“There is nothing permanent except change,” the Greek philosopher Heraclitus allegedly said in the sixth century b.c. Mankind lives in a world that is in a constant state of flux. Perpetual changes around us affect our everyday life and our thinking. Progressives want changes away from what has been an established norm while conservatives want to change back to the way things were. Man never seems to be satisfied with the status quo, except in one area: his personal frame of mind. And yet that is the area in which we all need to change.
In his own eyes, every man is right. On occasion people may try to break some nasty habit. Many make “New Year’s resolutions” to break a bad habit or to establish a good one. They would like to change. All too often, however, those intentions are broken within weeks and people fall back into their same old ways. Why is that? It is because they simply do not know how to change or are unwilling to put forth the necessary effort to change.
People may talk about change, but few understand what real change is.
The biblical term for change is repentance. It is at the heart and core of the Christian life. Yet only a minute few who profess Christianity are actually prepared to change and amend their ways, their thoughts and who they are.
Is seeking change, or repenting, a bygone notion? Many consider repentance an archaic concept defined only in Bible dictionaries or outdated literature. It is something to consider on your deathbed or a concept you profess to satisfy your minister or grandparents.
Our generation believes we need change, but scoffs at the word repentance.
A Society on the Brink of Extinction
Man is wrapped up in a society formed by human beings deeply concerned about the perceptions and opinions of other people. Much time is spent, especially among youth, molding an image that is looked upon as favorable by others. Many people are ensnared by the trap of conformity
to what’s popular. Society is shaped by radical changes that are bullying people into conformity. Selfishness and human vanity drive individuals to seek the respect and acclaim of other people. But Christians are told to come out of this world.
Repentance is a desperate need today. There is a greater need for sincere, heartfelt, worldwide repentance than at any other time in man’s history.
Jesus Christ began His ministry by issuing the command to “[R]epent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
Terrible times are just around the corner, and only our individual, personal commitment to change, to let God lead us to true repentance, will spare us from those horrific times.
The Apostle Paul asked the brethren in Judea: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (Hebrews 2:3). To escape the corruption of this world and the Tribulation it is about to experience, God commands that we not neglect our salvation. We need to cling to the things we are taught from God and implement them in our lives. That requires change. To the Corinth congregation, Paul wrote that “godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Such godly sorrow is the profound realization that our personal sins caused the death of the innocent, spotless Son of God. Ignoring that certainly would be the ultimate neglect. Let’s make sure we don’t fail to properly repent. Salvation is at stake!
To the modern nations of Israel, God pleads: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11). God wants people to change! Failure to repent will result in death.
Paul expanded on this while addressing the Gentiles in Athens. He stated that God “now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30). Everyone is commanded by God to repent. Our fleshly, carnal minds stand in the way of making the changes needed to live the happy, abundant way of life.
Let’s understand what repentance truly is and how we can repent.
To repent means much more than to feel regret or contrition. It is not an emotion, but an action. It means turning from sin and dedicating yourself to amend your life—to turn around, to make an about-face. It requires a complete and unconditional surrender of the self! It denotes changing everything about us, including the way we dress, speak, act and think. It requires rooting out any preconceived ideas about who we are and who and what God is.
Have you ever experienced such a change of mind, outlook and direction? If not, you may not have experienced true repentance.
Not only does repentance include a profound sorrow for wrong deeds we have committed, but it requires turning to God without reservation. Only He can change us. Repentance means removing obstacles we put in the way of this accomplishment. Those barriers may be found in our thought processes. Repentance means turning from sin and to God in unconditional surrender.
This turn from sin and to the ways of righteousness will cause us to hate sin the way God hates sin. To repent then, is to hate what you are and to learn to love God and all He stands for.
Obey the Letter of the Law
To experience true repentance, a man must repent of breaking the letter of God’s law. God codified that law in the Ten Commandments, 10 principles that would drastically change our world if everyone obeyed them.
For example, if you have ever exaggerated, stretched the truth, told “a little white lie,” falsified your income tax return, falsely accused someone, committed perjury or false witness of any sort, you have broken the letter of God’s Ninth Commandment.
To repent means you must not only be sorrowful, but you must stop breaking the letter of this law. Stop falsifying your tax return, stop exaggerating or coloring. Stop lying or falsely accusing others. Stop every act that breaks the letter of this point of God’s holy and righteous law.
Apply the same rigorous determination in keeping all the other laws God has given us.
What’s more, we have to replace that lawless behavior with the righteous opposite (Ephesians 4:25). Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages: “Repentance means a change of mind. Godly sorrow is a much deeper sorrow than remorse. And godly sorrow leads to repentance. It involves not only heartfelt sorrow for past sins, but a total change of attitude, of mind and direction and purpose of life. Actually, repentance is more concerned with future conduct than the past.”
It requires that we know every one of the commandments God gave to man and begin to live by them. Abiding by this law is the cause of happiness and abundant life. We must change from our way to God’s way. Even in this age of lawlessness, you can do it by the power of God’s Spirit.
But obeying the letter of the law is not enough!
Obey the Spirit of the Law
Repentance also means you must stop breaking the spirit of God’s law. What does that mean?
God’s law is a spiritual law that is holy, just and good (Romans 7:12, 14). Jesus Christ Himself stated that the purpose of His coming was not “to destroy the law … but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17). The Greek word translated fulfill means to “fully preach,” to “level up,” or to “make full.” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states it can mean “to fill up,” “to cause to abound,” “to flood,” or “to diffuse throughout one’s [life].” How pervasive is God’s law in your life? Is it confined to the letter of the law?
Christ was prophesied to “magnify the law, and make it honourable” (Isaiah 42:21). He did not come to do away with
the law; instead He made it more applicable than ever. Jesus Christ came to reveal the spiritual application of this holy, just and good law. In both His life and teaching, He showed what it means to keep the law of God in the spirit. He clearly taught and revealed that we should not only repent of breaking the letter of the law, but also of breaking the spirit, or intent. This is made clear in Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28.
Perhaps you haven’t broken the letter of the law, but you may have committed murder or adultery in your mind and thus broken the spirit of the law. That is what the Prophet Isaiah meant by the magnification of the law. Not having murdered anyone or committed adultery with someone does not mean you have no need to repent of breaking those specific commandments.
If you have been uncontrollably angry, filled with jealousy, envy or lust, you may well have disobeyed the spirit of the law. Consider your thoughts and see the need for repentance. Any form of disobeying either the letter or the spirit of God’s law is sin and ends in death.
Still, obeying the letter and spirit of the law is not enough!
Change Who You Are
According to God’s standards, we are less than nothing and our righteousness is despicable (Isaiah 40:17; 64:6). In our best state, we are nothing more than vanity (Psalm 39:5). The Prophet Jeremiah noted that our minds are “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Another way of putting it is to say that our minds are incurably sick, that our thoughts are so evil, depraved and dangerous that, unless repented of, they lead to eternal death!
Realize just how deceitful and evil man is, not just specific individuals but every human being. By nature we are all foul, evil and despicable. The Apostle Paul recognized this fact: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing …” (Romans 7:18).
Even righteous Job was so blinded by his deceitful mind that he developed a serious self-righteousness problem. His problem was not in what he did, or even in his thoughts, as much as it was in what he was.
After God’s severe corrections, Job finally admitted: “I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. … [B]ut now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-3,5-6). Job didn’t only abhor his thoughts and actions, he abhorred himself. We too have to come to this point where we see ourselves for who we truly are. Are you able to utter with resolute conviction: “I abhor myself”?
Job’s repentance centered around seeing himself the way God saw him. All of us have to repent of what we are! Unless we have come to the point where we abhor ourselves and repent of who we are, we simply haven’t experienced true repentance.
Real repentance is an experience that hammers home to us that we haven’t just done wrong, but that we are wrong (Psalm 51:5).
King David struggled with many temptations throughout his life, but he knew how to repent before God. When he sinned, he knew that he was sinning against God (verse 4). It was God’s law that he transgressed, and he needed deep and true repentance. We can learn the key to righteousness from David’s example. The great beauty to David’s life is how he mastered repentance. Gerald Flurry points out the significance of this: “David made some serious mistakes in his life, but he did not get caught up in foolish human reasoning to avoid repenting! When God sent a prophet to correct him, David didn’t argue. He repented! True repentance is the most noble and royal attitude any human being can learn.
“God described David as ‘a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will’ (Acts 13:22). David did all of God’s will. Whatever God asked of him, David did everything possible to do. Not 80 percent of it, or 90 percent—not even 99 percent of God’s will. David strived with all his heart to do 100 percent! That is quite an attitude. He sang for God—he danced for God—he dressed for God—he served for God. It was all for God!
“That beautiful attitude has a lot to do with the key of David. God calls this glorious, all-encompassing vision ‘the key of David’ because this is the profound understanding He wants all of us to have!” (The Key of David).
True repentance is toward God and includes the heartbroken desire to give ourselves over to God. It must include seeing yourself, abhorring yourself, and repenting of self. That is not something we can do by comparing ourselves to others. Only when we see how far short we fall from the perfect standard set by God can we begin to see just how wretched we are. That is not something we can see on our own. To be changed in true conversion requires our willingness to allow God to refashion us as He sees fit.
Mr. Flurry describes the process of true repentance, drawing on David’s example in Psalm 51: “It’s not enough to pretend we are thinking in the right way. It must be who we are, to our core. This is the lesson God was teaching David. Compare yourself to others and you may think, Hey, I’m not doing so bad. But compare yourself with God, and you’ll truly know repentance. The goodness of God leads us to repentance” (How to Be an Overcomer).
You can read more on this topic by ordering a free copy of this booklet.
If we are truly repentant, we will worry about our personal standing with God, not our standing with anyone else. Do we look for God’s goodness to fill us? Do we exhibit a resolve to change? That will require conviction, purpose and determination.
“[T]he goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance,” Paul wrote in Romans 2:4. Even the desire to repent must come from God. We cannot, of our own volition, surrender to God and change unless He first works in our mind. God must help us pass from darkness to light, from death to life.
Not a One-Time Event
Repentance is not a one-time event. Instead, it is an active, ongoing, dynamic process throughout a person’s natural life. Even after sincere repentance, we have to continue to let God change us every time we stumble and fall. Will we let God lead us to follow His ways in everything? Jesus Christ admonished us to become perfect (Matthew 5:48). That cannot be attained all at once—it requires constant effort throughout our life.
In moments of weakness or carelessness, we will sin again. Then we must again repent and ask our heavenly Father to allow the precious blood of Jesus Christ to cover our transgression (1 John 1:8-9).
A deeply sorry, broken-up individual will eagerly seek God’s forgiveness immediately upon the realization of his crime. Disgusted with himself, he desires to be completely absolved of guilt. David likened this reaction to the longing of a thirsty land devoid of water (Psalm 63:1-4). Even in the darkest chapter of his life, David found that true relief only comes from real repentance.
For King David, that relief was the impetus to energetically storm out, bursting with renewed zeal and determination to revenge all his disobedience (2 Corinthians 10:6).
How about us? When confronted with our sins, do we still retain sovereignty over part of our inner nature? Do we still carnally reason from our viewpoint? Do we express our desire for change, only to go on our merry way as if nothing has happened? Or will we, like David, plead with God to create a new heart in us, and then rejoice in God’s mercy to stir us on to further change, deeper change, permanent change?
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2). God says we must undergo a transformation, a change of mind! This means a change from the carnal, natural mind of man to the divine mind of God. It means to look at sin the way God does, to abhor sin the way God does, and to be revolted by the thought of sin the way God is.
Our willingness to admit, our honesty to confess, and our humility to agree that we not only have done wrong but that we are wrong, is the first step in such true repentance.