God is love. He accepts me as I am. So why then is there a need for repentance? After all, repentance is a buzzkill compared to the feel good message that God loves me. Is repentance necessary for the Christian?
In short, yes. Recognize that repentance carries with it two important actions. First, it’s an acknowledgment of wrong-doing on our part. We are taking responsibility for our actions. God is love, but He is also a perfect God of justice. If we take one aspect of God without the other, we’re not talking about the same God. It’s like saying a person’s job is the only thing about that person. People may do it, but it doesn’t adequately describe the person.
Second, it’s a decision to turn away from that wrong-doing. Not only are we admitting to being wrong, but we are saying to God, “I know it’s wrong and I consciously choose to try and not do it any longer.” Repentance is not just an apology to God, but it’s the first step in letting our actions match our words.
Most importantly, God requires it. If we want to be obedient to God, when we sin we must repent. This isn’t just a New Testament command. For instance, here is an oft quoted set of verses from the Old Testament:
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, ESV
By following God’s command to repent, we are acknowledging that He is in charge. Hopefully, that brings us back to a proper perspective of who we are compared to who God is. When we only focus on “God is love,” we tend to treat Him as the proverbial genie in the lamp. That isn’t who He is at all. He is the in command. He is Sovereign. He is the ruler and we are the servants. Our impression of ourselves is often bigger than reality. Repentance should therefore bring about humility as we shrink down that inflated view of our own importance.
But repentance isn’t one sided. Note that when we repent, God acts, too. He forgives. He restores us to His presence. He also may chose to restore us in other ways, as the above verses indicate. When Israel repented, God promised to undo the calamities that they were suffering under as a nation. That same possibility exists for us as individuals and as congregations. This isn’t always the case. However, even if He doesn’t act to undo some of the issues we’re facing, His forgiveness and restoration of our relationship with Him is unbelievable. We don’t deserve it.
But we shouldn’t be surprised. When we say God is good and God is merciful, this carries over even to our admittance of wrong-doing. Even when we know we’ve disobeyed, He still has something good for us planned. This is just one reason God is my hope. Even in my repentance, God treats me better than I deserve.