Repentance: Changing for the Long-Term

Right before I started writing this, I was sitting at my desk eating spaghetti and scrolling Facebook. A quote was reposted that made me immediately stop and really think. It said, “We repent enough to be forgiven, but do we surrender enough to be changed?” That was a pretty stunning question as I reflect on my own life.

Think Break:

  • What is repentance? (Don’t be afraid to look it up!)
  • What does it look like in real life?

The Starting Line of Repentance            

 Personally, I like to explain repentance as a change we make in our hearts that changes our inward and outward decisions. Jesus says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:18–20). It is apparent that the root of our sinfulness is found in our hearts; that’s where all our thoughts, words, and actions first form–anything we do starts in our hearts. Thus, what needs fixing first is our heart. Our heart is the starting line of repentance.

When I was in college, the last dorm I lived in developed a leak in the roof. One night it rained especially hard and caused a huge spot on the ceiling to drip onto the desk and carpet below. What logically needed fixing first? No doubt, the source of the consequent problems. The roof had to be addressed first. If not, another rainstorm would just undo any progress made on the ceiling, desk, or carpet. When it comes to repentance, we must always address the root of the issue. Meeting Jesus, growing to appreciate Him, and seeing the hope for being saved should all motivate us to change who we are, not just what we do. Real repentance starts in our hearts.

Repentance is a Necessity

In the very first Gospel sermon, the Apostle Peter demanded repentance and baptism in order for our sins to be forgiven (Acts 2:38). We often connect this passage with the necessity of being baptized, but there is also a necessity to repent! We shouldn’t overlook that Peter had just done some repenting himself. Famously, he was the disciple who had denied Lord Jesus before His death (Luke 22:54–62). But 2 chapters later, Peter is with the apostles when they were told of the risen Christ (Luke 24:10–12). There was an obvious change in Peter from the denial scene to the resurrection scene. Even according to history, Peter would be a faithful witness for Christ for the rest of his life.

One of the sayings that seems to blur this much-needed repentance is “Come to Jesus as you are.” Yes, we should come to Jesus despite our sinfulness, our brokenness, our weakness, and our disparity. That’s literally the power of the Gospel. We cannot fix ourselves and must come humbly before God with our broken, messy lives so that He can repair and heal our souls through the sacrifice and blood of Jesus. Howeveralthough we come broken and sinful to Jesus, we can’t stay that way. That’s part of Paul’s message in Romans 6:1–2, we cannot continue in sin simply because of the grace offered by our Savior. Repentance comes into play as we make a choice to undergo major changes in our hearts as we prepare to give ourselves over to Jesus Christ. 

What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 6:1-2

Reflection: Are there things in my life that I need to change my heart toward?

Repentance: Determining to be Better

Having given some thought to repentance and its necessity, let’s think again about that quote that started this whole discussion:

“We repent enough to be forgiven, but do we surrender enough to be changed?”

The second part of this reflects on the need for ongoing change and spiritual development in our lives. I think it begs the question “Am I really changing my heart enough for this to be a long-term relationship with Christ?” You can change your behavior for a bit, but to change your heart takes real time, reflection, and motivation. Think about the person who is trying to give up a bad habit. Take smoking for example: the quitting smoker may go a few days without a cigarette, but to quit for good– to become a non-smoker, they must make some deep decisions that they do not even want to smoke anymore. It is only when our choices are seated in our hearts that our behaviors last.

Surrendering to Jesus

One of the hardest questions we can ask (even harder to answer) is about who our hearts actually belong to. The question is not whether we can act right. Instead the question is if our hearts belong to Jesus enough that we don’t want to act wrong. Sustained spiritual change can only be brought on when we actively give ourselves–and that means every bit of ourselves–to the reign and rule of Christ in our hearts.

Thankfully, this is not all our doing. God jealously longs for us (James 4:5) and rewards those who seek Him. Our Lord is cheering us on in our journey to live life in Him! He desperately wants our success to the point that He paid for our spiritual healing by the precious blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:18–19). But God doesn’t want a part of you and me. He wants everything we are. He wants our unceasing dedication. He desires every part of our heart and soul be surrendered to Him and His will.

Questions to End:

1. What am I currently working to repent of (to change)?

2. Which part of my life do I struggle to surrender to Jesus?

3. How would my life be blessed/better if I could surrender that piece to God?

More Related Devotionals:

Poor in Spirit? No Thank You!

Jonah and the Big Fish

Why Mourn? A look at Matthew 5:4

Other Resources on Repentance:

Cross Talk Podcast

Christian Courier

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