What is Repentance, Exactly?

In this week's sermon, Adam discussed how joy is found in repentance. In one Gathering, he explained six characteristics of repentance, but had to cut them in all other Gatherings for time's sake. We've taken time to explain the six characteristics in the blog post below, or you can listen to the sermon in its entirety (with the six characteristics) here.

We don't use the word repentance often in our culture. Not many of us have been caught saying "Oh, I made a wrong turn. I better repent here so that I can turn on Main Street." And often, repentance only gets mentioned by religious people when they're holding up signs or yelling on street corners. So we thought it good to take some time in this post to discuss what repentance actually is.

Repentance is...

  1. Agreeing with God about our sin. After King David impregnates another man's wife, and then has her husband killed (which sort of sounds like an episode of Jerry Springer, but worse), he wrote Psalm 51, where he says "for I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment." Did you hear what David calls it? Sin. He doesn't call it a character flaw or an accident. He doesn't blame it on his personality or the way he was born, or on other people. When we sin, we call it sin, because that's what it is.
  2. God-centered. Repentance is more than just "I feel bad." Anyone can regret a bind their sin has gotten them in, or negative consequences about their sin. But repentance sees our sin primarily as against God, not just as a bad choice that brought unwanted consequences.
  3. Deals with the heart, not just the action.  The opposite of sin isn't virtue–it's faith. If sin is just doing something wrong, then all we'd need to do to repent is do something right. But sin at its core is failing to make Jesus our ultimate treasure. So repentance seeks to place Jesus back in his rightful place–not just change external action.
  4. Includes confession. A wildly popular thought goes something like this: "I don't have to answer to anyone except myself and God." The only problem with that is the Bible. Repentance necessarily requires confessing to other believers, because that's where healing is found (James 5:16).  People help us fight sin, and confessing our sin to other people keeps our sin from becoming a norm in our community.
  5. Includes making restitution. When our sin affects other people directly, part of repenting is making it right with them. It's not enough to say "I'm sorry I stole money from you." We also should desire to pay them back. Other people's view of Jesus or Christians could have been negatively affected by our actions, so we make an effort to set that right again.
  6. Leads to enjoying God because of Jesus. Repentance is not the same as penance. Penance says that our sorrow pays God back for our sin. Repentance is acknowledging that Jesus has already paid for our sin. Knowing that God has done that for us in the gospel should lead to a lot of rejoicing. Appropriate sorrow over sin should never remain alone. It should always eventually morph into gratefulness and joy over Jesus' work on the cross.