30 In the past, God forgave all this because people did not know what they were doing. But now he says that everyone everywhere must turn to him.
True biblical repentance literally means “the act of changing one’s mind.” Repentance goes beyond remorse, regret, or feeling bad about one’s sin. It involves more than merely turning away from sin. Eerdmans Bible Dictionary includes this definition of repentance: “In its fullest sense it is a term for a complete change of orientation involving a judgment upon the past and a deliberate redirection for the future.”
In the Old Testament, repentance, or wholeheartedly turning to God, is a recurring theme in the message of the prophets. Repentance was demonstrated through rituals such as fasting, wearing sackcolth, sitting in ashes, wailing, and liturgical laments that expressed strong sorrow for sin. These rituals were supposed to be accompanied by authentic repentance, which involved a commitment to a renewed relationship with God, a walk of obedience to His Word, and right living. Often, however, these rituals merely represented remorse and a desire to escape the consequences of sin.
When the prophets in the Old Testament beckoned the people to repent and return, they were calling for a complete turnaround inspired from within the heart and will of the individual. The prophets called both the nation of Israel and individual people to surrender their lives, to turn away from a life ruled by sin to a relationship with God, the sovereign ruler over all: “Even now—this is the LORD’s declaration—turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the LORD your God. For he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and he relents from sending disaster.” (Joel 2:12-13).
Repentance in the Bible involves a complete and irreversible change of mind, heart, and actions. Repentance recognizes that our sin is offensive to God. To repent means to make an about-face, heart-directed turn away from self to God, from the past to a future ruled by God’s commands, acknowledging that the Lord reigns supreme over one’s existence.
The theme of repentance continues in the Gospels, beginning with John the Baptist (Mark 1:4) and then Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15); both urgently called people to repent because the arrival of God’s kingdom is draw near. Many people chose this radical reorientation of their lives and demonstrated repentance through baptism (Matthew 3:2) and profound changes in lifestyle and relationships (Luke 3:8-14).
Biblical repentance categorized by four essentials:
1) The awareness of one’s own guilt, sinfulness, and helplessness (Psalm 51:4-10).
2) The apprehension or capture of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ (Psalm 51:1; 130:4).
3) The attitude and action must change regarding sin (Psalm 119:128; Job 42:5-6).
4) The act of pursuing a holy life, walking with God in obedience to His commands (2 Timothy 2:19-22; 1 Peter 1:15).
The mission focus of the Lord Jesus Christ was to call sinners to repentance: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). His call of absolute surrender goes out to all people: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:5). In Jesus’ final words to his disciples and us, He commanded that we take His message of repentance and faith to all the nations (Luke 24:47).