What do you think of when you hear the word “repentance?” Do you think of abrasive men with beards holding signs that say: “Turn or burn”? It is not uncommon for people, even Christians, to have a “bad taste in their mouths” regarding certain biblical words or concepts—and “repentance” is often at the top of the list. So let’s bring some clarity to this word that is actually a beautiful concept.
Repentance is not only a change in direction in terms of action but also a change in the orientation of the heart that results from regret over wrongdoing.
We don’t mean regret as in condemning ones-self to a state of hopelessness. Far from it! Repentance is actually spurred on by God’s kindness (Romans 2:4).
The example of the prodigal son enlivens this principle. The prodigal son had abandoned his family, his Jewish identity, and even his God in pursuit of a life of fleeting passions (see Luke 15:11-16). After coming to his senses, he decided that he would go back to his father (verses 17-18). This action of “coming to his senses” was his act of repentance.
Living our life on our own terms leads us away from God. Which, for some, may not seem all that bad at first. But the path that leads to God is not only the moral choice, it is also the life-giving choice. Consider the wisdom of Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death.” Jesus, however, offers us a “road that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14).
You can bet the prodigal son thought his way was just fine until he was fighting for the food of pigs, the lowest point for a Jewish boy. Fortunately, he didn’t wait until it was too late. As long as we have breath, we have a chance to respond to God’s mercy and change the course of direction.
The prodigal’s change of heart came from remembering the goodness of his father. He was banking on the fact that his father would receive him back as a slave. Instead, he was received as a son; a beloved son.
Like a GPS that gets us back on track, God’s grace is always able to re-direct our lives when we turn to Him in repentance.
When we repent we get our life back on track toward where God is leading us. The destination is not so much a place to be as it is a person to become. In the case of the prodigal, perhaps for the first time in his whole life, he actually began to live as a son of his father.
As a follower of Christ we are called to a lifestyle of repentance since we know that sin does not produce true life or the fruit of the Spirit. It is as Charles Spurgeon once said:
“Repentance grows as faith grows… it is a companion of faith.”
Thus, Spirit-led repentance serves to be our spiritual GPS, convicting us toward a better path, one that leads to true, abundant life (Matthew 7:13-13).
After all, God’s path is not the path of lesser delight:
You make known to me the path of life;you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. – Psalm 16:11
May repentance, like a GPS, continue to lead you home into the loving arms of the Father.