When I was younger and heard people talking about repentance, I used to think my goodness, that sounds dull. Most young people probably feel the same today. No, don’t scroll away. I want to bring the meaning up to date because, over time, I have come to understand it differently.
Accumulated Habits and Dispositions
We all have certain habits that we could probably do with ironing out of our lives, be that taking too much pleasure in cakes and pies, resulting in weight gain. Or a habit of spending too much at the shops or online, resulting in debt. Or it could be an addiction to something else, which results in bondage. Whatever it is, there are fairly obvious ways to overcome these things and improve our lives.
This would be the sensible thing to do but not exactly what Jesus meant when he spoke of repentance. Because the biblical term repentance means more than just breaking bad habits. It means to change our inner selves—our way of thinking about things and seek God’s views and purpose for our lives.
There are many levels and depths to this kind of repentance, and it is a lifelong journey. It might begin with the specific bad habits described above. But, there is another deeper level because, beneath those initial issues, we all have deeper-seated insecurities, including fear, arrogance, pride, timidity, insecurity and doubt about self-worth. These dispositions are buried deep within us and are difficult to disguise.
Shakespeare wrote of his character Lord Abergavenny. Who said;
I cannot tell What heaven hath given him—let some graver eye Pierce into that;
but I can see his pride Peep through each part of him.
All humans have some of these negative dispositions to a greater or lesser degree. The trials of life inflict them.
Jesus wants us to change these more profound negative viewpoints, to look at the bigger picture, as modern therapists say. Because the way God sees the world is often not the way we see it, he sees us as his dearly beloved children who he loved so much that he sent his son Jesus to show us the way. As recorded in St Mark’s Gospel, Jesus provides an excellent insight into what his kingdom will be like when we come out of the dark and into the light.
Two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John brothers, asked him for important positions when his kingdom came into power. Almost like they believed his kingdom would be like a country’s governmental system with influential diplomats. The other disciples were angry when they learnt about this request, but only because they, too, selfishly sought powerful positions in God’s kingdom.
But Jesus told them all his kingdom is not like that of the world where Gentiles lord it over others and powerful men act as tyrants. He said you must change this way of thinking because no one will seek power over another in my kingdom. Instead, they will seek to love one another better.
Changing our Perceptions
Today we are enlightened with mental health therapy, more so than at any other time, and we have access to many techniques for changing our thought patterns and perceptions. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy CBT comes to mind.
This is a secular version of what Jesus meant when he said to repent, he was pointing to changing the way we think. Don’t seek power over others, don’t see yourself as better than others, and don’t be fearful or timid. Look at the bigger picture God has painted – open up your hearts to a wider possibility.
These negative human instincts are formed deeply within us; but they are false flags we have developed to protect ourselves. When we accept that we can begin to reform our minds and change our perception of reality, this is the repentance Jesus spoke of. So little difference really to today’s secular therapeutic practices.
Biblical repentance is giving up our agenda of preconceived worldly ideas. It is a total change of attitude, which can be life-changing.
The Lord’s Prayer can help us process our false perceptions as we ask for forgiveness for our sins and our wrong ways of thinking:
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.