Repentance: Is it your lifestyle?
Rosh Hashanah (Festival of Trumpets) marks the beginning of a ten-day Jewish season that ends on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.* This season, called the “Days of Awe,” is all about repentance (turning to God and away from sin). Yet most of my people, if they focus on repentance at all, wait until the Day of Atonement to do so.
Few folks today—Jewish or not—think of repentance as a lifestyle. But repentance is so important for spiritual life and health that God invites people to repent, not just once a year, but each and every day.
Many miss the blessings of “lifestyle repentance” because they have a wrong impression of God. Either they fear that He is a judgmental tyrant out to exact vengeance, or else they imagine Him as a kindly old man who turns a blind eye to the moral condition of His children. In fact, God is neither!
Psalm 51, the powerful prayer of King David, is a great example of repentance. David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband Uriah to try and cover it up. How on earth could he approach God after that?
Trust God’s character
True repentance is based on an understanding of God’s character, and in this Psalm we see David’s deep and true understanding of the nature of God. David affirms that God is righteous, just and blameless when He judges. God wants truth in our “inner parts” and a “contrite spirit” when we sin.
At the same time, David also knows that God is full of grace, lovingkindness and tender mercies. He’s a generous Spirit, “the God of my Salvation.” That’s why David asks God to be merciful “according to” His true character.
Like David, we can rely upon God to act according to His nature. We don’t need to wonder what kind of mood God is in before we approach Him. He won’t need to be convinced, placated or cajoled. He always acts consistently. When we turn back toward God, seeking His forgiveness and grace, He freely gives it each and every time.
Understand that sin might not be what you think it is
A second reason why so many people miss out on a lifestyle of repentance is a false understanding of sin. Some think of sin as only the very worst behaviors—serious but not something of which they are guilty. Others see sin as more common but less serious—more like mistakes that anyone could make (and easily dismiss) because “nobody’s perfect.”
David’s understanding of God’s nature deeply informs his understanding of sin. David knows that Somebody is perfect. When David speaks of transgressions (the crossing of a boundary) and iniquity (missing the mark), it all relates back to that perfect Somebody—God. God sets boundaries and identifies the mark that is being missed.
Sin is first and foremost an assault on the very nature of God, as though He and His standards are irrelevant, as though He does not merit our trust and obedience. Our careless and rebellious disregard for God separates us from Him just as much as our actions/inactions. In Psalm 51 David laments that it’s not just what he does, but who he is, that calls him to turn back to God for forgiveness.
True repentance: more than admitting a mistake
A third reason people miss out on lifestyle repentance is a wrong or incomplete idea of what repentance truly is. Many things that may seem like repentance are not: simply acknowledging a mistake, admitting embarrassment or shame or feeling disappointment in oneself. Any of these might help us see our need to repent, but on their own, each falls short.
David’s views, first of God, and then of sin, deeply inform his understanding of repentance. He knows that true repentance is ultimately a supernatural work of God. That’s why David cries, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Only the creator God can do what David is asking. The cry for mercy comes from a person who has no more tricks up his sleeve.
God did forgive David’s sin, and yet it still bore a tragic consequence: the child Bathsheba conceived would die. Some rabbis have taught that David’s son had to die in his place. About this they are correct—but they have the wrong son.
Why God forgives
“Son of David” is a Messianic title—and it is used over and over in the Bible to refer to Yeshua (Jesus). Yeshua’s once-for-all sacrifice for sin is how David ultimately found forgiveness. Repentance is possible because Jesus took our sin upon Himself. God’s greatest demonstration of love for us is found in Him.
My Jewish people desperately need to know about this great gift of repentance in David’s greater Son. But for all who have received this gift, a lifestyle of repentance is a blessing. It daily reminds us of God’s relentless love and forgiveness for us. That, in turn, makes us more loving and forgiving people—and don’t you think God enjoys that?
David Brickner is also an author, public speaker and avid hiker. Find out more about David, his writings, speaking schedule and possible availability to speak at your church at jewsforjesus.org/david-brickner
*This year the Jewish calendar date corresponds with September 30.