Shortly after moving to Ireland, I was in a coaching network and the guy leading it said,

“The best thing that can happen to me every day is that I have the opportunity to repent”.

I took some time to reflect and eventually shared it in a missional community I was part of at the time. A school teacher in the group got a disgusted look on her face and said, “that sounds horrible”.

So, who’s right? How can two intelligent followers of Jesus have such different responses to the same word? In part, it’s because of how the word repent has been so misused. For a lot of people, repent communicates, “You were bad. You need to stop doing what you did and make amends”. Dealing with that every day could get old fast…and likely wouldn’t be considered the best thing that happened to you. Nobody likes to be scolded, and if that is how we understand repentance, we will want to avoid it.

There are a few other ways repent gets misused.

  • Repentance does not mean you feel bad. Remorse is a better word for that. Now, remorse could be a part of repentance…but would not have to be.
  • Repentance does not mean you stopped doing something. I stopped going to high school. I didn’t repent of it…I no longer (thankfully) have an opportunity to attend high school. Now, no longer doing something you shouldn’t can be an important piece of repentance. But doing something you no longer have the opportunity to do is not repentance.

So what is repentance? Imagine Covid is over, we can travel again, and Liz and I buy plane tickets for a short holiday. We pack the car and start heading south. At some point, Liz would say to me we are going in the wrong direction…the airport is north of the city. If you want to get to the airport you need to go in a different direction.

I might feel a bit dumb that I forgot where the airport was…but it wouldn’t be the first (or last time) I forgot something important. I am positive that I wouldn’t feel remorse…but I am just as positive that I would stop driving south. I would also be thankful that someone who cares about me lovingly told me I was thinking incorrectly and it had me on a route that would not take me where I was hoping to get to.

Apple computer used to have the slogan, “Think different.” And I believe that sums up the idea of repentance so well. You can pick any field that matters to you, I’ll use Jesus as an example.

Do I, or you, know everything there is to know about Jesus? Of course not.

Are there things I have believed about Jesus in the past that I have changed my thinking about? Definitely.

Would I want to go back and have all of my incorrect thinking? Of course not.

Has having more correct thinking about Jesus changed who I live? How I interact with people? Without question.

Do I still have things about Jesus that I don’t know or even areas where I have incomplete or incorrect ways of thinking about him? Of course. (and anyone who would say no to that has much bigger problems than understanding the word repent.)

So, imagine if every day, I had the opportunity to repent…to think differently…to think more correctly about Jesus than I used to. Is that horrible or the best thing that could happen? On a recent podcast, Tim Gombis, said when I repent it means I’m less wrong than I was before. [Gombis’ podcast Faith Improvised is one of my new podcast discoveries…I highly recommend].

When we are anxious, or reactive, or defensive; if our identity is tied up in always being right, repentance is hard…if not impossible. Not only do we end up resisting any invitation to change, but we are also unlikely to be reflective people who take the time to listen to others, or even listen to what the Holy Spirit might be wanting to say to us. Hopefully, this helps some think different about repentance.

Just something that has been on my mind lately.