Whatever happened to repenting?

By Edwin Crayton/Opinion

If you know how to drive a few feet and make a U-turn, you know how to repent. That is because repenting is simply turning around and going in the opposite direction.  That is a vital lesson I learned from a very good professor and pastor. Repentance is a key aspect of salvation. Peter said in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  Yet, in the 21st Century, repentance has kind of fallen out of favor among many who say they believe in Christ. Many people want salvation, but the idea of repenting does not appeal to them. But it really doesn’t work that way because, the two are inseparable.  You cannot get salvation if you are not willing to do what is required.  And repentance is a key and mandatory step in salvation. It is a nonnegotiable.

Repentance refers to turning away from a sin. The person who repents is letting go of a sin. This person is expressing regret or contrition and then turning away from the sin he or she committed. Allow me to use myself as an example of a sinner who has often had to repent and still does.  I was once a fornicator, meaning I had sex before marriage.  The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that fornicators will not enter heaven.  That means, those who fornicate must let go of the sin if they want to get into heaven. In fact, the next sentence, verse 11 makes that clear. It says, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and the Spirit of our God.”  That verse says it is still possible to get into heaven if you have committed the sin of fornication, but you must be washed and sanctified by faith in Jesus.  What I had to do was admit that what I was doing was a sin, express regret—repent—ask for forgiveness and turn from the sin. I had to stop doing it as well.  I could not skip that step.  Believe me, I tried to manipulate things. I would sin, then ask for forgiveness, but then sin again.  I was insincere. But that was a con job that only fooled me. One day, I heard a spiritual message that convinced me that I was not within God’s will. I had to actually stop doing the sin. I was convicted of my con. So, I admitted it, asked God to forgive me and also help me comply.  I realized this had to be real.  The Holy Spirit enabled me to let go of the sin through a transformation that took place in my heart (Romans 12:1-2).  This time, I did not return to the sin.  That is the U-turn the professor talked about.  I could not have made it without the help of the Holy Spirit. I once lived in San Francisco with a very elderly aunt. She confessed to me that when she was younger she drank a bit. But one day, she asked God to take the taste of whiskey out of her mouth.  She bought some liquor. But did not drink it.  She quit. This whole thing she shared with me, surprised me, because I had never seen her take a drink of anything stronger than juice.  Years before I was born, she had made the U-turn too, thanks to the Holy Spirit. Everyone can make the U-turn. Because God is just that good. The problem is not God. The problem is the same as it usually is. The problem is us mortals.

Just look around you and the signs are everywhere that in contemporary life, we are not repenting enough.  The polls I have seen indicate that a majority of Americans who claim to believe in God, identify as Christians. Yet, our lifestyles do not reflect that. Today fornication is widely accepted among young people who say they believe in Jesus. Many people have babies without being married and fewer and fewer people consider it a sin. Where is the repentance in a society that fondly refers to unwed moms and dads as “baby mamas” or “baby daddies”?  The Bible further says homosexuality is a sin (Leviticus 18:22, Romans, chapter 1), but some churches are led by pastors who openly practice the sin—some denominations have gay bishops.  And now, we are having to even deal with trans gender lifestyles being treated as normal.  If a pastor is gay and proud of it, he or she is definitely not repenting.   Either these gay pastors don’t agree with the Bible that homosexuality is a sin, or they have some notion that they are exempt in some way.  But there is no special sin that God overlooks or that does not require repentance.  It is a simple inconvenient truth that these gay pastors are practicing and embracing something that they are called to preach against.  Abortion is treated as healthcare, even though the Bible prohibits the taking of innocent life What is more innocent than a baby? (Exodus 20:13). Where is the repentance? Yet, those who practice these sins still seem to somehow believe they can skip the act of repenting and still be saved. And what about pastors and priests who have been convicted of sexually abusing children? Or what about pastors who are involved in scandals and don’t turn from what they are doing until they are caught?  Isn’t this really just an abuse of the idea of grace? Yes, God forgives our sins, but we cannot not go on doing them. Paul warned us of this when he said in Romans 6:1, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid!”

And finally, there is this. If you need a bit more evidence that repentance is a nonnegotiable, I would ask you to examine the anatomy of salvation itself as given to us by the Bible. Scripture and life experience make it clear that where there is no regret for sinning, there will be no repentance. Where there is no repentance, there will be no forgiveness (why would you ask forgiveness for something you don’t regret doing?). Where there is no forgiveness, there is no salvation. That is because Christ came to die for us so our sins would be forgiven.  Let me emphasize that the most important step is the first one. What would make us turn from a sin? There are too many possibilities to list in an article. But there are two that consistently seem to lead people to regret sin. The first is dissatisfaction with the sin.  God has countless ways of making a person weary of sinning.  The second thing that makes people turn away from sin is simply love for God.  When you love God, you do not want to disappoint him by doing what he hates.  Jesus said,” those who love me keep my commands”. He also said to some would be followers, “Why do you call me lord, lord and do not do what I say? When we love Jesus, we will not be able to find pleasure continuously doing what displeases him. That is what ultimately convinced me to stop committing the sin of fornication.

Repentance is not all about giving something up. It’s about giving something up and getting something better. Apostle Paul was a persecutor of Christians. After he repented, he became a leader of the church and was used mightily by God to draw untold numbers of lost people to Christ and salvation through his writings and his mission work.  People are still being saved because of his ministry work. Peter repented for having denied Jesus. However, that was not the end of the story.  After receiving the Holy Spirit, he became a driving force in shaping the Christian Church.  When I was a child there was a gospel song that was very popular in many African American Churches. The main lyrics were, “You can’t beat God giving. No matter how you try. The more you give, the more he gives to you.”  (Shrewdly, they sang that hymn as the offering plate was passed around.)  But the point is true and really has nothing to do with money.  When you surrender completely to God, he gives more than you would ever expect.  And he allows you to be a blessing to other people, particularly those who are lost.   There is a game I sometimes play when I evangelize to people. The point is to illustrate the Christian walk.  I show them a sheet of paper with the words “The Devil” on the left and “God on the right. In between is a long line. Then I ask them to move their hand towards both the Devil and God at the same time. They realize quickly that they can’t. They then usually say, “You have to go one way or the other”.  They get the point. I explain to them that the Bible makes it clear that the decisions we make in life will lead us to one or the other: hell, or heaven. There is no third choice according to the Holy Bible.  If you find yourself being lured into actions, ideas and beliefs that lead you to disagree with and disobey God’s Holy Word, you will find yourself headed in the direction of the devil and away from God. You will find yourself walking a path that leads toward the devil and hell—-the flames of perdition. However, as long as you have breath in your lungs, you still have a final option that can still save you: Make a U-turn (Acts 2:38).

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.”

–Jesus speaking in Luke 6:46-48

“I say unto you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance.”

–Jesus speaking in Luke 15:7

Look for this opinion article at least twice monthly in the Journal, usually on Tuesdays.

Attend church. God bless you.

Note: May is the month we celebrate Cinco de Mayo (5h of May). But there’s no reason we can’t honor Mexican history all month, right? According to the History Channel, the holiday is celebrated more in the U.S than in Mexico.