“Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven” (Lamentations 3:41).
IN HIS COLLECTION OF SORROWFUL SONGS FOLLOWING THE DESOLATION OF JERUSALEM BY THE BABYLONIANS, JEREMIAH CAPTURES THE PENITENT SPIRIT THAT ISRAEL SHOULD HAVE HAD AT THIS TERRIBLE TIME. “Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven,” he says. Although God had brought judgment upon Israel (just as He had said He would if they did not cease their idolatry), their future could still be bright with hope if they would repent.
Repentance is a sincere turning of the heart back to God. In our outward actions, repentance involves ceasing to do what is wrong and starting to do what is right, but these outward results of repentance proceed from a heart that is sorry for the sins that have been committed against God (2 Corinthians 7:9–11). Theoretically, a person might change his ways for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with God. Repentance, however, is the reformation of one’s thoughts, words, and deeds because of godly sorrow. It has to do with God and it requires a certain kind of heart (Acts 26:19,20).
This doesn’t mean that the outward aspects of repentance are optional or unimportant. There are some individuals who, when they hear that something depends on what is in the heart, conclude that as long as their heart is right it doesn’t matter what they do in their outward life. But if that is ever true, it certainly is not true with regard to repentance. John the Baptist rebuked the Pharisees, all of whom would have said their hearts were deeply devoted to God: “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Matthew 3:8 NLT).
Any honest person who has been a Christian very long will confess that repentance must be engaged in continually. Yes, it is one of the initial requirements for becoming a Christian, but to become a Christian is to enter a process of godly growth that will require repentance anytime we see that we’ve failed to trust and obey God. In fact, one of the evidences of spiritual maturity in Christ is that we live with a penitent frame of mind, instantly going to God in prayer the moment we see that we’ve not responded rightly to His love. It’s a new and better way of thinking.
“Repentance is an attitude rather than a single act” (Richard Owen Roberts).