Repentance Cannot Be Half-Way

by Bill Denton

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).

Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement; he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. This process of surrender—this movement full-speed astern—is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.”—C. S. Lewis (1898-1963).

There is a mistaken view running around in the minds of many Christians. It’s the view that repentance is being sorry for sin, apologizing for things done wrong, and seeking forgiveness. None of those things should be criticized, but none of them is repentance.

Repentance is a change of mind. It is an inner turning of thought, desires, and will away from sin and toward that which is godly. It is a turning away from the world‚ and turning to God, but it is a conscious, purposeful act. No one repents by accident, and no one repents who fails to change his mind.

But it is not enough to say that repentance is a change of mind, for an effective change of mind has an obvious and outward result. A man or woman who changes his or her mind about involvement in some sin, cannot continue to think about that sin in the old way. That which did not seem to bother them before, now becomes an intense source of guilt. Behavior that previously was ignored, defended, excused, justified, now becomes behavior that simply will not do. People who repent are people who learn how to act differently.

It is this understanding of repentance that many in our modern world do not grasp. Too many who claim to wear the name of Jesus seem to think that such a claim has no practical claim on their lives. No wonder so many Christians are weak-kneed, struggling,  and faithless people.

Repentance does not mean that a sin committed previously will never rear its ugly head again. It does mean that many of the practices of life are no longer acceptable. It means that the person has a whole new mindset about those things. It means that there is a conscious effort to change. It means there is a purposeful effort to live a different way, do different things.

John the Baptist put it bluntly to those who came to be baptized, but who didn’t  understand exactly what it was he called them to. “Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham’” (Luke 3:8). Today’s analogy would be those who say, “But I’m a Christian,” only to continue behaving in unacceptable ways.

The call to repent is a call to change, beginning with the mind and ending with actions.

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© Copyright 2002, Dr. Bill Denton

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