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« Just Say Jesus | Main | Getting Forgiveness »

Do We Have Repentance Wrong? 

Did God repent? Jonah 3:10 says yes.  Was He forced because He did something wrong?  This question has led to some speculation that God might be wrong about other things as well.  In fact, some have abandoned almost all vestiges of discipleship, turning the church into a feel-good, no-rules collection of doctrinally diverse individuals.  Let’s clear the premise up immediately.  God exists in moral perfection.  In Him, there is no sin.  He cannot lie.   If these statements are true, then it is impossible for God to do wrong.  The Psalmist said, ‘For the righteous LORD loves righteousness; his countenance beholds the upright.”  Psalm 11:7.  So, what do we make of the expression that God repented?  Our confusion is that sin must precede repentance.  Not true, especially in this case.  God simply saw that Nineveh, at the behest of their king, showed great remorse over their wickedness and put an end to it.  They fasted, prayed, sacrificed animals and turned from their evil and violence.  Therefore, it was no longer necessary that they be destroyed.  God simply retracted His threatened judgment in the light of the Ninevites response.  “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them … And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”  Jonah 3:5-10. 

Three principles emerge from this verse. 1) Human actions can change the mind of God; 2) God cannot be manipulated by our feelings and emotions; and, 3) true repentance is incomplete without the change of behavior.  This brings the problem of the discipleship crisis clearly into focus.  In repentance, God doesn’t “mess around!” First, we can change the mind of God through our actions.  God operates within the context of human behavior.  “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”  2 Chronicles 7:14. Although Jonah did not mention the possibility of repentance in his short, eight-word sermon to Nineveh, the king must have understood what he should do.  How does this work?  Because God is omniscient, He knows the sincerity of our hearts and designs his response accordingly. Jeremiah 17:10 says, “I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”  When we do His will, he rewards us with blessing as promised in His Word.  If we cast His will aside in favor of our own will, He leaves us to our own devices.  

The second principle is that, unlike man, God will not be manipulated by human emotion.  Traditionally, the church has linked repentance to the mourners’ bench, remorse, and deep regret.  While these reactions are important, there’s more.  Beyond remorse, God looks for subsequent actions, not words alone. “Don’t be deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, he also reaps.” Galatians 6:7. This is a solid principle. 

Finally, real repentance calls for a change of behavior.  If this is not true, then the new birth experience has lost its meaning.  Conversion must entail a visible, marked change in a person’s life.  There can be no doubt about this if we read the scriptures with intellectual integrity.  We must deliberately, intentionally abandon our ways and adopt God’s ways.  “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17.  We have repentance wrong if we think it is only to feel sorry for our sins; or if we see it only as a formality with little real meaning; or if we do not allow it to precipitate a radical change in our behavior, our life’s direction, our values and our decisions.  Without this emphatic first step towards conversion, we can never experience the full impact of living the Christ life.  Discipleship begins with complete repentance.

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Reader Comments (1)

I've understood 'true' repentance for 50 years, and heard it preached like this, but this is the best written explanation of it I've ever read - and I've several good writings on it. God's leading is -uin-matchable. Is there such a word ... ?

January 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSydney Heimericks

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