What does it mean to “repent”?

from The Process of Asking for, Receiving and Giving Love & Forgiveness by LaShawnda Jones

You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right.  ~2 Corinthians 7:11

 Repent is a word not often spoken in contemporary culture. We as individuals are told to be ourselves, do what we want, live as we please and enjoy life. But, invariably, following one or all of these cultural myths will lead to someone in our life getting hurt by something we say or do. As a result, our relationships suffer. Though suffering is a part of life and we grow most through our struggles, the unfortunate truth is that most people try to avoid suffering and speed through their struggles – getting as little as possible from the experiences.

The self-centered person will not take the time to focus on the individual they hurt. And the hurt individual will, sometimes, try to hide their pain, or simply “get over it” on their own. Neither of these approaches improves nor strengthens the relationship.

            In our contemporary language we “apologize” or say we’re “sorry” for causing offense. However, neither being sorry (feeling regret, sorrow, grief or sadness) or offering an apology (expressing regret, remorse or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another) is the same as repenting (to feel such sorrow for sin or fault as to be disposed to change one’s life for the better).

            I had a male acquaintance who used to apologize for not following through on his word. Every time he disappointed me, he admitted his failure. After so many apologies, I asked him why he bothered to say anything at all if he continued to behave the same manner. His response: he continued his hurtful behavior but omitted his apologies.

            He completely missed the point. And I blamed myself for not expressing my frustration in a clearer manner. In addition to that, my desire to be a loving Christian led me to repeatedly pardon his dismissive behavior. In effect, I enabled him to continue treating me in a way that hurt and belittled me. It was obvious I valued the relationship and equally obvious how little value he placed on it and me.

            He did not change his behavior, therefore he did not repent. Eventually, I reached a point where I could no longer ignore my pain and I sought to disassociate myself from him completely.

As our relationship with God exhibits, all relationships are salvageable. There simply has to be a desire within both parties to do what is necessary to restore the relationship. In the case of my former acquaintance, he would have to give me what I desire – true repentance.

Now I am glad I sent it [letter], not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants His people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way.  For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.

Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. My purpose, then, was not to write about who did the wrong or who was wronged. I wrote to you so that in the sight of God you could see for yourselves how loyal you are to us.  ~ 2 Corinthians 7:9-12

            Restoration of our relationship would have to involve the process outlined above. I would have to know that the pain of our broken relationship caused him to change his behavior towards me (v. 9). I would need to see that his desire to reconcile moved him to take action to save the relationship. I would need to know that he does not want our relationship to be one of the dead things in his life (v.10). I would need to experience his earnestness and his true concern for me. I would need to see that there is some alarm at the prospect of our bond being dissolved. He would need to show me that he is doing everything in his power to make amends and that he is indeed loyal to me (v. 11,12).

            A flippant “sorry” or “oh, well, I’ll do better next time” doesn’t even begin to cover all that. When you hold people accountable for their actions against you, you assist them in becoming better citizens of Heaven. You improve their walk as well as your own. In doing so, you both become better representatives of Christ and the God who sent Him.

In each of our human relationships, we are equal parts teacher, student and negotiator. We continuously teach the other person about who we are – our likes, dislikes, boundaries, and goals – while learning the same about them. When disagreements occur, if there’s a desire to maintain the relationship, both parties will negotiate for an equally satisfying solution.

Additional “repentance” posts:

Question: To Forgive or Not to Forgive?

Psalm 51: Repentance vs. Apology

Excerpt: The Psalm 51 Example: Repent and Live

Excerpt: The Psalm 51 Example: Repent and Live (PDF)

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