I first got the idea for this series while reading the sixth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews one day, and as I read what Paul described as the elementary principles of Christ, I realize that these elementary principles, these basic doctrines, these teachings which ought to be the foundation of our faith, are only rarely, if ever taught in today’s modern churches. I felt in my heart that there was a need to reacquaint ourselves with the elementary principles of Christ once more, and went to work putting this series together.
What I found intriguing is that Paul begins with repentance, or repentance from dead works as the first of the elementary principles of Christ, and ends with eternal judgment. So within the span of three verses Paul lays out the entirety of the Christian experience, from the first step, that of repentance, to the last, that of eternal judgment for the disobedient and the unregenerate.
As Paul lists the elementary principles of Christ, the first he focuses on is repentance, or repentance from dead works. So what is repentance? In its most basic definition, repentance is turning away from a previous practice, never again to return to it. Repentance is not a feeling of remorse or regret for the sins you have committed but an actual turning away from said sin, and never revisiting it again. I meet many people who tell me that they repented of a sin only to fall back into that selfsame sin again. Then my friend, it wasn’t true repentance. It was perhaps a feeling of shame, of regret, of remorse, but if it had been true repentance you would have never gone back to that sin again.
The second question we must ask is why should we preach and teach repentance? The simple answer, is because Jesus taught and preached repentance, as did John the Baptist, as did Paul and every disciple of Christ that is included in the Bible. Even before the advent of Christ, the heart of God was for His people to repent, and turn back to Him that He might bless them rather than judge them, that He might comfort them rather than punish them.
Repentance is the first step in our spiritual journey, a journey that lasts throughout our lives here on earth, which takes us from grace to grace, and from strength to strength. One cannot achieve maturity in Christ, one cannot possess spiritual gifts, one cannot know the fullness of the joy and peace that God brings, unless they have first and foremost gone through repentance.
Repentance is interwoven, and is in fact a prerequisite of God throughout scriptures. There is a verse that I hear quoted very often in many churches, but it also seems to be one of the most misunderstood verses in the church as well. In fact this one verse lays out what repentance truly is, and the steps one must follow in order to achieve it.
2 Chronicles, 7:14, “If My people who are called by My name will 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.”
The shorthand version of this verse could readily be, if My people, who are called by My name repent, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Within this one word repentance, we see a handful of actions that must take place. First, in order to experience true repentance one must humble themselves, second they must pray and seek God’s face, and third, turn from their wicked ways. Saying sorry is not enough, and no, saying sorry isn’t the hardest thing on the list. Remorse is easy when one sees their entire life come crumbling to the ground around them, when the consequences of their sins have caught up to them, and what once seemed sweet to the taste is now bitter, what once seemed pleasing to the eye, is now grotesque and off putting.
There are two things on this list that people seem to have trouble doing, the first is truly humbling themselves, and the second is turning from their wicked ways. We live in a day and age wherein humility and humbling oneself are viewed as a weakness rather than strength. We are taught, even within our churches, to be self-assured and self-empowered, to view ourselves in a positive light, to see ourselves not as we truly are, but as something bigger, better, and stronger. Humility, in its purest definition is to abase the pride and arrogance of self, and make oneself meek and submissive. Humility is acknowledging our shortcomings, and failures, as well as acknowledging our need for a Savior. We like to think we are strong; we like to think we can do it on our own, but it is this mindset that keeps many slaves to sin and vice, because they never cry out, they never humble themselves, seeking the face of God, asking for His help and guidance.
Repentance also requires a turning from our wicked ways. The fact that we visit our sin less frequently than before is not good enough, neither is the fact that we might not find as much pleasure in sin as we once did. Repentance, is a turning away, a separation from, and a renunciation of our wicked ways. Repentance is to stop in your tracks, make a hundred and eighty degree turn, and head in the opposite direction.
In order to understand why such drastic measures are necessary when it comes to sin, we must first understand the destructive power of sin. Sin separates man from God, it separates man from the grace of God, it separates man from the peace of God, and it separates man from the will of God. One cannot have sin of which they have not repented in their heart, and yet presume to walk in the will of God. It is an impossibility for one to be in God’s will, without first having humbled themselves, sought His face, prayed, and turned from their wicked way.
When this occurs in the life of an individual, when true repentance takes hold, their life is utterly transformed. Repentance is the genesis of a new life in God. We are given a new heart, a new mind, new desires, and a new focus. We are no longer what we once were, we no longer desire what we once desired, but are made new creatures in Him.
In the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, beginning with the sixteenth verse, Paul the Apostle highlights the danger of not turning from our wicked ways, but continuing in our sin absent of repentance. He speaks of Esau, the brother of Jacob, who sold his birthright for a morsel of food, then pens something truly remarkable.
Hebrews 12:17, “For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.”
When taking into account that Esau forfeited his entire future, and all that the inheritance of the blessing would have meant for him for a bowl of lentil stew, it is no wonder that he sought repentance both diligently, and with tears, but repentance could not be found. A missed opportunity, a lost opportunity is lost forever. One never relives the exact same moment in their existence, and one cannot go back and remedy the wrong and foolish choices that they made.
A man can paint a million blades of grass, but he cannot make one of those blades of grass real. What does this have to do with repentance? What does this have to do with what we’re discussing today?
Well, a man can let many opportunities for repentance pass him by, a man can ignore many opportunities to repent, but he can never create an opportunity for repentance on his own. It is God, working through the Holy Spirit that creates the opportunity and environment for our moment of repentance, our moment of being transformed, and it is at that moment that a man or a woman must humble themselves and receive the gift of grace from the hand of God.
We do not repent when we think it an opportune moment, or when we consider that it is a good season in our lives, but when God calls us to repentance, when the opportunity is presented to us. Repentance in the heart of man is the work of God. Of this there can be no doubt. There is one thing that God requires of man, one thing that man must do, and that is to submit and surrender to the truth. When we persist in our disobedience, when we dismiss opportunity after opportunity to repent and turn to God, there may come that frightful day when we as Esau will seek to find repentance with diligence and tears, but for us it will be too late.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.