Sunday, June 11, 2006


Those whom I love I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.

(Rev. 3:19 – NASB)

What does the word “repent” mean to you? Is it that ecstatic moment when someone finally “sees the light”? Perhaps it’s something reserved for penitent monks. Maybe the word makes you think of some of the more ugly caricatures of Christianity. Whatever the word means to you, it’s something every Christian has heard often enough but not so many really understand. In fact, a review of how the word “repent” is used in the Bible would probably only confuse the matter. To see what I mean, grab a King James Bible and turn to Genesis 6:6:

And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

Did you know that in the Old Testament, the majority of the time that repentance is mentioned, it’s God who’s doing the repenting?

This is another one of those verses that can worry Christians. After all, what does this mean? Is God somehow not perfect or sovereign? Is He prone to making mistakes? Really, issues like this are usually easily resolved by simply observing the three C’s of biblical interpretation:

  1. Context.
  2. Context.
  3. Context.

In this case, the problem occurs when we read the New Testament concept of repentance into an Old Testament occurrence. In reality, the Old Testament uses two different Hebrew words for “repent”. One is largely reserved for God regretting or choosing to change His actions (like in Genesis 6:6). The other is reserved for Israel turning from sin and back to God (like in Ezekiel 14:6). To illustrate, when a Christian repents of their sin, a sign they’ve truly repented is that they no longer commit that sin. So in the case of Genesis 6:6, when God repented of making humankind, He should have quit making humankind, right?

In other translations, the verse is better rendered, “God regretted making man”. God didn’t make a mistake, but He took a risk when He gave us a free will. His repentance reflected the risk He took, not the inherent morality of His creating man. I find it especially interesting that when God repented of making man, rather than destroying mankind, He redeemed it. That's something you can't do with sin.

Now let’s take a closer look at the New Testament concept of repentance.

And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’

And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’

(Luke 13:6-9 – NASB)

Parables are loose allegories. That is, the parable demonstrates a spiritual truth, though not every element necessarily means something. Here’s some questions to ponder:

  • Who is the vineyard owner?
  • Who is the vineyard-keeper?
  • Who or what does the tree represent?
  • Who or what does the fertilizer represent?

If you’ve followed closely, there should be one big point about repentance that comes out of all of this: True repentance (which leads to salvation) bears good fruit. It's inevitable. However, there seems to be a common misconception that if a Christian repents, God will somehow magically change their lifestyle, habits, and / or behaviors. I won't say that deson't happen, but it's fairly obvious that is not a common reality for most of us. Review the key verse of this study, Revelation 3:19:

Those whom I love I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.

The first half of that verse is a warning. The second half is a command. Jesus warns that a Christian will inevitably be convicted of sinful behavior (reproved) and may eventually be made to pay for it (disciplined). Thus, Christians are to “be zealous and repent”.

So, how does one repent zealously (or earnestly)? Does that mean just being really, really, really, really, really sorry for what you’ve done and promising God (cross your heart and hope to die) that you’ll never do it again?

Let me give you an example of what I think it means:

A couple years ago, I changed jobs at my place of employment. It was a big transition for me. One of the things that made the transition especially difficult was one of my new coworkers. I can honestly say that I’ve never met someone with whom I had a serious “personality conflict”. Nevertheless, this was the case with my new coworker - everything he said or did drove me nuts. To make matters worse, I did little to hide my distaste for him and it led to an inevitable (and embarrassing) argument arbitrated by our boss.

It finally sunk in that these things happened because I simply refused to give any ground. Granted, my coworker could have done the same, but in my opinion, the first to recognize the need for compromise is obligated to do it. Anyway, from that point on, I swore I would do what I could to make things run as smoothly as possible. But that was only the first step.

You see, once I “repented” of my bad attitude and realized I needed to do what I could to keep things running smoothly, grinning and bearing my coworker’s abrasive personality wasn’t enough. I had to be aggressive (or zealous) about my repentance. Rather than simply being nice to the guy when he spoke to me, I went out of my way to talk to him. I got to know him more as a person than an annoying coworker and in the end, not only did I actually like my coworker (in spite of his faults), but I even earned the opportunity to witness to him. But it was hard work. Not only did I have to put my pride aside, but I had to go out of my way to be friendly and sociable – not something I’m given to do even with people I like!

The very heart of repentance was summed up succinctly in a lecture by Ravi Zacharias:

Be ruthless with your sin.

Repentance begins an all-out, cut-throat, take-no-prisoners war. Either you master your sin, or it will master you - be it a critical attitude or an addiction to pornography. But don't think that by losing a battle with your sin that you've lost the war. The greater experience in this area says that mastering your sin actually involves avoiding battles, rather than gritting your teeth and trying to win them. In the case of my coworker, by going out of my way to be kind to him, my attitude eventually changed and I won the war simply because I no longer had to battle with the urge to argue with him. In a sense, I won the war by default - no contest.

Remember, this is not about just rejecting sins or trying to avoid sinful behavior. Repentance is an aggressive attack on the sins that enslave us. It’s actively counter-acting the poisonous behaviors that not only keep us from intimacy with God, but also from making a positive impact in the world around us.

Until next week.


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