Repentance is the first recorded word spoken by both John the Baptist, and the Lord at the beginning of their ministries. It is the first instruction given by Peter on the day of Pentecost in answer to the question, “What shall we do?” With these testimonies, it must be clear to us that repentance is an essential step for all. It is important to understand what precedes repentance, what it means and what should follow it. In the original language the word means a change of mind at a deep and lasting level. The change of mind that God is looking for is where a person recognises that sin is wrong and should and must be turned away from. It is not simply a mental exercise, but one that is evidenced by changes in the way one lives. In response to his preaching, people asked John the Baptist what changes they should make, and he gave them specific, practical and helpful advice, which you can read in Luke 3:10-14.

But a person does not repent simply because the idea occurs to them. It is unreasonable to expect a person to have a wide ranging change of minds about behaviour that has continued for years, without some outside influence. There may be situations where we come to acknowledge that some particular thing is unhelpful and change that specific behaviour. But the repentance that God is looking for is where we accept that all things that God thinks are wrong, we also think are wrong. This change of mind does not happen independently, but it is the Holy Spirit that brings this conviction or convincing about sin and an acknowledgement that God’s ways are right. Our response to His conviction should be that change of mind, or repentance, which brings us into unquestioning agreement with God. But sadly there is another response that people can have to the Holy Spirit’s convicting power and that is to resist Him and not accept His conviction. Have you allowed Him to convince you about sin, or did you resist His convicting?

True repentance results in a need for something further. If we acknowledge that our actions in the past were wrong, we also have to acknowledge those actions have offended against a Holy God. Repentance, on its own, will not be enough, because we need to find an answer to the sins that we have already committed; how can we be forgiven? It is then that these wonderful words “…whoever believes in [Jesus Christ] will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43b) find their full power, when we realise that we have sinned against God, but that we can be forgiven because of Christ’s atoning death on the cross, and we can be cleansed from all our past transgressions.