By Rev. O.L. Johnson
How do you answer the question what is repentance?
How about this for an answer: repentance is a Christian doctrine created by God so that unsaved sinners can be delivered from the effects of sin. If we accept this as our final answer, then repentance is only a reality for the unsaved and has no application in the life of the saved.
But is this supported by scripture? Let’s test it out.
Jesus first alluded to this doctrine during his first message, recorded in Matthew 4:17, where he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This message was given to the unsaved people of Galilee before Jesus had any followers, so it really doesn’t speak to our problem. But there is a passage in Matthew’s gospel that does. It’s found in Matthew 3:6-12.
In this passage we find John the Baptist ministering in the Judean desert, preaching a repentance message to a multitude of people from far and wide and baptizing those who consented. John was surprised to see a large group of Pharisees and Sadducees among the multitudes.
John was aware that they relied on their relationship with their spiritual father Abraham for cleansing from sin rather than relying on repentance and baptism, so John challenged their mental readiness for repentance, suggesting that they needed to display attitudes that show their sincerity.
John went on to explain the consequences of refusing to repent or failing to do so without the proper attitude — burning “with unquenchable fire.” John’s message to the Pharisees and the Sadducees was one they were hearing for the first time — that repentance was meant for them, in spite of their relationship with Abraham and their devotion to the local church.
So, let us not dismiss repentance as having no impact in the lives of believers. We are just as prone to sin as others, but hopefully much more infrequently. But on those rare occasions when we do, repentance is definitely in order; but, without motivation there is no repentance. We are motivated to repent by remorse or, as scripture puts it, “sorrow.”
There are two sources of sorrow according to 2Corinthians 7:10. Paul says that there is “godly sorrow” and sorrow that is “of the world.” We can choose either, but Paul implies the best choice by revealing that worldly sorrow “worketh death,” which, I believe, results from the idea that resolve to change behavior is not part of repentance from worldly sorrow.
On the other hand, repentance motivated by godly sorrow flows from one’s love for God and includes both remorse and resolve. Making this choice not only pleases God, but it also strengthens one’s relationship with God through effecting attitude changes listed for us in 2Corinthians 7:11 — pursuit of righteousness and holiness, and stronger reverence toward God.
I am prayerful that this deeper look at repentance, coupled with our January article on the same subject, has given all readers of this column a better understanding of repentance and the potential positive impact it promises to have on one’s total life. It is truly a gift from God.
Rev. O.L. Johnson, a retired LAPD lieutenant, is an associate pastor in his home church, Greater New Zion Baptist, 501 W. 80th St. in South Los Angeles.
Pastor’s Corner is a religious column that looks at the relevancy of scripture in life today. The column appears monthly in The Wave and on its website, www.wavepublication.com.