“Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus.” Acts 3:19-20
Repentance. That’s a word that we tend to hear only in church. It brings to mind images of angry preachers pounding their pulpits and screaming, “Repent, ye sinners!” to the congregation. If you’re a Christian, you’ve probably heard the term before and might have used it yourself, most likely in Bible discussions with other Christians.
Yet, what does the word mean? We use it all the time at church, but do we know what we’re saying? Interestingly, the word “repent” in English translations of the New Testament comes from a Greek word which literally means “to change one’s mind.” That means Peter was actually saying in the above passage, “Change your minds, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out...” That angry preacher calling on you to repent is basically telling you to change your mind.
If we get in a car and head to McDonald’s, and on the way we see Taco Bell and decide we’d rather have a taco than a Big Mac, and so turn into Taco Bell instead of going on to McDonald’s, guess what we’ve just done? We’ve repented of McDonald’s. In other words, we changed our minds about McDonald’s. Not only that, but our actions also changed as a direct, unavoidable result of changing our minds. We decided to go to Taco Bell instead of McDonald’s, and our actions followed suit.
God wants us to repent of our sins. He wants us to change our minds about our sins. He wants us to stop letting sin reign in our lives. The Bible says, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” That can only happen if we repent – change our minds – about allowing ourselves to be slaves of sin.
That’s what God so desperately wishes for us all. He wants us to start having the same sorrow over our sins that He has. When we do, the Bible says that is what will lead to repenting – changing our minds – about our sins, and that in turn contributes to our salvation (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). That’s why Peter told the Jews in Jerusalem on Pentecost to repent before they were baptized in order to receive forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38). The Bible says that when one is baptized, they die to their old selves, are buried with Christ and rise to a new life (Romans 6:3-5). None of that can happen without first changing your mind about sin.
Yet many in religious circles seem to not realize this. Some churchgoers believe that repentance is simply acknowledging that one has sinned. That’s certainly a part of it, but that’s not the whole of it. I can punch someone, acknowledge that I shouldn’t have done that, and yet not care that it’s wrong and keep on punching them. I admitted I was wrong, but I didn’t change my mind about it.
That’s why the Bible also talks about the need to act in such a way that is in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20). We show that we’ve truly changed our minds about our sins through our actions, and God has shown us in His Word what specific actions show that one’s mind has truly changed from the sinful to the spiritual. Read Galatians 5:22-23 and compare it to Galatians 5:19-21. Someone who has truly changed their minds about sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, partying and the like will show in their actions and words love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Jesus once said, “...What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” He then listed many of those same sins found in Galatians, and then said, “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Our actions show the true condition of our hearts. They also show whether we are truly interested in repentance.