Churchy Words: Repent

Nearly every group, profession, guild, etc. has their own insider language which they understand amongst themselves, but sounds like gibberish to outsiders. Likewise, Christians have their own insider language which can sound really strange to new Christians and non-Christians alike. These “churchy words” are increasingly unfamiliar to a society that is no longer biblically literate and is largely secularized. 

In the past, people outside the church had a good idea of what Bible words meant, but this can no longer be assumed. We should also make no assumptions about the level of understanding within the church. New Christians who did not grow up in the church will not understand. Surprisingly, some people who have been in the church for decades may not understand either. When discussing spiritual matters we must adapt our language to terms everyone can understand.

Churchy Word: Repent

Repent, or repentance, is a word that simply isn’t used outside of church or a Bible study. Some Christians think it means to have regret or sorrow because of past sins. Such remorse may lead to repentance (2 Cor 7:10), and is therefore a related concept, but this isn’t really what the word means. In both the old and new testaments, the meaning of repentance is the same. To repent means to turn around, or change one’s mind

The general idea of repentance is that we realize we are on a path that is leading away from God and we make a u-turn so that we are heading in His direction. A person who has repented has decided that Jesus’s way is better than their own way. They have had a change of heart and mind. They have turned over a new leaf. 

Repentance always results in changed behavior

While repentance is something that happens inside our hearts and minds, it isn’t confined to our inner being. True repentance also produces an outward change. One’s outward behavior, speech, and manners will change for the positive. A penitent person (one who has repented) will have a desire to adopt God’s standards instead of standing in opposition and defiance to Him. 

Saul and David

Let’s consider two men who illustrate what repentance is and is not. Saul was appointed as ancient Israel’s first king. In time, Saul became arrogant, corrupt and paranoid. Due to Saul’s sins, God eventually rejected him and announced an end to his reign. What did Saul do to warrant this? 

By most measures, David’s sins were far worse with more serious consequences than anything Saul did. Yet, Saul was rejected by God from being king while God forgave David. What was the difference?

In 1 Samuel 13, Saul grew impatient while awaiting the prophet Samuel to arrive to offer a sacrifice. In his arrogance, Saul took it upon himself to perform the sacrifice which was not lawful for him to do. On another occasion, in 1 Samuel 15, Saul blatantly disobeyed God’s specific commandment regarding the spoils of battle and the capture of POWs. 

David also committed some serious errors. In 2 Samuel 11, David succumbed to temptation and lust when he happened to see a woman bathing. He summoned her to his presence, committed adultery with her and tried to cover it up. When he wasn’t able to conceal his sin, he successfully plotted to have the woman’s husband killed.

By most measures, David’s sins were far worse with more serious consequences than anything Saul did. Yet, Saul was rejected by God from being king while God forgave David (albeit with consequences)! What was the difference between these two men? What did God see in David that was lacking in Saul? It was repentance.

When Saul was confronted about his sins he offered lame excuses and never considered the rebuke he received as an opportunity to do better in the future. David, on the other hand, took full responsibility for his actions and admitted his guilt (2 Sam 12:13). His repentance was manifested by his fasting and seeking after God (2 Sam 12:16). 

Conclusion

To repent means to turn around, or change one’s mind. Genuine repentance is always associated with a positive change in behavior that can be seen by others. Obedience will be the result when a person turns to God. A change of heart and mind will also be accompanied by outward visible changes. If a person claims to have repented, but never changes his or her ways, then true repentance didn’t take place.