Repentance is such a loaded word, one that doesn’t mean much outside Christian circles and bears various meanings even within those circles. Like justification and propitiation, we know what repentance means but find that meaning hard to articulate.
Both John the Baptist and Jesus shouted over the crowds, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). Peter told a gathered crowd, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you…” (Acts 2:38). And Paul talked about a Godly sorrow that produces repentance, which in turn leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Repentance shows up in the Old Testament too, and Hosea gives us one of the best explanations of it in Hosea 14:1-3. This comes after all the very tangible imagery involving Hosea’s marriage to a prostitute, the weird naming of his children, and the many chapters of pleading with the people. All the way at the end of Hosea, this prophet supplies the people with an exact set of words to say. We know repentance is a turning (or a returning) that results in a lifestyle change. Hosea covers that in verse 1. Then take a look:
Take words with you
and return to the Lord.
Say to him:
“Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
that we may offer the fruit of our lips.
Assyria cannot save us;
we will not mount warhorses.
We will never again say ‘Our gods’
to what our own hands have made,
for in you the fatherless find compassion.” -Hosea 14:2-3
When we break it down, we find these six parts of repentance.
Ask for forgiveness. “Forgive all our sins”
Confession is the act
of agreeing with God
about our sin.
Repentance begins with an acknowledgement of our sinfulness, specifically yet comprehensively. We know that confession (the authentic plea for forgiveness) is the act of agreeing with God about our sin and sincerely desiring to remove it from our lives.
Request acceptance. “Receive us graciously”
Our sin separates us from God, so it’s necessary to ask for readmittance to His presence (even though, in another way, He never leaves us). It’s like saying, “May I please sit back down at the table with you?”
Deny outside sources of power. “Assyria cannot save us”
In our humanity, we tend to turn to tangible strengths: things we see and experience as powerful in the world. For the Israelites, it was a strong political entity. For us, it might be political or it might be financial, social, or some other aspect of life that makes us feel safe and valuable. In repentance, we say with the Psalmist, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7)!
Nothing will ever be more
trustworthy or more powerful
than the mere name of Yahweh!
Brief aside. Psalm 20:7 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, and I always feel the need to exclaim it (hence the exclamation mark above). Consider this: Chariots are man-made contraptions, the technological marvel of their day. Horses are a powerful part of nature that we can tame and teach. However, nothing ever invented or built by humanity—no technology, no machine, no application—nor anything existing in nature, whether we can tame it or not…nothing will ever be more trustworthy or more powerful than the mere name of Yahweh! Shout hallelujah with me, won’t you? And can we get some more exclamation marks up in here?!?!!!
Relinquish self-sufficiency. “We will not mount warhorses”
If we don’t look outward, we look inward to fulfill our needs when we’re in a state of sinfulness. We think we can overcome temptation on our own. We dig down deep, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, or invest our time/money in whatever fad promises quick and easy self-fulfillment this month. Letting go of self-sufficiency is part of full repentance.
Turn from idolatry. “We will never again say ‘Our gods’…”
Idolatry is almost always a factor in our sinfulness. When we prioritize anything above God, that thing or idea has become an idol. Some spend a lifetime building the ideal home, the business empire, or the dominant social network. As long as they look to those things for help or expect those things to supply their needs, they cannot truly repent.
Acknowledge God’s compassion. “in you the fatherless find compassion”
Allow Him to take over…
Finally, repentance reconnects us with God. It’s easy to fall into a cycle where we admit we’ve done wrong then ask for a chance to try again. No! That’s not repentance. Instead, He calls us to accept His gentle embrace and allow Him to take over, to be sovereign, to direct our inward and outward lives. Then, He has responded to our request for acceptance and we have completed the repentance process.
I know this is not the most exciting or funny blog post you’ve ever read, but sometimes we need to look at fundamental truths in different ways. Sometimes we need an Old Testament dose of prophetic bluntness to shake up our New Testament theology. What did you read here that helped you in your walk with God today? What have you read elsewhere that would be a good companion piece for this post? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.