Whatever it is, we’re not going to like it! Christian author C. S. Lewis – who personally experienced a reluctant and rather violent conversion – remarks in his book Mere Christianity:
“Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor – that is the only way out of [the “hole” we are in]. This process of surrender – this movement full speed astern – is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing a part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.”
We can tell what repentance is by seeing what Jesus (and his spokesmen) link it to:
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near (Matt. 3:2).
Repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).
Repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38).
Repent and turn to God (Acts 26:20).
In a nutshell, to repent is to first realize that you are lost, on the wrong road, heading for destruction. It’s the Holy Spirit’s divine role to make this realization happen. When he comes, Jesus promises, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8).
Secondly, the honest seeker then has to act upon this conviction! It’s sometimes said that repentance is to have sorrow for sin and to turn away from it. It’s a U-turn in the road; it’s backtracking; it’s turning around; it’s renouncing an old way of life and embracing a new one. No wonder baptism by immersion seems almost like a burial and then resurrection! Jesus said to a lonely, accused woman who had been seduced into adultery: “I don’t condemn you. Now go and don’t sin anymore.”
Again, this is a challenging ordeal – because we’re self-centered people who want to keep doing what we’re doing. In James 4, the apostle warns: Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Interestingly, the NIV text notes for the phrase “grieve, mourn, and wail” add one word of comment: “Repent.”
The good news is that when we turn around and get onto the road of salvation, we are immediately in a better place! God calls us from emptiness to hope and from dysfunction to the abundance of a restored Eden.
I have a Thai New Testament which gives this as the word for “repent”: glahp jie. (กลับใจ) Literally translated, it means, simply: “Your heart returns.”