by K.W. Leslie, 21 June
REPENT rə'pent verb. Turn away from one’s current, usually sinful, behavior.
2. Feel regret or express remorse about wrongdoing or sin.

Our culture has used the word repent to mean feeling bad. For centuries. For so long, you’re not gonna find the definition “turn away from one’s behavior” in most dictionaries. Even the Latin word repent is based on, re-paenitere, gets defined as “feel great penitence or sorrow.” When people repent, they feel bad for what they’ve done. Sometimes they bother to make amends, or try to. (Penitentiaries, annoyingly, have little about them anymore which involves making amends, community service, or good deeds in general.)

But the Christian definition comes from the Greek words we translate as “repent,” namely metanoéo the verb, and metánoia/“repentance,” the noun. The word’s literally a compound of the words metá/“after” and noéo/“think,” but combined they mean “turn round.” In other words, don’t go that way again. Don’t do that again. Walk it back.

So when Jesus first began to preach the gospel—

Mark 1.14-15 KWL
14 After John’s arrest, Jesus went into the Galilee preaching God’s gospel, 15 saying this:
“The time has been fulfilled. God’s kingdom has come near. Repent! Believe in the gospel!”

—he wasn’t telling the Galileans, “Feel really bad about what you’ve done, and believe in the gospel!” He was ordering them to stop what they were doing—good or bad—and come to God’s kingdom. It’s come near!

Problem is, when Christians don’t understand the proper definition of repentance, we try to obey Jesus’s command by psyching ourselves into feeling bad. We manufacture an emotion. We make ourselves feel sorry for our sins, and some of us even claim this sorrow is mandatory before God can forgive us. ’Cause if you’re not sorry, what kind of unfeeling jerk are you?

Well we do suck big time sometimes. Sinfest

But after we’ve whipped ourselves into a lather (not literally, although you know Christians throughout history actually have done so literally) and got all the self-pity and self-condemnation out of our system, are we following Jesus any better? Or at all? Not usually. Nope; we go right back to the same “Forgive me” prayer every time we pray, and never notice how we’re not growing spiritually whatsoever.

Because we gotta actually repent. We gotta quit doing as we’ve been doing, and follow Jesus into his kingdom.

True repentance. As opposed to the “I-suck” feelings.

We Christians don’t always recognize repentance is an action, not a feeling. But most of us are entirely aware that the feeling, if it’s not followed up by action, is an empty thing. (Or, like James called faith when it likewise lacks works, dead. Jm 2.17) “You claim you repented,” is the usual reaction, “but you went right back and did it again, so obviously you didn’t really repent.” Repentance without works is dead too.

But repentance without works is the easy substitute for the real thing, which is why Christians tend to practice it. And you’ll notice a lot of us actually believe it’s a fair trade for sin: If we sin, all we gotta do is feel really awful about it, and somehow this entirely makes up for the sin. “Yes I lied, and yes I never should’ve lied to you, but I feel really bad about it, so can you forgive me?” People will actually act as if that satisfies all the karmic requirements for just about everything. Lying, cheating, rape, murder, everything. And parole boards are heartless if they can’t see this.

They’re actually not. Humans manufacture emotions all the time. Many actors are experts in it. So is anyone who’s found it more convenient to change their feelings than their behavior.

God honestly doesn’t care about our self-induced sorry feelings. All he wants is for us to quit sinning. He wants us to turn away from evil, not turn towards sad feelings which lead nowhere. He wants us to practice what he calls repentance, not the counterfeit our culture is so fond of.

Yeah, true repentance is much harder to do. Way easier to conjure up a feeling. But these feelings are self-deception. True repentance, like Jesus says, leads to God’s kingdom.