An inmate in my prison class stated, “If I just concentrate on being obedient to Jesus, I’ll be okay.” Obedience is such an important part of a victorious life that I encouraged him to maintain that resolve. However, I was compelled to use the opportunity to make a point we often overlook.
Three children were deeply engaged in an intense scene while watching a movie. Their mother entered the room requesting that they carry the groceries from the car into the kitchen. The children snapped out of their intrigue, putting the movie on pause. All three children arose and began to undertake their duty. Peter grumbled insults and expletives under his breath as he periodically shot a smile in his mother’s direction. He loaded his arms with groceries and carried them from the car to the kitchen. Paul thought to himself, “I was going to ask mom if I could go to a concert with Jack next week and I know she wouldn’t let me but if I ask her right after carrying the groceries in, maybe she’ll say it’s okay.” He bounded to the car with apparent cheer, loaded his arms with more groceries than humanly possible and proceeded toward the kitchen. Mary made her way to the car reflecting on the fact that her mother worked hard all week to earn money to be able to go to the grocery store and buy food to feed them, doing all the shopping by herself. With genuine gratitude, she carried groceries from the car to the kitchen where she proceeded to put the items into their designated places in the cabinets.
Were all three children strictly obedient? Did all three children operate from a proper motive, an acceptable internal disposition – a right heart? Christianity is a heart-religion and repentance is a word which has to do with correcting one’s heart.
Repentance is a very specific change that must be genuinely experienced before God grants forgiveness to a sinner. If Jesus were to state that unless a person is to repent, they will perish (Lk.13:3, 5), repentance must be very significant. The Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, the disciples of Jesus, Peter responding to convicted sinners in Acts and the apostle Paul all called for repentance. So, what exactly is this thing called repentance?
Though the word means “change of mind,” it is a change of mind about something very specific. It is a change of mind about that which one is supremely committed and why they are committed to such. The Biblical word used for one’s ultimate commitment is “heart.” Every human being has an ultimate purpose. There are essentially two options; one can have the ultimate purpose of pleasing him or herself or one can have the ultimate purpose of pleasing God. The idea that there are only two options is a theme throughout Scripture seen in sample passages such as Deuteronomy 30 (life – death, blessing – curse, prosperity – adversity) and Matthew 7 (two ways, two gates, life – death, two trees, two fruit, rock – sand, wise man – fool).
To understand one’s heart, we must evaluate on the level of one’s motive, not just their outward behavior. People can engage in the very same outward action for a wide variety of reasons as our opening illustration pointed out. If a person professes faith in Christ, goes to church on Sunday and reads his Bible in order to avoid hell, his ultimate goal is not to please God, it is to use God for an ultimately self-centered goal. You can see how MOTIVE plays such a central, crucial role in the issue of defining repentance.
In Deuteronomy 30, referenced above, we are told to choose life. It is important to notice that we cannot choose life directly. Life is the outcome of loving God. “So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days…” (Dt.30:19-20; NAS). I fear that many contemporary evangelistic practices and gospel proclamations never address the heart, never require genuine repentance and simply encourage people to use God in contrast to loving God. Many people selfishly give God permission to take them to heaven when they die but never resolve to live to please God from a heart of love.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Mt.16:24-25)
Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.'” (Mk.12:29-30)