Is Your Repentance Really Your Repentance?
WORDS BY CHRISTINE GORDON
“I’m the only one who ever cleans the kitchen anyway.” The words came out of my mouth like a bullet. They were a weapon, intended to wound. They weren’t true. My husband faithfully cleaned up on nights when I cooked. My children did their best to clean when prodded. But standing at the counter, looking at dirty pots and crumb covered counters, I wanted someone to feel bad that I was the one who noticed, again.
Soon after came the familiar dance of shame and apologies. I felt shame for my mean words. My family felt bad for having failed me in some way, though they weren’t sure exactly how, as my passive-aggressive words weren’t clear or directive. Watching them tiptoe around me and my anger, I knew something needed to change. Remorse for my words and even confession of sin along with asking for forgiveness from them were all in order. But even that was not enough. What was missing was trackable, recordable change. What was missing was repentance.
Most of us have some ambiguous understanding of repentance. We think it’s some combination of feeling bad and asking for forgiveness. We reconcile with people we’ve hurt and hope for a different outcome next time. But the repentance of the Bible is different. Biblical repentance has teeth. You can see it from the outside; there is evidence of real change. The word repentance literally means “to change the mind”. It is a change in our understanding that leads to a change in our behavior.
But what should it look like?
In Luke 3, John the Baptist was calling the people of his generation to, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). He gave specific instructions to the crowds concerning how this “fruit” might take shape. First, he told them in verse 11, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Repentance, he told them, takes action. For those who had extra, it looked like sharing with those who were in need.
Next, the tax collectors asked John what to do. To them he answered, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do” (v. 13). Tax collectors made their living by padding their pockets, taking more from their fellow Jews than was demanded of them by the Romans. John knew this. He told them to do their job, but do it justly. Repentance for them was a change in their work habits.
Next, the soldiers asked John what their repentance might look like. He answered in verse 14, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” In other words, do your job, but treat people with the dignity they deserve. Don’t mistreat people in order to make more money.
Repentance means real change. Visible change.
Real repentance involves a change of heart, for sure. But it then results in a change in behavior. Unlike simple behavior modification, change in the life of a believer is enabled by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And then it is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Change in our lives will not necessarily be linear or large. In fact, we will often take three steps back for every one step forward in our growth. A legitimate struggle against a deeply rooted sin is not over quickly. Most of the time, we first only see the top layer of our sin manifested in our actions. As we begin to ask God to show us more, the ugly motivations of our hearts become more obvious. Layer after layer may be revealed as God lets us clearly see the true extent of the distortion sin has wreaked in our heart. For example, we may have thought we were only slightly annoyed at a friend because of a comment she made. Deeper reflection and the pulling back of layers might then reveal months or years of envy or jealousy that has fed our bitterness toward that friend. When God really lets us have a good look at the pervasiveness of sin in our hearts, it can feel overwhelming.
But God hasn’t left us there.
Because the Holy Spirit lives in us, as we continue to work out our salvation, the fruit that John called for will eventually grow and be obvious. We know that God is working in us, making us more like His Son. He is committed to this process of change. Philippians 1:6 tells us that that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (NASB). Just as Paul was confident that Jesus was at work and would continue to be at work in the Philippians, we can be confident that he is at work in us.
Repentance in my dirty kitchen will take time and repetition. I won’t always get it right. I’ll say the wrong thing. I’ll get frustrated. I’ll need forgiveness again. But repentance will begin with a change of mind, and, enabled by the Holy Spirit, will cause the scene to look different the next time. Maybe instead of accusing those around me I will simply ask, “Could someone please help me clean up? I feel overwhelmed looking at this kitchen.” Bearing fruit in keeping with repentance just might look like clean dishes and an admonished heart. ___________________________________________
Christine Gordon is wife to Michael and mom to three kids. She works as the intake coordinator for a large counseling practice in St Louis and writes Bible studies with Hope Blanton and At His Feet Studies. You can find them at www.athisfeetonline.com or on Instagram at @athisfeetstudies.