Repentance is an intensely personal course of action—but it’s also the process God will use to transform and save humanity.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
That’s how the Bible starts. It’s such an iconic line that it’s easy to read right over without really considering what’s being said.
God created the heavens and the earth.
The creation account focuses on the incredible power wielded by a God who can call the fundamental elements of life into existence with nothing more than a word. What it doesn’t focus on are all the finer details required by that act of creation.
The God who told the sun to shine through the darkness is also the God who designed and implemented the process of thermonuclear fusion that would keep the sun shining. All the impossible equations and variables that physicists and mathematicians are still seeking to understand through carefully designed experiments—God had every intricate detail perfectly planned when He set the universe in motion.
The process of repentance
Which brings us, in a somewhat unusual way, to repentance.
The Bible records how the first man and woman God created decided to reject the perfect laws of God and instead take from a tree forbidden by the One who had made them. The years that followed exposed how flawed their reasoning had been.
The imperfect world we live in today is the product of centuries of humanity rejecting both its Creator and His perfect way of life—and the only way back is through repentance.
Repentance is about more than just saying sorry or feeling bad about something we’ve done. We must recognize that in order to pay the penalty for our sins, our Creator gave His life to make it possible for us to turn back to God.
Paul was divinely tasked with spreading a message to the people of the known world—“that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance” (Acts 26:20).
Repentance involves both a change of course and a change of action. We turn away from our sins and toward God—and over time, our outward behavior begins to reflect that inward change.
Paul notes that this process begins with “godly sorrow” (2 Corinthians 7:10), but the end result needs to be “works befitting repentance.” (Other Bible translations of Acts 26:20 talk about deeds appropriate to repentance, deeds consistent with repentance, demonstrating repentance through our deeds, and proving our repentance through our behavior.)
Who decides what’s right and wrong?
In other words, repentance requires us to admit something.
Before we can be sorry about doing something wrong, we have to understand what “wrong” even is.
But before we can define what “wrong” means, we have to find a way to define what’s right.
Repenting to God requires us to connect those dots all the way back to Him. It means being able to say to Him, “Your way is right. Mine was wrong. I was wrong—I’m sorry, and from now on, I’m going to work hard to make Your ways my ways.”
But what does repentance have to do with God’s creation of the universe?
The God who created the universe is uniquely suited to teach us the right way to live in that universe.
Think about it. The reason the universe doesn’t fly apart or collapse in on itself is because God finely tuned the attractive forces that exist between both celestial bodies and subatomic particles. Both planets and electrons can fall into stable orbits because God designed the rules that make those orbits possible.
The stars shine, cells reproduce, the universe expands, fireflies flicker, galaxies spiral, flowers bloom, volcanoes erupt, seasons change—all because of the invisible rules God set in place to govern our physical existence.
But God set other laws in place too. Laws of right and wrong. Laws of morality and ethics. If God is wise enough and powerful enough to set the earth spinning in the Goldilocks Zone of our sun (not too hot and not too cold to support its cornucopia of life), then surely He is also wise enough and powerful enough to instruct us about the correct way to live the life He’s given us.
The Bible reveals invisible laws
The Bible is the book that lays out all those invisible rules for us. It’s the key to discerning between “life and good, death and evil” (Deuteronomy 30:15).
The commandments, statutes and judgments God lays out for us in His inspired Word are every bit as impactful as the rules that keep our planet locked in orbit with our sun—and when we ignore those rules, the consequences are inescapable.
To repent is to express our belief that God—and God alone—has the necessary perspective and wisdom to tell us how to live our lives. Just as importantly, it involves admitting that we lack that perspective and wisdom—that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 16:25).
The way we live after repenting needs to reflect that belief in God’s unrivaled wisdom. “Works befitting repentance” are actions that stem from viewing God as the sole authority on “life and good, death and evil.”
Repenting involves an effort to bring our lives into alignment with God’s standards—to let His way of life govern the things we do and even think.
Ultimately, that’s a change that happens on an individual level. When you repent, you change. You reap the benefits of a life brought into sync with the rules that exist “for your good” (Deuteronomy 10:13).
What you can’t change is your neighbor—or your nation. The Bible tells us that repentance is a process initiated by God (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25)—that the “goodness of God” leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). The world will not survive without repentance—but we’re powerless to bring that kind of change about.
Thankfully, God isn’t.
A world shaped by repentance
Imagine a world where everyone—everyone, from the most powerful leaders to the most powerless nobodies—acknowledged his or her sins before God, repented of those sins, and made the effort to change.
Imagine an entire world living by God’s rules.
That wouldn’t be a change that begins and ends with you—or your neighbor—or your nation. It would be a change that would envelope the entire globe, transforming even the most egregious hotspots of wickedness and crime into utopian paradises that anyone could walk through without fear.
But that change isn’t just wishful thinking.
It’s a change that’s coming.
And it starts with repentance.
When repentance goes global
At the core of this coming change is an important reminder—that the God of the universe is “not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, English Standard Version).
One day, the world will experience the kind of repentance that will lead to its salvation—but you don’t need to wait for the world. Right now, today, repentance can set you on the path that leads to your salvation.At the end of the day, God wants everyone to come to a state of repentance. He wants every human being to find the blessings that come from living in accordance with the way He designed creation to work. The last thing He wants is for any of us to reject the opportunity to repent—and, as a result, perish.
(To understand why God isn’t calling everyone to repentance right now, read our online article “Many Are Called, but Few Are Chosen.”)
Woven throughout the pages of the Bible are continual promises of a future time when God will grant the opportunity for repentance to the entire world—to bring every man, woman and child to a place where they can begin to understand their need to accept the sovereign God of all creation as their God.
When Jesus Christ returns to this earth, it will be to overthrow the governments of this world and establish the Kingdom of God (Revelation 19:11-16; 20:4-6). It was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that made our repentance and reconciliation with God possible (John 3:16-17), and it will be His return that marks the beginning of a world shaped by repentance.
Ultimately, we aren’t saving ourselves through repentance. (See our article “What Is Salvation?” for a more thorough explanation.) It will be Jesus Christ and God the Father who save the world from itself—but only those who chose to repent will have a place in that world. As Jesus warned His audience, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
Without repentance, our world cannot survive. We cannot survive.
“Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath. He shall say, ‘Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, and all shall be ashamed who are incensed against Him’” (Isaiah 45:22-24).
Those willing to bow their knees—to repent, to commit themselves to God’s way of life—will find themselves part of a world that will gradually be transformed into a paradise under God’s instruction and guidance:
“In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zechariah 8:23).
This will become a global phenomenon, where “many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths’” (Isaiah 2:3).
As a result of God’s intervention and judgment, the nations of the world “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (verse 4).
Promises of the world to come
That’s just the start. But repentance—a desire to submit our lives to the wisdom of the Architect and Sustainer of the universe—will be the driving force behind these transformations. As God begins to work with the entire world, the whole human race will finally begin to understand that God’s way—and God’s way alone—is the only way to build a world that works.
The more the people of the world begin to bring their lives into alignment with God’s commandments, repenting and changing course, the more the world itself will begin to mirror the beautiful reality promised by God’s prophets.
Instead of famine and crop shortages, “the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed” (Amos 9:13).
Instead of war and economic inequality, “everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:4).
Instead of predatory crime and untimely deaths, “old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets” (Zechariah 8:4-5).
We can take action today
These are the blessings that will come from obedience to God’s way of life, which begins with repentance.
But that still isn’t the end of the story. Beyond a restored physical world, God has plans for spending eternity with those who choose the path of life that begins with repentance—an eternity where “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying,” where “the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Paul understood that “godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
One day, the world will experience the kind of repentance that will lead to its salvation—but you don’t need to wait for the world. Right now, today, repentance can set you on the path that leads to your salvation.
Repentance depends on a certain spiritual mindset. This mindset believes that the God who created the universe—who masterfully set all the physical elements of our existence in motion—is the only One qualified to lay out the moral and ethical rules of this life.
By embracing the repentance mindset today—by constantly striving to bring ourselves into alignment with those rules and seeking forgiveness when we go astray—we can begin to experience a personal glimpse today of the blessings that will transform the world tomorrow.
What’s more, repentance is what will ensure we have a place in that world tomorrow.
For a closer look at the world that repentance will make possible, download our free booklet The World to Come: What It Will Be Like.