. 

By: Peter Youngren

As founder of World Impact Ministries, Celebration Bible College, Way of Peace and the Celebration Churches in Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara, Canada, Peter is committed to equipping believers to fulfill their purpose before the return of Jesus Christ.

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