Repentance and redemption are two inseparable elements. Repentance is the constant message of the Old Covenant prophets. John the Baptist repeats the call. Jesus confirms the same. By default, the sons and daughters of Adam are in rebellion against God and only a complete turn-about of the mind and heart can bring reconciliation. It is a subject vital to our salvation that demands our attention.
It is initiated by the Spirit of God working in our hearts. Romans 2:4 – “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” John 6:44 – “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.”
However, it is only experienced as we realize our depraved, helpless condition and believe in Jesus Christ. Acts, 16:31 – “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”
The spirit of repentance is to continue after conversion. Revelation 2:5 – “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” When the Spirit of God points out sin in our lives, again our hearts need to grieve and be turned around in agreement with God.
One of the most dramatic portrayals of true repentance found in the Bible is the story of the prodigal. After “living it up” and wasting his inheritance, he fully realized that nobody was to blame for his sad state but himself. He remembered the good character of his father and his care even for the hired servants of the household. Realizing that he had forfeited his rights as a son by his sin, he sought the mercy of his father by asking to be a hired servant. There was no sense of entitlement but rather a realization that mercy was his only hope.
After numbering his troops, David is an example of one who takes full responsibility for his sin in repentance. 2 Samuel 24:17 – “And David spake unto the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house.”
True repentance also recognizes there are earthly consequences even for forgiven sin. Moses submitted to God’s verdict that he could not enter the Promised Land.
The notorious Manasseh is an example of the change of mind and behavior that accompanies repentance. Once a murderous idolater, the testimony of his humbled heart is recorded in 2 Chronicles 33:15 – “And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the LORD, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the LORD, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. And he repaired the altar of the LORD, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel.”
The Scripture has examples as well of cosmetic, false repentances. Balaam used to leave me puzzled as to why he was portrayed as the epitome of evil. On first glance he appeared as a man in touch with God who realized that he could not go beyond the word of the Lord. Later I discovered that the Bible has repeated references about him that disclose his true heart. So intent was he in receiving a promised financial reward from Balak for cursing the Israelites that when God prevented him from doing this he schemed to cause them to fall into God’s disfavour by seducing them to sin with Moabitish women. Earlier, when he met the angel who was about to kill him but spare his donkey he seemed repentant: Numbers 22:33 – “And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive. And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.” His later conduct shows that he was only sorry that his sin got him into trouble but his heart had not changed.
Another Biblical character who initially left me puzzled was King Saul. I wondered why what seemed like such a minor infraction had such dire consequences. Again, a closer examination of the account clarifies what was really in the man’s heart. Even after having received an initial anointing of the Spirit to enable him to perform the responsibilities of a king, he seemed fearful and out of touch with God. Then by taking it upon himself to offer the sacrifice which only a priest was to do, he showed an inflated view of his position as king. This was confirmed after his battle with the Amalekites when he willfully disobeyed God’s command and then proceeded to build a monument to himself. He failed to take responsibility for his sin when Samuel confronted him, shifting blame on others and attempting to pull the wool over Samuel’s eyes regarding his disobedience. This hardening of his heart to the Spirit of God had dire consequences, causing the Spirit to leave him and opening the way for an evil spirit to enter. Later in his life it became apparent that he never accepted the consequences of his sin. God had taken away from him the right of having his descendants occupy the royal throne. In rebellion against God he tried to kill David who was chosen to be his successor. True repentance would have at least allowed the remainder of his life to be honourable.
The time to repent is when the Spirit of God calls. Hebrews 3:15 – “While it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.” When the heart is hardened and the Spirit ceases to call, it is no longer possible to turn around. May we avail ourselves of this gracious provision to enter the place of God’s favour!