One of the common words we hear about during Lent is “penitence,” which is a synonym for “repentance.” I used to think repentance meant, “I won’t do that bad thing again!” Sorrow for doing bad things and commitment to stop doing them is part of repentance, but there’s so much more.
In Acts 26:20, Paul declared that people “should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” Paul tells us that repentance means turning to God. It’s difficult for well-intending people to admit they have turned away from God, feeding habits which are completely against His will, in fact serving the purpose of God’s enemies (Ephesians 2:1-3). That’s one reason why following Jesus is repulsive to the world – to truly turn to God, we have to admit that the way we’ve been living is bankrupt, twisted, aligned with evil powers, and in fact dead.
When we turn to God and confess our guilt, we know that God always punishes the guilty, but we also trust that He will forgive (Ex 34:6-7). Only God can resolve this conflict, and He resolves it through the God-man, Jesus, who trades places with us. Our ungodliness goes on Him, and his righteousness is credited to us. He takes our punishment, and we are declared innocent. He was resurrected, and we are given new life too.
So repentance is turning from our old selves and turning to God. And He never leaves us there, midway in the turn, but takes us all the way through to begin a new life of everlasting quality, because repentance is followed by forgiveness and transformation. Being forgiven through faith in Jesus, we are washed clean and renewed in our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit (Timothy 3:5). That’s when are our deepest desires are to honor God, to trust and listen to Him, and to live in ways which reflect our love for Him (Galatians 5:16-25).
So during Lent we take time to remember that we were dead in sin. We remember that we turned and trusted in God to forgive us. We remember that Jesus died in our place and was resurrected. We remember the new life we received. And we do this to renew our gratitude and loyalty and love for God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, motivating us to continue performing deeds appropriate to repentance.