Every Christian must recognize the importance of repentance. The New Testament (NT) speaks heavily of repentance and its role in the Christian life:
Matthew 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'”
Acts 2:37b-38, “‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'”
Acts 3:19, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord”
Acts 17:30-31, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
The NT list can go on and on (i.e., 2 Cor 7:10; 1 Thess 1:9-10; 2 Tim 2:24-26). Yet, despite the overwhelming NT emphasis it is not a NT concept. The Old Testament (OT) similarly speaks of repentance. I’d like to focus on one passage that instructs Christians about the nature of true biblical repentance.
Psalm 119:59-60, “I considered my ways and turned my feet to Your testimonies. I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments.”
This passage teaches three aspects of biblical repentance that must be present in the life of every believer. These three aspects are not achieved or accomplished on the ability of the individual, but become realities only when a person is powered by the indwelling power of the Spirit due to faith in Christ alone.
- True Repentance Begins with Self-Reflection. The psalmist says, I considered my ways. In other words the psalmist is sensitive to his spiritual condition. He seeks to have an accurate view of himself and not a prideful inflated view that would keep him from seeing his weaknesses. Christianity has always been a religion of self-evaluation (cf. 2 Cor 13:5). Granted, God has given us other believers for the purpose of correction and edification we should never forget that we ought to be our own greatest critique (Matt 7:1-5). Repentance begins by being honest with our heart’s sinful desires, lusts, and passions.
- True Repentance is a Change in Attitude/Direction. The psalmist then states that after having considered his ways he takes anything headed in an errant direction and, turned my feet to Your testimonies. He makes a conscious effort to redirect his life in a Godward direction. This also indicates that repentance is first internal before showing external fruit. There must be a change of heart that is set on godliness in order for there to be true repentance. The usage of feet indicates that the repentance is a lifestyle. The believer does not merely perform singular acts of repentance, but characteristically walks the path toward godliness.
- True Repentance is Lived Out in Urgency. The Bible teaches that true believers must be an urgency to the lifestyle of repentance, I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments. The psalmist uses terms to show that he understands the dangers of straying from God’s path. It leaves him in a vulnerable position and therefore does not wait to correct the direction of his life.
There is a lot of application to a short and sweet passage like this. First, we must make sure that we have a new heart in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) that enables us to be honest with our sin and ask for God’s help to bring correction. Second, we need to examine whether or not we are living a lifestyle of repentance. Third, we ought to question our priorities in life. Knowing that we have sins and living an active lifestyle to kill sin are two different things. The former may just expose one’s love for sin and the latter may indicate true saving faith (2 Cor 7:10; Jas 1:22-25; 2:17).
Again, I realize there are many nuances to the doctrine of sanctification that still needs to be address (i.e., role of the Spirit, sanctifications relationship with justification by faith, the role of fellowship/discipleship in the believer’s sanctification, etc.). Nonetheless, this passage hits the mark when considering the believer’s personal walk with God and their general attitude towards repentance.
Repentance is vital because it leads us toward greater holiness or sanctification. Believers must live out true biblical repentance because it is indeed the aim and joy of every saint.
Perhaps one final NT passage can be given for encouragement:
Hebrews 12:14, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (emphasis added).