From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17 ESV)

 

I find it interesting that Matthew records in the scripture above that Jesus began His public ministry by preaching a message of repentance. As I thought on it this morning when I read the scripture, I came to understand that our salvation begins with repentance, and it would fit that Jesus would begin His message of grace and deliverance from our sinful condition by preaching that we must recognize that we are sinners and need His forgiveness. Does everyone need to repent of his or her sins to receive the salvation offered to us by Jesus? Is there anyone without sin and has lived a completely sinless life? If so then you can make your case before a Holy God who does not abide with sin that you have no sin and you do not need to repent, … or in fact that you are so perfect that you do not even need Jesus. Tell me how that works out for you when you face Him at judgment. However, if you are like me, you are desperate for God’s forgiveness. In my desperation with recognizing my sin and my complete alienation from Holy God, I gladly repented and received the mercy and grace Jesus gave to me. But it took me a while to understand what true repentance means, and Jesus began to teach me what He means by repentance before I could find freedom from my old habits, though I had salvation in hand. Until I came to understand it, I was unable to be victorious over the temptations that came at me. Does that mean I was not saved? No I was saved by His grace and my acceptance of Jesus’s gift to me. But early on I remained a victim who was unable to fight a good fight and find the freedom my Savior wanted me to find. What was the confusion?

 

I think it comes down to an understanding of the word repent from a biblical perspective. If you would go to any English dictionary you will find a definition of repent consistent with the following one, and this confuses us:

 

Repent (defined by dictionary) – “to feel sorry for; regret:”

 

In this we see regret is simply feeling sorry about something, and it could be watered down to only mean feeling sorry that one is caught in a mistake.  I was sorry for my sin, but that was about it.  However the biblical definition is stronger. This is what it says:

 

Repent (defined with biblical definition) “In the Hebrew of the Old Covenant two words are used in the concept of repentance, they are – 1. NAHUM – to lament, to grieve. 2. SHUB – To agree with God, and have a radical change of mind. This description is describing emotional and willful actions to take a different course in life.”

 

Here is the key difference in the two definitions. One requires no change of a course in life. The other is clear that a different course of action is required to receive the freedom that follows God’s forgiveness. It is to turn away from our sin, to go in the opposite direction, and to live a different lifestyle with better choices. When we do this there are added benefits, which I will mention.  But first let’s understand something very important.  There is another aspect of God’s forgiveness in Christ. It is the completeness of His forgiveness, and what that means to us.  I love these two passages that point it out:

 

“For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12 ESV)

 

“as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalms 103:12 ESV)

 

Think of the “east is from the west” analogy in Psalms. What does it represent? Consider if you began a westward journey departing from where you live and staying on a westward trek and never stopping. Your journey would never return to your original starting point, would it? In other words it goes to infinity, which means boundless. God’s forgiveness will never end. It is also boundless. When we truly repent, He sends our former condition away from us, and He never remembers how we were. The problem is not God’s memory. The problem is how we open the door to the Accuser’s voice who continues to condemn us, and especially so if we continue old habits and sinful choices. If we do not turn from this, even though we are forgiven, Satan will make sure that we live in a cycle of regret, sorrow, self-condemnation and defeat. True repentance and forgiveness leads to a fresh start with freedom, and with the breaking of chains that enslave us to foolish choices. That is why it requires that we deliberately turn away from our old ways. Yes, God forgives us by His grace. But we must walk our self away from our temptations to find the freedom God offers us. He will not do it for us. It is our choice to make. We cannot simply feel sorrow for our choices. Rather it is to be so completely disgusted with what we’ve done that we turn away from the path we are on, and grasp a new life Jesus offers. We go in a new direction, and this is where the living benefits start to show in our life.

 

The path that leads beyond our repentance and God’s forgiveness is a path that distances us from the old man and the choices of the old man. Little wonder that Satan wants to keep us from going down the path that Jesus invites us to. It is a path that leads to freedom, wisdom, victory, courage and fruit. The true desires of our heart await us on that new path. This path is where we become the man or woman God wants to make of us, and the one we deep down long for. Is there anything that is keeping you from taking what Jesus offers? Turn from it and take your freedom.