Have you ever seen someone carrying a sign that says, "Turn or Burn" -- or with the words "Repent or Perish" written on a T-shirt? Even if these messages look comical, they capture an important truth. Repentance is the first step of a genuine relationship with God (Acts 3:19).

The Concept of Repentance

The Old Testament's favorite term for repentance is "turn" (Ezekiel 33:11). There are always two sides to turning -- there is the turning-away from sin and the turning-to God. The Greek word metanoia is used in the New Testament for repentance (meta means "change" and nous means "the mind"). The concept behind repentance is change -- a change of mind about sin, about God, and about the direction of your life.

Repentance is also a change in your perspective which leads to a change in values, in attitude, and in behavior. There was no repentance if there has been no change in behavior.

Repentance and Christian LIving

Both John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministries with the message, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 3:2 and Matthew 4:17). The Christian message begins with repentance; so does the Christian life (Acts 11:18). Your turning "to God from idols to serve the living and true God" (First Thessalonians 1:9) is a sure sign of your new life in Christ.

Even after you are well on your way to living the Christian life, repentance continues to play a role -- because it helps you to return to God whenever you have done wrong and because it helps you to improve your behavior when you discover that there is a better way to live. As a Godly person, you are not sinless; you always come back to God after you have sinned (First John 1:8-10). Repentance helps to carry you forward in spiritual maturity.

More than Being Sorry

Your motive for repentance may be sorrow over your failure. But there is a "worldly sorrow" that brings death. Some people are sorry that they got caught, and others are sorry that they did wrong; repentance is being sorry enough to quit. "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation ..." (Second Corinthians 7:10).

Change is normally difficult for human beings. Therefore, it isn't surprising that repentance is sometimes preceded by pain. If you are comfortable with your current behavior -- why would you want to improve? Pain and grief can compel you to examine your life, to face what is wrong, and to work at fixing the problem. "Come," said the prophet Hosea, "let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us" (Hosea 6:1 and Second Corinthians 7:11).

How to Repent

Repentance begins with your confession of sin (Psalm 51:1 and First John 1:9). Without admitting that you have done wrong or that you need God's help, you cannot repent. God is willing to give you powerful resources for change, but you must confess your sin and weakness. Through confession, you make YOUR problem become HIS problem!!!

Secondly, you need to really receive forgiveness. Think of Jesus personally telling you, "Your sins are forgiven; now, leave your life of sin." Pray (that is, say to God) "Lord, I receive Your forgiveness in the depths of my being."

Thirdly, you need to ask God to help you to change, and to turn closer to His ideal for you. Sometimes, you may need the prayers of others so that you can be completely "healed" (James 5:16).

Then begin to take some specific actions that demonstrate your intention to change (Matthew 3:8). Paul's message was that people "should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds" (Acts 26:20). This may mean that you will pour your booze down the sink, make restitution to someone, apologize to a friend, or join a support group for accountability.