Repentance Isn't Just Stopping

The word “repent” is a misunderstood one I think. It has a mad, negative connotation toward it. It’s a word that belongs on the sandwich board of the crazy guy on the street corner who threatens the vengeance of God.

We basically interpret it to mean, “Stop.” Whatever that thing is you’re doing, grit your teeth and quit doing it. But that’s not what it means at all, and with that interpretation we miss the love associated with repentance. To repent is to turn, not to stop.

Turning is different than stopping. It’s bigger than stopping. You can stop and still be facing the same direction, sitting motionless. But repenting isn’t just about stopping. It’s not enough to stop. Repentance is about turning, choosing something better than the action you’re doing. It’s about choosing life with Christ over life with anything else. So repentance isn’t about stopping what you’re doing; it’s about valuing Jesus more than what you’re doing. That’s why we turn; not just because old ways are self-destructive, wrong, or immoral; repentance is about how much we value Christ. And how much we believe He’s better than anything else.

In fact, I guess in the right context, any sort of repentance should be Christ-focused; we turn from something to something. That’s why it’s not anger in the voice of God that says “Repent.” It’s love. It’s a voice that says, “You are settling. Don’t you want something better?”

So real repentance requires us to recognize the love of God, but it also requires more faith than will. See, I typically try to repent of something by just deciding not to do it any more. And I try. And then I fail. So I try harder next time. But what I really need to do is exercise the faith it takes to believe that Jesus is actually better than anything else. We choose to believe Jesus is more—that Jesus is better. So we turn. God, grant me the grace to not just turn from something, but turn to something. Let me see the goodness of Christ and believe.

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  • Aaron says:

    I love it, thanks for the encouraging thoughts.

  • Rob says:

    So … where to “rolling stops” fit into your analogy?

  • Christopher Lake says:

    Michael, thank you so much for this post. It is so important, and so hard at times, to remember that the sin which we cling to– any sin– is infinitely less than what God wants for us. Sin can be a comfort, but it is a “comfort” which kills. Repentance, on the other hand, can *feel* like death at times, but it actually leads to life and more life, and along with it, more joy. Ultimately, of course, repentance leads to the greater glorifying of God, which is why I am here in the first place. Thank you for reminding me of the living death of sin, and of the true life that waits for each one of us, everyday, in repentance.

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