Lenten Repentance

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.

Why Observe Lent?

Think of an important event that you celebrate each year with a loved one, like an anniversary or a birthday.  And suppose you have seven weeks to plan for that event.  In a way, the more thought and planning you put into the day, the more meaningful your celebration will be, and the more your loved one will know how much you love them.

Lent is a period of seven weeks during which Christians prepare to remember the day that Jesus died (Good Friday) and the day He was resurrected (Easter Sunday). How can we prepare to celebrate these important days of the Christian year?

We can think back and remember how life was before we trusted Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-3).  We were separated from God by the guilt we carried for the things we’d done wrong and by the shame we carried for the wrongs done against us.  We were caught up in the course of popular culture, indulging our impulses yet never satisfied.  We were in fact aligned with powers working against God instead of for Him.

We can acknowledge to God how fantastic His love is, in that Jesus died for us even when we were against Him (Romans 5:6).

We can remember how we turned to God in broken humility, confessing the wrongs we have done, asking for forgiveness, and trusting that He would be merciful and forgive us (Joel 2:12-14).

We can give God thanks for the cleansing, healing, transforming power of the forgiveness we received through Jesus (Ps 51).

And remembering all this can stir a renewed love in our hearts so that we live today in ways which demonstrate our love and faithful trust in Jesus (John 14:15; Acts 26:20).

Break away from the busyness of life and take time to prepare your hearts to celebrate Good Friday and Easter.  May this Easter season be a particularly special one for you, for our church as we gather to celebrate together, and for Jesus, as we express our deeply-thought love and devotion to Him!