Running a Different Race
The word 'repentance' means a change of mind. As this word is used in the Bible, however, it clearly means much more than that. The biblical meaning of repentance is a change of heart, and it implies a very different way of life. If I repent, in other words, I don't simply change from one opinion to another, or even from one way of doing things to another, but, having been convicted under the ministry of God's Word and Spirit, I realize that I can no longer live my life as I used to. Now I desire to pursue different principles, to establish different goals, and, with my eyes fixed on Jesus, I seek to run an altogether different race.
The features of true repentance are laid out for us in Numbers 5. The first feature is confession (v.7). One must acknowledge his sin, what it is that he has done wrong or has failed to do right. Genuine confession, though, is more than a bare acknowledgement of sin; it includes forsaking that sin (Proverbs 28:13), and determining by the grace of God never to go that way again. Have you done something that you now regret? Nurturing a bad conscience is not the solution to your problem. Godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10); you need to acknowledge what it is that you've done, put it away, and, having done that, embrace this gracious promise of God, that there is forgiveness with Him (Psalm 130:4).
The second feature of repentance, if one has sinned against his neighbour, is restitution (vv.7, 8). One must restore to his neighbour what he has taken from him, or at least seek to pay him back by some tangible means its equivalent value. This is not easily done, but a true repentance demands it. Words alone ("I'm sorry") are not enough, and even words accompanied by a bucket of tears fall short of the mark. Whether one restores the full amount, plus 20% as a fee for the inconvenience he has brought upon his victim, or four times the full amount (Luke 19:8), may depend on a person's ability to repay, and to some extent on the measure of grief that he has caused his neighbour to endure.
The third feature of repentance is atonement (v.8). All sin, whether against one's neighbour or not, is an offence to God, and so it requires an atonement which is acceptable to God, that is, a legal basis by which He may forgive him. All through the Old Testament there were many sacrifices which represented this atonement, but only the offering up of Christ on the cross can actually take away sin (John 1:29), and only by faith in Christ are we covered in His blood, forgiven of our sins and cleansed of all unrighteousness. Have you turned from sin to the only Saviour God has provided, the Lord Jesus Christ? Sometimes, sadly, other people may not forgive you, even if you offer them a true repentance, but, happily, the Lord is faithful and just to do so (1 John 1:9).