Pay attention and try to follow along, it's about to get real.
It's 5:30 am, an hour I've raised moral objections to many times, and I'm awake. What's worse is I've been up for a few hours now. I'm not sure, but I may be having a Jonah moment. In the last few days I've felt a deep conviction to write or speak up about a controversial subject and to do so on the side of the more unpopular viewpoint.
In their search for who was to blame, they woke up Jonah. It came to light that Jonah was to blame and has angered his God. Jonah confessed and asked to be thrown overboard.
The crew, despite what Jonah had brought upon them, was reluctant to send him to his death. Finally they acquiesced, with fear and reverence towards Jonah's God, and threw Jonah into the sea. When the sea calmed they became even more awestruck, made sacrifices, and vowed themselves to Jonah's God.
So that's most of Jonah's story. Why do I think I'm having a Jonah moment - being woken up at 3:30 am? I've felt a conviction lately - I believe God is calling me to speak up and call people to repentance. I'm not avoiding it because I don't agree with God or revere Him. I just don't want to face the backlash of telling people what they don't want to hear. And there's also a part of me that fears the emotional process involved for me.
So I've been procrastinating and letting other activities take priority. I've been avoiding what I ought to do, but in a discomfort, like having a full bladder. And that can only be ignored for so long.
In 2 Timothy 4:2-4 Paul tells Timothy, "Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths."
(Emphasis mine) "Whether convenient or not" it says.
Yet the English definitions of the word repent most often follow along the lines of "feeling remorse or regret" or being disgusted by and turning away from your sins. What's worse, are definitions like this one, which declare that repentance involves our efforts or resolve to do better. While this might be a part of the experience of μετάνοια, this definition is inadequate and misleading. Repentance is not about our emotions, our sin, our efforts, or resolve. It's about our response to a tremendously loving God who is tapping us on the shoulder and calling us to turn another way.
The very first thing Jesus preached was, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near! ” (Matthew 4:17). The verse before (verse 16) helps underscore what he says, quoting the prophecy from Isaiah about Jesus, "The people who live in darkness have seen a great light, and for those living in the shadowland of death, light has dawned."
Jesus is light, truth, and the new way. In the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5, Jesus repeats, "You have heard it said..." and "but I tell you a new way." In light of these verses, I think Jesus in Matthew 4:17 might be saying repent as in, "Check it out! Wrap your mind around this! Get on board!" The sentence could be rephrased, "The kingdom of heaven is coming, so turn around and get your head back in the game!" (BCET - Basketball Coach English Translation)
Or "Pay attention and try to follow along, it's about get real." (MSV - Movie Script Version)
Perhaps the best example of repentance, as I understand it, can be found in Romans 12:2, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." It is a transformation in thinking that leads to a change in action.
Going back to the story of Jonah above, we see a pattern of repentance. Jonah decided to go one way, God convinced him to get back on the path he was called to - to change his mind and direction. The men on the boat believed in many gods, but came to believe in and commit to Jonah's God because of their experience in the boat - they took action - tossing Jonah, giving sacrifices, and making vows. Nineveh went from a hell-bent city steeped in sin and pride to a city humbled and dependent on the mercy of God. These all underwent changes of moral convictions and beliefs that led to a change of direction. They were transformed in their understanding which led to a change in heart and behavior. They repented.
If you believe, as I once did, that repentance is about feeling remorse, regret, and shame - that it is about focusing on your sin and your failure, then please join me in repenting of your understanding of repentance!
It's not about your feelings and failures, it's not so much about you. It's about God, who loves you the most, calling you to follow him.
In God's kingdom, to repent means to respond to God's call on your life to re-orient what you think and do, conforming it the pattern of Christ.
Let go of your old way of thinking and believe that repentance means being convinced of a new way. It's a little "meta" isn't it? God is challenging you to taste and see that He is good (Psalm 34:8). He wants you to trust in His truth and ways and not on your old ways of thinking (Proverbs 3:5). This is why we find repentance so often paired with faith.
Repentance is an invitation to transformation - from going your own way to going God's way.
By this definition, I find myself in a regular pattern of repentance. Through Bible study, community, and prayer God continues to transform my perspective, to change my mind, and to convince me of better ways to live. Here are a few personal examples of repentance in my life.
Although I know I was deceived and have repented, I still feel awful about it. That's just one example of how a false understanding of repentance can be harmful.
If it helps you to understand the word itself better, most of us experience repentance even apart from issues concerning faith. I've changed my mind and actions on countless issues.
Hopefully, you see the pattern here. All that to say, that in my next post, the call to repentance I make is not to bring shame, but to bring a different perspective, a reformed way of thinking, and a call to turn and go another way.
Pay attention and try to follow along, it's about to get real.
What are your thoughts on repentance and what it means to repent?
Does this challenge any of your beliefs about what repentance is?
Hi and welcome!
I'm Christina Dronen, a writer, wife, and mom passionate about following Jesus in the way I parent. My posts focus on pursuing Christ and letting Christ live through me in my parenting.