A New Look at Repentance
Another one of the confusing religious words was brought to my attention recently and was unpacked much more clearly for me. This is the word repentance.
As usual, the first ideas that come to mind whenever most of us hear religious terms is almost always based on the false assumptions and traditions built up over centuries of religion, not on true Biblical perspective. Yes, they are often defended and taught using Biblical verses to prop up their traditional use at times, but that does not mean that the Bible supports the way that we perceive them. I have been learning that more and more over the past few years as I have explored one thing after another and found that nearly every word and concept and teaching has been distorted to some degree or another. Even the translators of every version of the Bible introduced a great deal of their own bias and opinions into the text that has seriously obscured the intensity and clarity of the original languages.
The normal idea that many of us have about repentance is along the lines of trying to change our minds or feelings about our own sins. Since we assume that sin is the bad things that we have done to hurt others or God, then we assume that repentance means that we have to somehow work up a feeling of remorse for the bad things we have done or the rules we have broken before God will accept us. Thus repentance becomes yet another precondition that we have to meet before we can be forgiven by God or accepted in His love.
Some version of this with various nuances is the commonly held belief by nearly everyone I know and is what I have typically thought myself for most of my life. However, I have not been satisfied with this explanation ever since my picture of God has been radically altering over the past few years. Most of the definitions of religious words are based squarely on the teachings and assumptions of an angry God, an offended God that must somehow be appeased before we can be accepted into His love and mercy. Ever since this idea of God has been exposed as clearly a lie, I have been forced to go back and reexamine everything else I have believed and have been taught all my life to see how the real truth about God alters the meaning of every other belief and teaching and concept.
What I learned recently about repentance fits much more clearly into a correct picture of God than the typical religious assumptions about it. What I am learning is that repentance is really more along the line of a radical paradigm shift of thinking about reality and about God. This shift of perception has to be accomplished by a revelation of that new reality into our soul by the Spirit of God. It is not something we can produce in ourselves by our own efforts. Neither is repentance itself the sorrow for sin that we so often assume that it is.
What I am now seeing is that once again we have confused the symptoms with the reality or cause. It is true that a person who perceives reality from heaven's point of view for the first time will suddenly experience a great deal of remorse for their previous thoughts and actions. They we see more clearly how their previous mindset and attitudes led them to damage both their own heart and the hearts of everyone around them including the wounding of God's heart. But this sorrow for sin is a result of a new way of thinking and perceiving, not actual repentance itself.
While it is true that at times people have been called to repentance, the ability to repent is not something inherent within us to be exercised at will at our convenience. The Bible teaches that repentance is a gift of God. So if it is a gift that means that it is not something we have access to by our own efforts. As a gift it is something that must be accepted by choice and then used deliberately if we want to benefit from it. When people are called to repent, the implication is that God is offering them the gift of repentance at that point in time and they are being called to choose to accept and put it into action while the gift is still available to their hearts. It is really a matter of the Spirit of God speaking directly to our heart offering to bring life and hope into the deepest levels of our heart that have been closed to Him before.
Now that I am seeing more clearly that repentance is more along the line of a massive paradigm shift rather than just feeling bad about my past, it makes much more sense how it can produce all the results that accompany repentance. For when I see much more clearly my attitudes and my past from God's perspective – which is what repentance really means – then it will only follow quite naturally that I will feel ashamed of my attitudes and actions and words and will loathe myself and my past ways of thinking. This is described quite clearly in Ezekiel 36:31,32. And this chapter also makes it very plain that the change of mind and heart that we know of as repentance is something that God has to do in us, not something we can produce ourselves.
Furthermore, this chapter makes it abundantly and repeatedly clear that the fundamental reason that God wants to do this within us is exclusively for the sake of His reputation, not for ours. Over and over in this chapter He says that He is doing this for His name's sake and not for ours. It is His reputation that is the focal point of the great battle taking place in which we are involved and the sooner we get that perspective the easier it is going to be for us to understand how things fit together properly.
As I realize more clearly the true meaning of repentance my desire to experience real repentance deepens. I realize that I have experienced it to some degree already which has already put me out of sync with nearly all the rest of the religious world. But that should come as no surprise though it is very uncomfortable at times. Jesus found Himself nearly always at odds with the most religious people in the world when He was here on earth, and these were the people who had the truth originally given by God as far as Scripture was concerned.
Jesus' view of reality was obviously very different than anyone else around Him. This constantly put Him at odds with everyone else's opinions about how things should be done or what should be taught and believed. So it should be no surprise that anyone who receives a radical divine implant of new perspective on reality will likewise find themselves in decided conflict with the opinions and teachings of others around them who have not received such a change of perspective. The results of this radical alteration of how reality is perceived produced both the amazing symptoms of unity and love among the early disciples and also the following persecution that they faced as their radical views of reality clashed with the status quo around them.
The reason that we see so little conflict and persecution of Christians today in this country is partly because we are unwilling to accept the radical perspective that is needed to come into alignment with the way heaven sees reality. We have utilized and appropriated all the religious terms from the Bible and have constructed a great deal of tradition based on Scriptures but in the process we have lost the genuine experience of repentance that is needed to allow our hearts to connect with the heart of our God and Creator as well as others around us. What I long for is a more thorough experience of repentance, a more radical change of perspective of reality that exposes to my own heart the true condition of my soul in the light of real truth. I want to encounter God's presence the way Isaiah experienced it described in Isaiah 6 so that the fire of God's passion and love becomes the all-consuming obsession that fills my whole being and sets me ablaze in passionate service for Him. That is the kind of repentance that I pray for and desire for my own heart.