How to truly repent

Do we know how to truly repent? It seems to me that many of us misunderstand what repentance even is.

The story

I wonder if we misunderstand the parable of the prodigal son.

For those who are not familiar with the story, it can be found in Luke 15:11-32. The younger of two sons tells his father that he cannot wait for him to die and wants his inheritance now. The father agrees and the boy goes off to live the high life. Famine hits, all his “friends” abandon him, and he is left destitute. He returns home and humbly apologises but the father restores him much to his older brother’s displeasure.

We focus on his restoration and the love of his father (or the sulky older brother) but we rarely notice how the son apologises.

He says:

I have sinned against God and against you, I am not fit to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.

It is easy to see this as the son simply being dramatic but every part of Jesus’ stories are meant to teach us something. We can learn, for example, that this was the culturally correct way to apologise. Not only does one admit what has been done wrong but also what one is prepared to do to make it right and stop it from happening again.

Our attitude to repentance

That is very different from the “you only need to say sorry to Jesus” line I often hear. I often wonder where does it say that the only thing you need to do is apologise to God and get a blank slate?

Mark 12:30-31 says that love of God and love of others should come as a pair. Thus, unless your offence was only against God, there is someone else (or many someones) with whom you need to reconcile.

The idea that you only owe words of apology to God and not anyone else is a false teaching. It is not by your words but by your actions that your faith is known. Faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).

To truly repent

I’ve talked before about metanoia which is the word that gets translated as “repentance”. It means to change your whole attitude. Thus unless you change your ways towards God and towards your fellow man, you have not repented. All you are doing is faking it. God is not fooled by your fakery.

The very least we should do is apologise to all we have hurt. To be honest, words alone are empty. If we have hurt others the loving thing to do is to try and make things right again.

To repent is not about saying sorry it is about being sorry and showing it. To truly repent, your actions must change. Anything else is a lie.

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