Jesus’ first message on record is, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mathew 4:17). Before Jesus began preaching, His forerunner John also taught the same thing in the wilderness. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). This was part of John’s job to “make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight” (Mark 1:3). The way to prepare for the kingdom, then, must be to repent.
For many people, the first thought that usually comes to mind when thinking of repentance is sorrow. Sorrow is necessary for repentance, but it doesn’t define repentance. After Paul heard how the Corinthians responded to his previous letter, he wrote the following back to them.
I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.2 Corinthians 7:9–101
Sorrow, according to God’s will, produces repentance. Many people have sorrow and regrets in life. “If only I could have played harder, our team could have won the championship.” “If only I had been more careful, I would not have been caught.” A rich man came to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). He and Jesus spoke about the Ten Commandments a bit, but then, verses 21 and 22 say this:
Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.Mark 10:21–22
This rich young ruler had sorrow, but this type of sorrow does not produce salvation. As the apostle Paul said, it produces death.
God expects us to reflect on what is most important and consider how we have acted against His will in the past. Any time we have sinned, we have given Jesus more reason to suffer the cross. That thought should send us to our knees with true sorrow—godly sorrow. When someone is truly sorry, they change their mind. They repent. Accompanied with that change of mind is the commitment to do better in the future, which is the key to repentance. Notice James’ words to sinners.
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.James 4:7–10
Does God expect us to mope around and be miserable? If we haven’t taken our sins to the cross of Christ, then yes! Only when we mourn for our sins can we truly approach the cross. It would make no sense to seek forgiveness all while planning to continue in sin. Godly sorrow will change our hearts and our minds, which will change our actions. Once we humble ourselves in this way, God promises to lift us up. He can reach much higher than we can. Lift yourself up, and you will be disappointed in how far you get. Allow the Lord to exalt you, and you can experience the eternal joy that only God provides!
When we are living in sin, otherwise known as walking in darkness (see 1 John 1:5–10), we find it easy to justify sin. However, God is so pure that His eyes “can not look on wickedness with favor” (Habakkuk 1:13a). Sin separates us from God (see Isaiah 59:1–2; and 2 Thessalonians 1:6–11). If we do not repent of our sins, Christ says to us just what He said to one audience centuries ago:
I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.Luke 13:3
On the other hand, if we are willing to mourn for our sins and repent, Christ says to us just what He said to His disciples centuries ago.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.Matthew 5:4
Notice again what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation.2 Corinthians 7:10
First, he said that repentance leads to salvation. It is impossible for us to seek the salvation that God offers without repenting of our sins. Secondly, true repentance is never regretted. Repentance might be sacrificing the passing pleasures of this world (see Hebrews 11:25), but it will never be a sacrifice you will regret. Consider what God has to offer in eternity.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”Revelation 21:1–5
On the other hand, “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9). If we are unwilling to rid ourselves of sin now, then we must not be that interested in the kingdom of God. Remember: repentance makes one ready for the Lord. Break down the wall of sin dividing you from your Lord. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Let it go. Humble yourself today, and God will lift you higher “beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,Psalm 1:1-3
Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.