Some years ago, I did a word-study of the Greek word that is translated as “repent” in our English Bibles. As I result of this study, I came to a shocking conclusion: Most of us who call ourselves Christians, have NOT truly repented at all! This is mostly in part because of a mis-interpretation which has led to a misunderstanding, and therefore a misapplication the biblical concept of repentance.
Let me show you what I am talking about. When I was first introduced to the concept of repentance as a young Christian, I was taught that to repent means to be ‘godly sorrow for your sins.’ However, I would discover later on, that this definition is based on a faulty interpretation and misunderstanding of what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10. The apostle wrote: “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (KJV) Here are the same verses in one of the more recent versions; the ESV: “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Now, here’s the thing that most people have missed about what Paul said. Paul DID NOT SAY godly sorrow or godly grief ‘was’ repentance. He said godly sorrow or godly grief ‘works’ or ‘produces’ repentance! Godly sorrow/grief and repentance are two different concepts; they are not synonymous! They are not the same!
So, to feel sorry for your sins is not the same as repenting, it’s just feeling sorry for your sins! But, feeling sorry for your sins ought to produce repentance! Feeling sorry for your sins ought to lead you to the act of repenting. So, that brings us to the question: If being godly sorrow for your sins is not the same as repentance, then, what does it actually mean to repent? Well, the Greek word that is translated as ‘repent’ has as its primary meaning; to change one’s mind or the way one thinks. Therefore, to repent is to change your mind or to change your thought process; repentance is a change of mind! True repentance is a change in ‘what’ and ‘how’ one thinks! This change of mind will invariably lead to a change in action, behavior and life.
Jesus’ first recorded public declaration is found in Matthew 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (ESV) The Jewish people at that time were anxiously waiting for and anticipating the coming of the Kingdom of God (the rule, reign, and authority of God among his people on earth). What Jesus was essentially saying was this: “Quit thinking about the Kingdom of God in the future-tense and understand and live in view of the fact that the Kingdom of God has now arrived!” The message of Jesus for us today is for us to quit thinking of the Kingdom of God only as a place called Heaven in the future and start thinking of the Kingdom of God as a present reality!
Therefore, in view of what Jesus said, even most people who call themselves Christians still need to repent! Why? Because most Christians think of the Kingdom of God only as a place called Heaven, in the sweet by and by! But the message of Jesus is that the Kingdom of God is also a present reality on earth in the sour here and now! The message is: Repent! Quit thinking religion and start thinking Kingdom! We’ve got our hearts set on ‘going to Heaven,’ but Jesus told us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come!” We’re want to leave here and go there, but Jesus wants us to stay here, working and praying that the ‘there’ will come here! He prayed to his Father in the garden on the eve of his passion, concerning his disciples and us: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (Jn. 17:15 NIV) We need to repent, because we’ve been praying to the Father to get us out, while Jesus prayed to the Father to keep us in! We need to repent! We need to change our minds; we need to change our thought process! We’ve been thinking religion; but Jesus wasn’t about religion, Jesus was about the Kingdom! Jesus never told us to seek first religion; he told us to seek first the Kingdom! Religion is always about the past and the future ‘over there,’ but the Kingdom is primarily about in the present here! Religion allows evil to win in the present because of a faith in a future victory, but the Kingdom defeats the power of the enemy in the present and will ultimately destroy the enemy in the future! That’s why the enemy doesn’t mind us ‘having religion,’ because religion blinds us to the present reality of the Kingdom! The message to the church today is the same as the message Jesus proclaimed centuries ago: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” The Kingdom of God is not just pie-in-the-shy-when-you-die-by-and-by; the Kingdom is the present power and reality of God in the world right now! The Kingdom of God is not just later; the Kingdom of God is NOW AND LATER!