Repentance is one of those words that we throw around in churches without much thought to its meaning. Much of what we call repentance is likely more akin to how the Lord, through the prophet Jeremiah, described treacherous Judah: “[she] did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense”.
Thankfully the Lord outlines for us in Jeremiah 3:22-25 what true repentance looks like. I see four major marks of biblical repentance.
- Repentance is coming to the LORD. “Behold, we come to you, for you are the LORD our God.” This means that true repentance is not simply a promise of moral reform. More than anything biblical repentance is relational reconciliation. I’ve counseled numerous people who have felt conviction over sexual sin. More often than not each fall is followed by a promise to stop and to do better. That is all well and good but more times than not such a promise is divorced from relationship. It’s an effort to clean ourselves up. That’ll never work. True repentance flows out of relationship.
- Repentance realizes the hills are a delusion. “Truly the hills are delusion.” For the Israelites in Jeremiah’s day the hills represented the place where idol worship took place. The repentant heart will realize that the idolatry which led our hand into specificity is always a liar. The truly repentant heart will realize that the idol didn’t just lie this time—the idol always lies. It will always be empty. We’ll never truly change so long as we hold out a glimmer of delusion that the hills might not be all that bad.
- Repentance agrees with God’s acts of justice. “Let us lie down in our shame and let our dishonor cover us.” If I’m not willing to bear the reproach and consequences of my sin then I’m not truly sorry. As an example, if I sin against my wife true repentance will allow her to hold the keys of full reconciliation. True repentance realizes that I deserve every ounce of consequence which comes my way. I can plead for mercy and trust in the compassion of a merciful Savior—but he holds the keys to my comfort. True repentance won’t try to wrest those keys from his hand.
- Repentance will never consider sin a mere foible. “We have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.” True repentance will cut straight to the heart. The truly repentant sinner wants to knock sin out at its core. It isn’t satisfied viewing oneself as a person who made a simple mistake or error. No, true biblical repentance realizes that sin flows from the deep recesses of the heart. And it is here where heart work must be done.
May God grant us true repentance.