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In Peter’s sermon following the healing of the crippled man, he tells the crowd, ‘Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.’ (Acts 3:19) This gives us a clue as to how we may move from judgment to blessing.
Repentance is the first step, but repentance itself has several steps. To repent means:
We see our sin as sin, not just as a ‘mistake’ or a ‘problem’. Rom 3:10 tells us firmly that no one is righteous; Paul goes on to remind us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). It’s one thing to accept this in a general sense, but to repent means we have to see our sin, not someone else’s (see Matt 7:3-5). We have to be able to ask, ‘What have I done?’ and accept the answer, even when it is devastating.
This correct view of sin leads us to sorrow over our sin. We don’t treat it lightly, but are broken and ashamed of it (see Ps 51:17, Jer 31:19). There is a difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow, between remorse and repentance (see 2 Cor 7:10).
We are frequently urged to confess our sins. Our Protestant heritage tends to shy away from confession to people, but James 5:16 reminds us to do this. Confession to God is essential (1 John 1:9), but all too often, we shy away from letting others see our sins, which can simply be another way of hiding our sins or allowing pride to have the last word. Confession is not only personal, but we need to learn to identify with and confess the sins of our nation (see Dan 9:4-8, Ezra 9:1-6; Neh 1:6-7)
We learn to hate sin as God hates it. Jesus frequently spoke of loving God more than anything else (see Luke 14:26) and we cannot love God fully while we tolerate and condone sin. This does not mean hating people, but we must learn to hate what is evil and cling to what is good. (Rom 12:9)
We turn away from our sin. John Piper says, ‘Repentance means little if it does not result in reformation.’ We have to learn to renounce that which we previously embraced. This may mean changing our habits (what we watch, listen to, eat, allow into our bodies, what we say and do) and forming new ones.
The blessings promised from repentance far outweigh the difficulties in turning around, however. Peter speaks of ‘times of refreshing.’ Isaiah spoke of salvation consisting of ‘repentance and rest’ (Is 30:15). We need both physical and spiritual rest to function well, and this is made possible by the ‘clean slate’ Jesus gives to us through the forgiveness of sins (see Eph 1:7, Col 1:13-14, Is 43:25). Refreshing also comes from the fellowship we now have with God’s people (see 2 Tim 1:16) and from the spiritual quenching Jesus brings to us (John 4:13-14). We can see that far from being a negative view of life, repentance and rest lead us into spiritual blessings and refreshment which strengthen us and put a spring into our step!