Sometimes life throws turning points at us. Other times we must create them. Either way, our choices shape the people we become. Who will you be this year and beyond?
Walking down the aisle. Hearing your baby cry for the first time. Starting a new job. Moving to a new town. Lying in a hospital bed. Sitting in a funeral home.
Times of hope, uncertainty, loneliness, fear or regret.
Life’s roller coaster has its share of high and low points—landmarks on our life journey. Many of these opportunities and challenges demand decisions we are never quite ready for. Our choices and our follow-through can alter the course of our life.
Other times circumstances may not dictate a change, but in our heart of hearts we know we can’t keep going on the way we are. The status quo may be comfortable, and we may have no desire to make waves. But deep inside we sense a waterfall ahead. We must choose to turn and go back upstream or risk impending disaster.
In the article “7 Famous People Who Hit Bottom—and Turned It Around,” Fred Cohn tells the story of Giuseppe Verdi’s lowest point.
At age 27, “his second opera had been a resounding flop, closing on opening night. Far worse: over the past two years, his beloved wife and both infant children had died, victims of cholera. Despondent, Verdi became a recluse, reading trashy Victorian novels and writing not a note. He planned to give up composing altogether. When a producer sent him the text for a proposed new Biblical opera, Nabucco, he threw it on the table in disgust.”
Whether he was looking for it or not, at this low point of his life, a new path became visible.
The composer later recalled, “The roll of paper opened out; and without knowing quite how, I found myself staring at the page in front of me and my eyes fell on this line: ‘Va pensiero sull’ali dorati.’” (“Fly, thought, on the golden wings.”)
The words were the beginning of a chorus of exiled Hebrew slaves, and they “gave Verdi a jolt: he saw the number as a metaphor for his nation’s patriots, struggling to free themselves from Austrian rule. He started writing obsessively. Nabucco proved to be a smash, and Verdi went on to become Italy’s most celebrated composer, writing works like Aida and Rigoletto. ‘Va, pensiero,’ meanwhile, is a melody everybody in Italy knows by heart; in 2008, an Italian senator proposed making it the national anthem.”
Everyone hits low points, but we don’t all get a clear jolt in a new direction. Still, what we do in our moments of crisis often profoundly affects the trajectory of our bounce.
Choosing to fly
At times we must make our own turning points, and these can be even more important. As C.S. Lewis said, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg.
“We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
Making the choice to change while we are still comfortably in our shell is hard—but when we make the right choice, our life can be transformed for the better.
How can we make the right choices that become important turning points in our lives? No matter the challenge, the key is to always turn toward God—and to turn to His Instruction Book for help. He has created our life cycle. He knows our needs, and He wants us to succeed. You can find a biblical action plan for all types of decisions in our online article on “Decision Making.”
In the remainder of this article, let’s focus on one specific turn that, according to the Bible, overshadows them all.
The most important turn
The ultimate turning point in our spiritual lives begins with repentance. This old-fashioned word basically means to turn—in fact, to make a complete U-turn.Turning points take many shapes, with a variety of physical circumstances. But almost all affect our relationships. And how we get along with others and with God is ultimately a spiritual issue. When we don’t know or when we disobey the spiritual laws that govern relationships, we can hurt others and ourselves. The results include sorrow, pain, sadness, guilt and shame.
No matter the physical situation, the ultimate turning point in our spiritual lives begins with repentance. This old-fashioned word basically means to turn—in fact, to make a complete U-turn.
In the Old Testament an important Hebrew word translated “repent” is pronounced shuv, and it means to “turn back, return” to “dependence on God” (New Bible Dictionary).
One example is found in Ezekiel 18:30, where God says, “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.”
The Greek word metanoeo means “to change one’s mind.” However, the New Testament meaning is influenced by the Hebrew connotations. So, the New Bible Dictionary explains, it also means “repentance, not just as feeling sorry, or changing one’s mind, but as a turning around, a complete alteration of the basic motivation and direction of one’s life.”
Notice the stark decision point Moses sets out for us in Deuteronomy 30:19: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days.”
The Bible shows that the ultimate choice for life—eternal, joyous life—begins with repentance.
Where repentance starts
It may not seem possible, but there is someone who wants your life to change for the better even more than you do. In fact, He is the real source of the motivation to repent.
The apostle Paul warns us not to ignore God’s part in it: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). God says His “heart yearns” to have mercy on those who repent (Jeremiah 31:20). It’s His desire for all:
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
What repentance looks like
But repentance is the first step. What does a repentant person look like according to the Bible?
Paul praised the Corinthian congregation for embracing the kind of godly sorrow that leads to the positive transformation of our lives:
“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11; read more about this in our online article “Godly Sorrow”).
Clearly repentance is an active, powerful, life-changing process!
That’s why John the Baptist looked for the results of repentance in those who came to him. He demanded that hypocritical people “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8). For example, he told people to practice charity, not to take advantage of others or intimidate them, and to learn contentment (Luke 3:10-11, 12-14). In essence, he was giving practical examples of living God’s way of giving, of loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Sadly, the natural human approach and inner motivation is far from that godly ideal. We naturally seek our own advantage, often unintentionally hurting those around us. Our capacity for self-justification and even self-deception is scary. We like to think we are good and right, but too often we are blind to our own contributions to problems in our relationships with others—and with God.
Cut to the heart
God’s commandments are for our good, and breaking them is the cause of pain and suffering.On the Day of Pentecost, during the apostle Peter’s powerful sermon that showed our responsibility for Christ’s death, many people felt “cut to the heart.” They said, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
Peter’s reply summarizes the process of change that allows our guilt to be wiped away and our lives to be empowered for real, lasting change:
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (verse 38).
We are to repent of sin, which is anything that goes against God’s laws and way of life. (See our online article “What Is Sin?”) God’s commandments are for our good, and breaking them is the cause of pain and suffering.
Sin earns us the penalty of eternal death (Romans 6:23). So our loving God doesn’t want to see us continue hurting ourselves (verses 1-2). He wants us to overcome sin. You can read more about the overcoming God desires in “Seven Steps for Overcoming Sin.”
The process Peter outlined included God’s gift of His Holy Spirit. The book of Hebrews goes on to explain how this transforms our minds: “I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them” (Hebrews 10:16). With the help God’s Holy Spirit provides, spiritual change becomes possible, reshaping us from the inside.
This does not mean that change is immediate and complete. Overcoming and learning to think as God thinks is a lifelong process. The commitment of baptism is a commitment to continue to repent and strive to obey God. We must repent every time we sin throughout our lives (1 John 1:8-9).
The results of repentance
Repentance begins the most important change, the one with consequences both now and forever. It removes guilt for the wrong things we have done through the shed blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us (1 John 1:7). It gives us a fresh start on a path to joy and gladness and a chance to pass it on (Psalm 51:7-9, 10-11, 12-13).
This change gives us a new heart and a new life (Ezekiel 36:26; Colossians 3:10). It puts us in a new family—the most loving, long-lasting and successful family in the universe—and beyond (1 John 3:2-3).
Whatever your other goals are for this year, isn’t it time to make your relationship with God your top priority? He yearns for you to be part of His family. He has taken the first steps. Now you have reached a turning point. Choose life—eternal life!
Our booklet Change Your Life! gives you a concise study of what the Bible says on this all-important topic. Download it today!