What does it mean to repent? The dictionary defines the word this way: 1. to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life; 2 a. to feel regret or contrition; b. to change one’s mind. (merriam-webster.com) The Greek word for repent literally means “to turn around and go in the opposite direction.”
Here’s the problem; that means I have to admit that I was wrong. I love doing that, don’t you? (Can you hear the sarcasm dripping from that question?)
But, if the definitions above are accurate, repentance goes deeper than just admitting that I am wrong about something, it means “chang(ing my) mind.” That is as fundamental as it gets. When you start fooling around with the foundational presumptions about life it gets very personal, with lots of emotion, very quickly. After all, we have invested a lot of tradition, experience, and effort into forming our opinions and philosophies of life. Then something, or someone, comes along and challenges those basic assumptions and we are ready to fight to the death, figuratively speaking, rather than consider for one moment the possibility that we might be wrong and need to change direction.
Could that be why Paul said, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (Romans 12:2) The underlying premise is that in order to truly repent we have to submit to a process of education – or maybe re-education.
(I can hear the groans from here.) “You mean you want me to think? Does that mean I have to read a book? Attend a Bible study? Develop a deliberate plan of personal Bible study and application?” Yes! If the definitions given above are accurate, then repentance is more than feelings of regret or remorse. It is deliberately changing your behaviors. The only way that is going to happen is to change the way that you think which will result in a reorientation of your priorities and core values which will, in turn, manifest itself in the way that you act.