I really, really did not like the word repentance.
I associated it with psychopath preachers who wielded “Repent!” like a baseball bat, determined to beat the sin out of anyone within earshot.
Today, I feel very differently toward the word. In fact, I now consider the call to repent to be one of Jesus’ most endearing invitations.
“Repent” is a beautiful and sacred invitation to me. Not a command. Not a warning. And definitely not a form of punishment or condemnation, meant to shame me into feeling bad or remorseful about my many sins.
So what changed?
Now I understand that Jesus’ call to repent is actually an invitation to experience his transformation. And from personal experience, I know that the transformation Jesus offers is a gift. It is good. It is healing, gentle, powerful. And, yes—it can also be corrective.
When Jesus preached about repentance (Mark 1:15; Luke 5:32; Luke 15:7), he was inviting us humans to allow our hearts and minds to be pliable and sensitive to God’s Spirit. He was inviting us to cultivate an attitude of humility, so that our hearts remain soft instead of becoming prideful and hardened against what God wants us to understand.
And he invites because he can’t force us to keep our hearts attuned to his Spirit. We have to be willing participants in the process of God’s transformation.
The truth is that often we’re not.
In Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward, he writes:
Although Jesus’ first preached message is “change!” (as in Mark 1:15 and Matthew 4:17), where he told his listeners to “repent,” which literally means to “change your mind,” it did not strongly influence Christian history. This resistance to change is so common, in fact, that it is almost what we expect from religious people.
Spiritual change is hard. Resisting change can become our modus operandi.
But in Isaiah 55:8, God offers the reason why we need to be people of repentance when he says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”
We have to unlearn (repent) as we follow Jesus, and we have to continue to learn from Jesus (“the way, the truth, and the life”). We are disciples who are learning and unlearning at the same time. We are learning God’s ways, and we are unlearning our own.
The good news is that Jesus doesn’t just initiate spiritual change with an invitation (“repent and believe”); he also ultimately makes our transformation possible through the cross (“it is finished!”).
Do you remember the last time that Jesus invited you to repent or “change your mind”? Did you see it as an invitation, or as condemnation?
Another way I’ve learned to embrace repentance is through knowing other humble, faithful Christians who embody God’s kindness (which naturally “leads us to repentance” [see Romans 2:4]).
Also, certain spiritual disciplines like centering prayer have helped me understand the goodness of consenting to the presence and action of God within us (i.e., repentance). At a recent retreat, I learned a short and simple prayer that is meant to help usher in repentance in our hearts in a refreshing new way.
The prayer is, “Yes. Amen.”
The simple prayer of “yes” communicates my consent to God’s presence and action within me. And the “Amen” literally means “let it be so” or “so be it.”
Repentance is an invitation from God borne out of his vast, deep, deep love for us. And when we embrace this invitation, we invite God to give us new hearts (Ezekiel 36:26) and restore our souls (Psalm 23).
May you experience the goodness of consenting to the presence and action of God in your life this week. Amen.