PASTOR’S CORNER: Understanding true repentance

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By Rev. O.L. Johnson

Religion Writer

Repentance is one of those Bible words we are all familiar with and recognize as God’s method of putting us back in his good graces after we have transgressed against him. Once we’ve used it to our benefit, we tend to put it back on the shelf and forget about it, until we need it again. That is, if we remember that it still exists.

Very often we fail to give repentance the high esteem and respect it deserves, basically due to our lack of understanding of what it truly means in the lives of men. Our purpose here today is to open up our understanding of its meaning and its impact on humankind, both saints and sinners.

First, a few facts about the word “repent.” Its basic meaning is to think differently or reconsider in a moral sense. So, it means to change one’s mind about his behavior, not only past behavior but also future behavior. True repentance includes future behavior change and not just sorrow or remorse for past bad behavior.

This is not all we need to know about repentance. So far, we’ve only scratched the surface. Does God order us to repent, or is it just a suggestion? Where do we find it in scripture?

Let’s take on the last question first. In Matthew 3:2 and 4:17, John the Baptist and Jesus, respectively, each began preaching with the same sentence, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The word “repent” is the verb form of the word repentance; and as such, the word used by Jesus and John carries the same meaning, requiring action of some sort. The required action is a mind change leading to behavior change. That brings us to our first question; is the action commanded or merely suggested?

The answer lies in the tense of the verb in the Greek language of the original text. A little research will show that tense to be the “present imperative” which is defined as “a command to do something in the future and involves continuous or repeated action. So, when we are commanded to repent, we are being told to change our behavior as often as necessary.

This is a big-time revelation — that repentance is a commandment. We seldom think of it this way; but, if to repent is a commandment, then failure to repent must be a sin; and, if failure to repent is a sin, then the punishment for that failure enters the picture. And what is that punishment? Take a brief look at Romans 6:23 and it will become crystal clear.

We should all strive to elevate repentance to its proper place on our list of spiritual priorities. When we realize our behavior begs for repentance, repent immediately and sincerely. It’s a bad move to arrive in eternity carrying unrepented sins. Repentance is not an option in eternity; it’s too late to avoid punishment once one arrives there.

Think about it.

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 will appear monthly in The Wave and on its website,



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