I already know that some people are going to read the title of this piece and think, “well that’s ridiculous; how in the world could saying sorry to God be a bad thing”? But I believe the answer to that question will inherently undermine some of the blatant falsehood that is often associated with the issue of repentance.
Having said that, I think many Christians actually do understand the truth of what repentance should look like in our lives. What really excites me, however, is the prospect that someone who doesn’t have that same fundamental understanding might read this and have their entire conception of repentance totally shifted. That is exactly what I set out to do: challenge what you think you know about repentance so that you can be driven closer to the heart of God.
He’s Not a God of Confusion
So how can saying sorry to God really be a bad thing? Before we can answer this question I want to start by answering another one. Why do we say sorry to God in the first place? To answer this question, I’ll use the most timeless and foolproof apologetic answer I can: because Jesus tells us to.
When the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray to the Father, he answered with what is commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer”. In the middle of that prayer, Jesus said we should ask God to, “… forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 NKJV). Jesus told us explicitly to say sorry to God.
We are also given a promise in the book of 1 John, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NKJV). In these passages scripture clearly states that we should confess our sin to God and ask Him to forgive us of that sin. So if God tells us to do that, how can it be wrong?
There are a few times in scripture where God has commanded his people to do something, and then later expressed His distaste with them committing the very acts that He has commanded them to do. Is God confused? No, the answer is that God does not command us to perform religious rituals for the sake of the rituals; God is concerned with the heart. Look at what God says through the prophet Isaiah,
Isaiah 1:11-15 (NKJV)
“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle.
I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats.
“When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts?
Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me.
The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assembliesI cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood.
I wanted to include this lengthy section because I want to show the harsh words the Lord uses concerning the abuse of repentance, and I want you to know how the Lord disapproves of mindless, ritualistic adherence. All of the things that God said that he hated in this passage he expressly commanded the Israelites to do. The point is that God doesn’t care about rituals, including rituals that He established. God cares about the heart.
How important is repentance to God? God chose a man to precede Jesus with a ministry that would prepare us for the Son of God himself, and the ministry of this man was so important to God that he spoke about it 500 years in advance through the prophet Isaiah. That chosen man was going to be, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’” (Isaiah 40:3 NKJV).
The “voice” that God was talking about was that of John the Baptist and his ministry could be summed up in one phrase, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 NKJV). I believe that one of the reasons Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest prophet of all time is because the message of repentance that he preached is so important to God.
The real problem is this: many Christians don’t know what the word “repent” really means. The Greek word that is translated as “repent” is Μετανοείτε (metanoeite) which literally means “to come to a new mind” or “change of mind”. This is strikingly similar to the language used in Romans, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2 NKJV).
The big idea of this scripture is recognized in a well-founded psychological method that is used to treat behavioral disorders called “cognitive behavioral therapy”. The basic foundation of this therapy is illustrated with what is called the cognitive triangle.
One of the messages of the cognitive triangle is simply this: Thoughts inform feelings, feelings inform behavior, behavior informs thoughts. No matter what order each element affects the other, it appears that all actions originate in the mind, which is why “thoughts” is placed aptly at the top of this cognitive triangle.
Why am I referencing psychology in regards to a concept that seems to be inherently spiritual? It’s because this concept is observable, and even the world understands it. What you choose to linger on in your mind will eventually manifest in your actions. This is why Christ says that anyone who thinks lustfully about a woman is already guilty of adultery, or that anyone who is angry with his brother is in danger of the same judgment as murderers. It is why the apostle Paul tells us to hold every thought captive. So how do we change what’s in our minds so that we can be transformed into what God wants us to be?
The Metamorphosis of Glory
It’s interesting that the word “transformed” in Romans 12:2 is the Greek word μετεμορφώθη (metemorphōthē), which is the exact word used in Matthew 17:2 for “transfigured”. This is the word scripture uses to describe the transformation Jesus made from the worldly state the disciples were familiar with to the heightened state of glory that He embodied in front of Peter, James and John on the mountain of transfiguration.
Scripture says that during this moment, Jesus’ face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Once this happened Elijah and Moses, who had since been long dead, appeared before them and were talking with Jesus. Speaking of Moses, this scene shares surprising parallels with the account in the book of Exodus which describes Moses receiving the ten commandments. After 40 days of fasting at the top of Mount Sinai, God reached down his finger and carved the commandments into the stone tablets. When Moses came down from the mountain his face shone so brightly that the Israelites had to put a veil on his head.
Here is the important lesson I think God is trying to tell us from these two accounts: transformation happens in seclusion while encountering the word of God. Peter, John, and James encountered Jesus, who is the word wrapped in flesh when He pulled them away into seclusion from the rest of the disciples, and He was transformed before them. Moses was secluded on the mountain for 40 days when God reached down and wrote His word into the tablets, and Moses was transformed when he received the word of God.
In John 15:4 Jesus says that we cannot produce the life that pleases God unless we abide in him. The word abide there is the Greek word μείνατε (meinate), and it means to stay, remain, endure, wait, or live. When scripture tells you to repent, that doesn’t mean that you should make a list of your sin, and rattle it off in prayer with a half-hearted “please forgive me”.
It doesn’t mean that you should get on your face and cry until the carpet is soaked with tears begging for God’s forgiveness until you feel better, just so that you can get up and go back to a life of sin as if nothing happened. It means you should get alone and have an encounter with the God of the universe through his word until you are transformed.
It means to read the scripture so much that it informs your thought life, which will dictate your actions according to the renewing of your mind. It means to stay in the word, wait on the word, remain in the word, endure by the word, and live according to the word of God. This is true repentance.
Do you truly want to repent? Go into a room by yourself, pick up your bible, read it, believe what you read, and make a commitment to apply it to your life. Then, once you’ve done that, do it again the next day and every day of your life, as often as you can. A sorry never hurt, but sorry can only be the beginning; it can never be the end.
Do not be discouraged when you mess up. The power of God’s grace is greater than your sin, and God knows your heart. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and scripture says we are being transformed into the image of Christ from “one degree of glory to another”.
If you are earnestly attempting to live out the life that you read in scripture, then you are living a life of repentance and operating in the works of your faith. By that faith, and that faith alone, you have the complete access to the power of God’s grace. This grace will not only wash your sin away, but it will actually reside within you by the Holy Spirit, quickening your mortal body and empowering you to live the kind of righteous life to which God calls you.
I really hope God has used this message to encourage you and push you closer to His heart. The concept of repentance may be a simple one, but I can’t stress how important it is to really understand it completely. If you have found the matter of this entry interesting, please consider reading my next post about the issue of grace. The grace of God is something that the book of Jude warns us against perverting, and I fear that there are doctrines in churches all across the nation that have done just that.
I can’t wait to dive into that subject and share what God has placed on my heart, but until then thank you for reading and God bless you all.
Zach, you have shared the truth of God’s word in such a way that it is impossible to misunderstand. I pray that God will continue to anoint you to share His truth, especially to the younger generation, and souls will be saved and lives changed through your ministry, to the glory of God. I pray for you, your family and your ministry.