Repentance: Turning Away, Turning to God
by Robert F. Baxter, M. Theo.
Presented by Saint Luke Evangelical School Of Biblical Studies

Our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matthew 4:17)* "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:32) and "unless you repent, you too will perish" (Luke 13:3). It is evident from the words of the Lord that repentance is central to the salvation of sinners. Repentance is a requirement for baptism. It is the forsaking of sin. It is also God's grace given to us after baptism. St. Theognostos wrote in the third century, "We will not be punished or condemned in the age to be because we have sinned, since we were given a mutable and unstable nature. But we will be punished if, after sinning, we did not repent and turn from our evil ways to the Lord; for we have been given the power to repent, as well as the time in which to do so. Only through repentance shall we receive God's mercy, and not its opposite, His passionate anger. Not that God is angry with us; He is angry at evil. Indeed the divine is beyond passion and vengefulness, though we speak of it as reflecting, like a mirror, our actions and dispositions, giving to each of us whatever we deserve." 1

We must therefore, as Christians, understand what repentance means and apply it to our lives. The Greek word for repentance is metanota and means a "change of mind" or "change of intellect". Repentance not only implies sorrow, regret or contrition but also a more positive and fundamental aspect that of turning our whole heart and life towards God. The turning of our whole heart and life towards God is the fulfillment of the first and greatest commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37). The steps to repentance are threefold: recognition of our sins, confession of our sins to God and turning away from our sins.

We are all sinners. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Many in this world do not believe in sin or that certain acts are not sin. This attitude is nothing more than willful and open rebellion towards God. God gave us the law and the prophets that we might know what sin is. The penalty for sin is death, "For the wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) and there is no escape from it without the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself a sacrifice for us that we might be saved. As a Christian, we should be acutely aware of our sins and ever ready to repent of them. This is part of the inward life of a Christian. In the model of prayer given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ, he tells us to pray, forgive us our debts" (Matthew 6:12). Asking the Lord's forgiveness is essential to confession and repentance by asking for His forgiveness, we acknowledge that we have indeed sinned and are in need of forgiveness.

God is always willing to forgive us if we but confess our sins to Him and repent. "I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke15: 10). When we sin, we are to confess our sin to God but we are also to turn away from our sin. As when the Lord forgave the adulteress, he gave her the admonition, "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:11). When we sin, we grieve the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is hurt by our sin. Our conscience convicts us of this when we are open to God's spirit. There is sin of thought, word and deed We should also be mindful that sin arises not only from our actions but also inaction, not only what we have done but also what we have left undone. "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." (Matthew 25:45). Our daily prayers should always include confession to Almighty God of our sins. St. Isaac of Syria wrote, "We should constantly realize that in everyone of these twenty-four hours of day and night we have need of repentance. The meaning of the word repentance, as we have learned from the true quality of things, is the following: it is an unflagging petition to God, addressed to Him in prayer full of contrition, begging Him to overlook the past; it is also concern about protecting the future". 2

After the recognition and confession of our sins, we are to turn away from them. For many this can be the most difficult step in repentance. How do we become free from repeating sin? By turning not only away from sin but turning to God "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:3 7). To be truly free from sin requires total surrender to God. Surrender to God requires that we die to self, to be crucified with Christ it is a daily walk of faith, prayer, self-examination and avoidance of even the appearance of evil; "Avoid every kind of evil," (1 Thessalonians 4:22). We should ever be mindful of the cross and what it truly means. We should meditate on the meaning of the cross daily, i.e., the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fact that he suffered and died because of our sins, when we do this, the Holy Spirit will work within us to help us turn from our sins. We will walk in the spirit and not the path of sin; out of gratitude for all that God has done for us. In loving God, more than ourselves, we will keep his commandments. "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love" (John 15:10). Love of God and love of our neighbor, this is the true walk of a Christian. If we truly love God and our neighbor, we will be ever mindful not to offend and acknowledge and repent when we do, for God, through our Lord Jesus Christ is ever willing to forgive. It is His grace to us. This is the nature of His love for us.

* All scriptural quotes from The Holy Bible, New International Version
1. The Philokalia. The Complete Text, Volume Two; pg. 369-370. Faber and Faber Limited, 1990.
2. Writings From the Philokalia. On Prayer of the Heart; pg. 247. Faber and Faber Limited, 1992.

copyright 2003 by Robert F. Baxter, M. Theo.
Used by permission.