The word “repent” is common enough that most Christians have at least some idea of what it means. We’ve probably all heard it in church at some point. To repent means to change one’s mind, or change one’s attitude regarding God, which will be reflected in his actions. Because it deals with lifestyle change and turning away from sin, we often use “repent” in a way that calls for us to repent of or from our sins. But repentance isn’t repentance if the turn from sin isn’t a result of turning towards Christ. Changes in behavior, particularly the elimination of sinful behavior, is the result of repentance, not the act of repentance itself. We should repent to Christ, not from our sin.
What’s the difference? Why should that matter? Well, first of all, if you try to repent from sin without repenting to Christ, you are really just trying not to sin. That doesn’t implicitly mean you’re following Christ. People who don’t believe in Christ try to not do “bad things,” too. Trying to be a good person isn’t exclusively Christian, and that’s all you’re really doing when you repent from sin instead of to Christ. For the Christian, the turning away from sin is the natural result and evidence of turning towards Christ.
Having a mindset to repent from sins can also lend to trying to quit sinning in your own strength, which is a recipe for failure. Only the Holy Spirit – Who we will be studying this entire month at KCC – can truly change us. We can put up barriers to prevent ourselves from sinning, but only the God can change our heart. This is why we repent to, not from. We incline our hearts towards God, as the Old Testament says, thus giving Him control and allowing Him to change us.
Lastly, it’s important to understand repentance, because Christ taught that it was required for salvation in Luke 13:3, 5. If you have the idea that repentance means quitting your sin, then you would have to interpret Jesus’ words as saying, “you need to quit your sin for me to save you.” But then salvation wouldn’t be by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Salvation would hinge on you and your ability to clean yourself up. Thank God it doesn’t.
Repent to Christ. In doing so, you will turn from your sin, and you’ll have the Holy Spirit indwelling you, giving you the power to succeed in that.