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Fruitful Repentance

Even John the Baptist stuck in my imagination as a burly, bearded, caveman-looking person in animal skins, wagging his finger in people’s faces, yelling, “Repent.” Sometimes I thought of repentance as a line drawn in the dust of some wild west town by the booted toe of a gunslinger who boldly dared anyone to cross it. I felt nothing kind, inviting or good about repentance, and I could not understand how such a harsh, fruitless exercise could possibly be the starting point of the good news Jesus embodies (Mark 1:1-5).

Repentance Redefined

I was not to realize until sometime later that my problem with repentance stemmed mostly from misunderstanding both what real repentance is and what it accomplishes in people’s lives. One night while lying on my living floor, thinking about what seemed to be impossible situations in people’s lives and asking God to give me an answer to help them through their crises, the Lord answered me saying: “It’s repentance.” That’s all He said. “It’s repentance.”

That was not at all the answer I was expecting. Repentance hadn’t been an answer to much of anything in my life; I couldn’t imagine that it would really help anyone else. Besides, I felt reluctant to encourage others to do something which I wasn’t doing myself.

The folklore about repentance made matters even worse.

Not wanting to add hypocrisy to my list of I’ll-repent-about-them-someday sins, I began afresh, with renewed interest, to see what the Bible really has to say about repentance. In an attempt to understand what such a discouraging subject could offer to people who needed hope for the difficulties in their lives, I carefully looked up every passage I could find that used the word repentance. What I discovered has forever changed the way I view repentance … and my eagerness to repent.


As we have all heard, repentance can be translated “to turn around, to turn back”. It implies feeling sorrow for what has been done. I had always presumed that if I was really sorry, I would turn around and do the opposite of what I had been doing. I would be sorry enough to stop my sin. Repentance struck me as an impersonal command, “Hey, you! Turn around and quit your sinning!” It was like a drill sergeant in boot camp. Unless I manifested a complete, immediate turnaround, I couldn’t really have repented.

I was not to realize until sometime later that my problem with repentance stemmed mostly from misunderstanding both what real repentance is and what it accomplishes in people’s lives.

But repent can also imply “to fetch back home”. Repenting is not just a turning around aimlessly at God’s barked command, without direction, without any sense of welcome or invitation; rather, repentance is an invitation by God to turn our lives around and set our hearts toward home. It is the perfect answer for people who are lost, or who are out of touch with whom God wants them to be and who they want to be themselves. I began to see that repentance is more of an invitation than a command.


I began, with renewed interest, to see what the Bible really has to say about repentance.

When I travel to a foreign country, my first order of business after retrieving my luggage is to take a small amount of cash to the exchange bureau to convert it into the local currency for taxi fares, tips and other incidentals. The process I go through is always the same: I put my money on the counter and ask for the currency of the country where I will be conducting my business. Without exception, the teller whisks away my U.S. dollars and replaces them with Swiss francs, Norwegian kroner, etc.

To repent can also be translated to convert or to exchange. In repentance, we take the “currency” or the world—thoughts, feelings, desires and actions in our lives which are wrong—and “exchange” them for the currency of the Kingdom in the same way we convert dollars for guilders. Repentance is trading in one for the other.

What I discovered has forever changed the way I view repentance … and my eagerness to repent.

God’s ways and thoughts are not like ours; our two worlds operate under two completely foreign governments and economies. Earthly money will get us nowhere in God’s Kingdom; in fact, our natural money is illegal tender in His land, and repentance is the only way to convert earthly currency into heavenly riches, to transform evil thoughts and actions into good behavior.

Only through repentance is the exchange possible. And what’s more, the Lord is so wonderfully willing to make that exchange. He knows we cannot conduct much Kingdom enterprise with our foreign monies. He waits eagerly for us to bring Him a wrong thought so that we can watch Him convert it into a correct thought of His.

In this way, repentance ceases to be the difficult experience we have thought it to be and instead becomes a wonderful way to get things in our lives set right. If we become discouraged and lose our desire to repent, we will find that we will not progress very far in the Kingdom. Without conversation—an exchange from one currency to the other—our thoughts and ways will not be able to match up to his.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2005

About the Author: Daniel A. Brown, PhD, planted The Coastlands, a church near Santa Cruz, California, serving as Senior Pastor for 22 years. Daniel has authored four books and numerous articles, but he is best-known for the sorts of resources that help local church leaders excel in their spiritual assignment. For more about Daniel Brown, see his ministry resources website: CTW. Facebook. Twitter.

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