To value repentance is to be willing to re-think.
Most of us understand the word ‘repent’ to mean ‘turn around’. And seeing as ‘repent’ is often placed alongside the word ‘sin’, it’s easy, when valuing repentance during lent, to simply remind ourselves to turn from our moral failings and be more righteous.
But is that really what repentance is about?
‘Repent’ (check the Greek) is better translated as ‘change your mind’.
In Matthew’s Gospel (written especially to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah - the chosen on - the Christ) Jesus‘ first words, after emerging from his 40 days in the wilderness were: “Repent for the kingdom of God is here” (Mat 4:17). John the Baptist had recently said the same thing.
Jesus and John weren’t simply calling people to turn from their sin (they didn’t even mention the word sin initially whilst preaching to the Jews) rather they were calling people to have a rethink and change their minds. Which wasn’t a small matter. They wanted the Jews to rethink the outworking of their theology and their understanding of the kingdom of God, and to actually change their minds. To have a rethink and a change of mind on that big a scale would be to question their culture and their very identity.
It would have been to embrace Jesus.
It would be life changing.
No wonder John was baptising people at the same time.
Maybe it would have been simpler to think of repentance as turning away from immoral behaviour after all?
For us during lent, to remember the value of repentance is to be willing to rethink, and change our minds. If our minds are changed then our hearts and actions can follow. Of course, most of us know it’s much harder to change than it is to say we are going to, be that our attitudes, our world-view or our moral behaviour. We have a lot less control over ourselves than we’d like: ‘the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’. However, a change of mind to recognise Jesus for who he is means that his strength, the Holy Spirit, will also help us change our behaviour, our attitudes and our world-view. The Holy Spirit can even help us love people who we find it impossible to love. Sometimes without us even being aware of the change.
That’s the power of repentance!
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”(Rom 12:2)
In other words: We can ‘rethink’ and change our minds, choosing not to conform, but the actual transformation happens to us.