RepentanceIs it time for a redirection of your life? No matter where you are on your journey as a Christian, whether you’re new to the faith or have been practising for many years, it’s important to remember that we all make mistakes.

The good news is that there is a solution to this problem, and it’s called repentance. Repenting means saying sorry(and a little more as we shall see), and when we do that, we open ourselves up to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift of grace, and it’s important to understand what it truly means.

Alfred the Great…

One of the oldest historical mentions of repentance in English history can be found in the writings of Alfred the Great, who reigned from 871-899 AD. According to his writings, Alfred the Great had a strong conviction that in order to be saved, one must repent. He urged his subjects to forsake their sins and seek forgiveness from God. He firmly believed that without true remorse, no person could be saved and he made sure that his people fully grasped that repentance was a crucial step in attaining salvation.

What is repentance?

Q. 87 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism raises the question, “What is repentance unto life? The answer is more than saying sorry but it is worth unpacking because there are a few things here that are encouraging.

The answer to the question is that question in the words of the clever folk in the Westminster Assembly who wrote the Catechism in 1647 during the English Civil War is that “repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with him in all the ways of his commandments.”

We tend to think of repentance as being ‘sorry’ but as you can see, there’s far more than that. But being sorry works; as long as it means being sorry enough to never do it again. It’s a game-changer. If you want to be saved, you better repent. Repent well, and do it instantly. We’re talking about confessing your sins, feeling so bad about them that you want to do the opposite of what you did, and turning towards God like a ship to a lighthouse. We all need to repent of our sins. You might think you don’t sin much, but just one little sin a day for five years is just over 1,825 sins. Sooner or later you realise there is a problem but there is a solution and a positive outcome, especially as just one sin can (will) get you in great peril. Happily, things change after you become a Christian, but more on that later.

  • Luke 13:3: “I tell you, unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
  • 2 Corinthians 7:10: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

To understand the solution we need to look at the Hebrew and Greek words:

  • In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for repentance is “teshubah,” which means “to turn away” or “to return.”
  • In the New Testament, the Greek word for repentance is “metanoia,” which means “a change of mind” or “a change of direction.”

So, the answer to our sin is to turn away from our sin, return to God, change your mind or way of thinking and adopt a change of direction.

The leaders of the early Christian church saw repentance as an important step(the only one) in achieving salvation. They believed that repentance involves recognizing one’s mistakes, feeling remorse for them, and making a conscious effort to turn away from them and towards God. They also emphasised the importance of continuous repentance and the need for individuals to always strive to live in a way that is pleasing to God. We want to live a life of repentance, striving to obey, honour and follow the Lord with a willing heart in response to all that He has done for us.

How do we go about this? The Bible teaches that the way to go about repentance is through confessing one’s sins and asking for forgiveness from God.

In the Old Testament, repentance is often associated with sacrifice.

  • “And he shall do with the bull as he did with the bull as a sin offering; thus he shall do with it. So the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven.” (Leviticus 4:20), In those days, whenever you finally came to your senses and got your act together and came to God in repentance, an innocent animal died. Repentance involves turning away from sin and turning towards God.
  • “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7 ) Repentance brings forgiveness and restoration – abundant pardon.

Repentance is often associated with humility and humbling oneself before God; “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

In the New Testament a new picture emerges that points to Jesus’ death on the cross for us, Jesus teaches that repentance involves confessing one’s sins and asking for forgiveness from God. “Unless you repent, you will perish.” (Luke 13:3) That repentance is closely associated with faith in Jesus Christ, “Testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:21)

The jigsaw slowly starts coming together – repentance is about turning our face back towards God, changing our ways. Even here, we are enabled by the conviction of the Spirit to respond to His love. That conviction, not always felt, is evidence that God never gives up on us, but in our narcissistic arrogance we may make Him wait until we are ready! How patient and kind God is. Thankfully I am not God!

Life-long Confession!

Confession of sin and repentance are not just a one-time event, but rather a lifelong process that emphasises the importance of ongoing repentance and the need for individuals to constantly strive to live in a way that is pleasing to God:

  • “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:)
  • “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:26-27)

What does it mean to ‘confess’ one’s sin? Admitting and acknowledging one’s ‘mistakes’, taking responsibility for them, and asking for God’s forgiveness is what confessing one’s sins means.

The Bible promises that those who confess their sins and truly repent will be forgiven. However, it doesn’t mean that the consequences of our actions will always disappear or that we will never face temptations or struggles with sin again. Real repentance requires a change of heart, a decision to turn away from sin, and a promise or determination to live in a way that pleases God. It includes not only confessing our sins, but also making things right and changing our behaviour moving forward. (Maybe the word ‘determination’ is an opt-out clause, so should be removed!)

It’s not long before you might curiously wonder whether a person who has sinned experiences more grace than one who hasn’t? The answer is that all people are in a state of sin and in need of God’s grace. The Bible teaches that no one is righteous on their own and that all have fallen short of God’s standard of perfection (Romans 3:23). Therefore, the experience of grace is not based on whether or not a person has sinned, but on the fact that all people are in need of God’s grace. This is addressed by John Stott in his book Basic Christianity saying that “God’s love is not a reward for our goodness, but the source from which our goodness flows.”

There’s great encouragement to be found here.

We know we should confess our sin and repent but what of ‘forgiveness’?

Don’t drift off here – this is good! In the Old Testament, the word for forgiveness is “salach” (שָׁלַח) which means to forgive, pardon, or send away. Another word used for forgiveness in the Hebrew Bible is “nasa” (נָשָׂא) which means to lift up, bear, or carry away.

In the New Testament, the word for forgiveness in Greek is “aphiemi” (ἀφίημι) which means to send away, let go, release, or forgive. Another Greek word that is used for forgiveness in the New Testament is “charizomai” (χαρίζομαι) which means to give as a favor, bestow, or grant.

Some examples so that you can see it in action are:

In the Old Testament :
“But with you there is forgiveness, so that you may be revered” the Hebrew word for forgiveness is “salach” (שָׁלַח) (Psalm 130:4)
“I, I am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” the Hebrew word for forgiveness is “nasa” (נָשָׂא) (Isaiah 43:25)

In the New Testament :
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” the Greek word for forgiveness is “aphiemi” (ἀφίημι) (Mark 11:25)
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” the Greek word for forgiveness is “charizomai” (χαρίζομαι) (Ephesians 4:32)

What is the difficulty with repentance? How do you know you have been forgiven?

The difficulty with repentance can vary from person to person, but some common difficulties include:

– Recognizing and admitting one’s own sin: Many people may have a hard time acknowledging their own sinful actions or attitudes.
– Feeling genuine remorse: Some people may have difficulty feeling truly sorry for their sins and may not fully understand the gravity of their actions.
– Making a sincere effort to turn away from sin: Some people may struggle with the idea of giving up certain sins that they find enjoyable or hard to let go of.
– Seeking forgiveness: Some people may find it difficult to seek forgiveness or may not know how to go about it.

Knowing if we have been forgiven is an important aspect of our faith as Christians. The Bible teaches us that forgiveness is obtained through faith in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross. When we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness, we trust that God promises to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). This often brings a sense of peace and the knowledge of God’s love and grace. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit helps us to have the confidence of salvation, by bearing witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:16).

However, it’s important to note that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean that the consequences of our actions will disappear, but it means that the guilt, shame, and the penalty of sin have been removed.

God forgives, but does he forget our sin?

The Bible teaches that God is both just and merciful. As a just God, he cannot simply overlook sin or ignore it. However, as a merciful God, he also offers forgiveness to those who repent and turn to him in faith. The Bible teaches that when we confess our sins, God forgives us and forgets our sins.

In the Old Testament, God promises through the prophet Isaiah that he will “remember their sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). Similarly, in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes that God “has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12, quoted in Hebrews 8:12). In the book of Hebrews, it’s stated that Christ has entered into the holy of holies, obtaining eternal redemption for us (Hebrews 9:12) that is why our sins are remembered no more.

God’s forgiveness is not only a declaration of legal acquittal, but also an act of mercy and grace, it’s an act of forgetting our sins, as if they never existed. This means that God doesn’t hold our sins against us and doesn’t bring them up again in the future. He doesn’t remember them, and doesn’t hold them against us. This is the beauty of the redemption in Jesus Christ, He has paid the penalty of our sins and God has removed them as far as the east is from the west.

BUT… yes, there had to be a ‘but’ however, it’s a good one!

God is omniscient so how does he forget our sin?

Have you ever wondered about that?

God is omniscient, meaning that he knows everything, past, present and future, so when the Bible says that God forgets our sins, it does not mean that he literally forgets them, but that he chooses not to remember them. The Hebrew word for “remember” in these passages (zakar) can also be translated as “to bring to mind” or “to hold against.”

So, when God says that he will remember our sins no more, it means that he will not bring them to mind or hold them against us anymore. Additionally, when we confess our sins, we are asking for forgiveness, and God, in his mercy, chooses to forgive us and not to remember our sins anymore. In other words, God chooses to no longer hold our sins against us, to not bring them up again, and to treat us as though we have never sinned. This is a powerful and reassuring message of the love and grace of God.

“Zakar’ing” sins in the Old testament!

In the Old Testament, God promises through the prophet Isaiah that he will “remember (zakar) their sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). This verse speaks of God’s redemption and deliverance of his people from their sins and their enemies. God reminds his people that they are his chosen ones, and that he has called them by name, and that he will be with them, and he will save them from their enemies and their sins. He promises that he will not remember their sins anymore, that is, he will not bring them to mind or hold them against them anymore.

Another is found in Jeremiah 31:34, where God says “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” speaking of the new covenant that God will make with his people, where he promises to forgive their sins and to remember them no more.

Once again it needs saying; God’s promise to remember sins no more is a powerful and reassuring message of the love and grace of God towards his people. It means that God, in his love and mercy, chooses not to remember our sins anymore, not to bring them to mind or hold them against us, and to treat us as though we have never sinned.

Let this get under your skin! Zakar! Zakar! Zakar!

If we sin, our access back to God can be like lightning:
Confess – repent – receive forgiveness – Zakar!

Interestingly, the first time the Hebrew word “zakar” (remember) appears in the Bible is in Genesis 8:1, it describes how God remembers Noah and the animals in the ark during the flood. The verse says “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”

God is always paying attention to his creation, He remembers his promise to Noah, and he fulfils his promise to protect him and the animals in the ark during the flood. God’s ability to remember is a powerful and comforting aspect of his character, and sets the stage for the many promises and reminders in the Bible that God will remember his people and his promises to them.

The bible verse “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20) is a poignant reminder of God’s enduring presence and faithfulness and speaks of God’s unwavering commitment to us, His children. God never forgets His promises to us, and He will be with us through every moment of our lives, until the end of time – a source of immense comfort and reassurance, and it serves as a powerful reminder that, no matter what we may face in life, we can always rely on God’s presence and support.

And the first step for us to come to this realisation is to confess our sins, repent, be forgiven and be remembered by God. A God who never Zakar’s our sin against us.