In Exodus 13:17 we are told that God led the Children of Israel in such a direction, as they were leaving Egyptian bondage, so as to avoid the Philistine army. God tells us why in the same verse, “Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war.” The word “repent,” as we see here in Exodus, carries with it a three part meaning. Firstly, the Children of Israel would recognize a problem or danger. Like other problems the Israelites run into later, this recognition would have led to much sorrow. In turn, this sorrow would change their minds about which direction was right to follow, and so they would turn back toward Egypt. Repenting, therefore, must incorporate recognition, sorrow, and a changing of the mind. Notice why the Israelites would change their mind, a problem. A man doesn’t change his mind about eating his fifth piece of cake unless he knows it was a problem for him last time. For this man, sickness was the problem. For the Israelites, war. What does God say is the problem today? Romans 8:6-7 tell us that to be carnally minded, or living as the human body desires (I Corinthians 3:3, Romans 8:5), is death, because it is enmity with God and goes against His law. James 1:15 equates the carnally minded to sinners. Therefore, sin, leading to death, is the problem, because it goes against the law of God.

If sin is the problem, then who has sinned? Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” Similarly, I John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Therefore, all must recognize they have a problem. All of us must see our sin just as God sees it; being of Satan (I John 3:8).

After recognizing we have gone against the will of the Creator, the one who loves us, and desires that our life be with Him (II Peter 3:9), we should be terribly sorry. In Acts 2:37, the people, after hearing that they were guilty of the body and blood of Jesus the Christ, were cut to the heart. Even Judas showed great sorrow after realizing what he had done (Matthew 27:3). Just preceding Matthew 27, Peter, after denying Christ, went out and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75). II Corinthians 7:10 tells us that if this sorrow is godly, it will produce repentance. Notice the implications in this verse, 1) not all types of sorrow produce repentance and 2) godly sorrow does not equal repentance.

Paul, in addressing the Thessalonians on the subject of death and the last coming of Christ ( I Thessalonians 4:13-18), told them not to sorrow “as others who have no hope.” (v 13) He did not want them to sorrow for someone as if death on this earth was final. Applying this same principle to being sorrowful concerning our sins, godly sorrow must then be a sorrow that recognizes its sin and how retched it makes the sinner look, but also recognizes that it must be fixed. Imagine someone with a hole in their shoe complaining about the dampness of their socks during rainstorms, but never attempt to fix the hole or buy a new pair. That man may continue to feel sorry, but his sorrow will not fix his problem. Did Judas’ sorrow produce repentance? Or do we see him sorrowing as one who has no hope (Matthew 27:4-5)? Compare that to the sorrow in Nineveh during the time of Jonah. Jonah 3:5 tells us that the people believed God, and were sorrowful for what that had done. Even the king (v 6) left his robe aside and covered himself in sackcloth and sat on ashes. So far, both were sorrowful, but notice then the decree sent out to all the people (Jonah 3:7-9). Everyone was told to “turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.” Verse 9 further shows us the difference between them and Judas. The city of Nineveh believed God capable, if He so chose (notice they did not assume He would choose), to refrain Himself from striking them. Their sorrow produced repentance, and God did relent from bringing destruction upon them.

At the same time, it was not their sorrow that caused God to relent. In verse 10 we find, “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way.” In Acts 2:38, Peter tells these men, who were cut to the heart and sorrowful, to turn from their evil way. God is only pleased with us, and will only relent from delivering us to our condemnation, which our sin has earned us, if we are willing to change our mind, to change from our evil way so that we may walk in a new way prepared for us by God.

Repentance, though (like baptism, faith, and confession), is not the end all be all for our salvation (Acts 2:38 bears this out). However, it is absolutely vital. We cannot please God if we are unwilling to change our minds (Romans 12:2).

Luke 13:3 I tell you no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

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Joshua Riggins Written by:


  1. Louis
    February 12, 2009

    Thank you for citing Jonah 3:10. Of coarse remorse is a necessary attribute, but it must be a motivational factor toward doing good rather than an end unto itself. Jesus described weeping and gnashing of teeth in outer darkness. . . plenty of remorse there, but no opportunity to return to God.

  2. February 13, 2009

    I like Isaiah 58:6, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke?” True repentance is a fast from wickedness, a suppression of the carnal appetite. Such repentance carries a great spiritual benefit, “Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 58:8) Paul acknowledges the product of repentance, “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 7:11) Repentance is a transforming process, a spiritual release, a great joy for the practitioner. “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:19)

  3. Joshua
    February 14, 2009

    Thank you for your good comments. I am reminded of Luke 15:7, “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” The great joy the practitioner receives is not just the realization that our sins, by the grace of God, are blotted out, but also we can know that we are bringing joy in heaven. Our repentant actions are pleasing to God. When a child recognizes that they brought joy to their earthly father, it brings them great joy as well. How much more so when we know that our actions have brought joy to our heavenly Father.

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