How to Become a Christian: Chapter 14 - Step one - repent

Repentance involves turning around and changing

However, repentance is even more than just acknowledging our sin, feeling sorry about it and genuinely apologising to God.  It also involves a definite decision to turn away from our sin.  That does not mean that we must never sin again, or that if we do ever sin again then we have not genuinely repented.  

Nobody can manage not to sin ever again. The fact is that we will carry on sinning until the day we die, even if we do genuinely repent.  What is meant is that at the point of your repentance you must genuinely resolve to yourself that you will reject sin and aim to turn away from it and tochange your life, with God’s help. 

Salvation is by God's grace, through faith.  However, real faith and real repentance always produce a changed life and changed conduct.  Thus, although we are not saved by our good deeds or our changed life, a truly saved person will always go on to change in their attitudes and conduct and to “bear fruit”.  That is why Jesus said “you will know them by their fruit”.  

Look at how James explains it.  This passage from James is relevant to both repentance and faith.  For each of these, God will judge the genuineness of it by what we do, not what we say:

14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  

18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds. "Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.  James 2:14-19 (NIV)

See also what the prophet Ezekiel says.  In this passage he is speaking directly on God’s behalf, i.e. voicing God’s words to Israel and to us.  Again, it is made clear that the genuineness of our repentance will be shown by what we do and by what we get rid of in our lives:

30"Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!                          Ezekiel 18:30-32 (NIV)

God wants us to actually change, in our actions and in our heart attitudes.  The responsibility is on us to want that change and to seek to do what God wants instead of what we have been doing previously.  Repentance needs to be seen much more as something we do, rather than just something we say.  Look how John the Baptist expressed this point.  He didn’t mince his words:

 7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.                              Matthew 3:7-10 (NIV)

The key phrase John the Baptist used was that we must “bear fruit”.  That is that our repentance must be evidenced by a changed life. That means that we stop doing certain things and start doing other things, in such a way and to such an extent, that it is apparent to others.  If your repentance does not produce any “fruit” then John the Baptist would not view it as valid or real.

Don’t be “stiff necked” or stubborn about repenting

Do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were; submit to the LORD. Come to the sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever. Serve the LORD your God, so that his fierce anger will turn away from you.    2 Chronicles 30:8 (NIV)

Often, the greatest obstacle to repentance, besides pride, is stubbornness.  We can know that we are wrong or sinful but refuse to admit it.  Don’t be like that.  When you know something is true about yourself, just admit it to God and repent of it.  If you are willing to humble yourself and repent in that way, then God will hear you and respond to you graciously:

Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD.
  2 Chronicles 34:27 (NIV)

Also, we need to remember that God wants us to change not only in our actions, but in our reactions. We are answerable for how we react to the things others do and to sins committed against us.  Even then, in fact especially then,  God expects us to show restraint and self-control, not to lash out in rage and fury.

So, look at that in yourself and ask whether, when under pressure, or facing provocation, you lash out and lose your self-control.  Or, do you keep your temper and respond in a reasonable way?  It is a good litmus test.  Remember that just because someone has wronged you, it doesn't mean you are free to react in any way you wish.  You are always responsible, both for your actions and your reactions.

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