So Much More Than Feeling Sorry: A Picture of True Repentance

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

Luke 19:

In popular culture today, and often in Christian culture, repentance is a matter of feeling sorry. “Repent of your sins” (not that many people speak this way anymore) means, “Be sorry for what you have done.” Such sorrow seems often to be remorse over having been found out more than genuine sadness over having done wrong.

Biblical repentance usually includes feeling sorry for our behavior. But repentance is not a matter of feelings, but of choices and actions. In Scripture, “to repent” means “to turn around and go the other direction.” It’s a change of purpose, intention, and values. It means living in a whole different way, turning from sin, turning to God, and walking in his paths.

Zacchaeus offers an accurate, stirring picture of repentance. The tax collector, hated for his collusion with Rome and for getting rich by taking advantage of the people he taxed, has a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Luke doesn’t even tell us what, if anything, Jesus said to encourage Zacchaeus’ response. But the response is stunning: “I will give half of my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much” (19:8). Talk about repentance! Zacchaeus doesn’t just feel bad about his past behavior. He resolves to change it dramatically, to make right what he has done wrong. Implicitly, he will live in a radically different mode from this moment on.

When God meets us and stuns us with his grace, we rightly do more than feel a little bad. We embrace his grace in a way that transforms our lives. We begin to live in a whole new key, joining the symphony of the kingdom of God. To be sure, we do this imperfectly, hitting many bad notes along the way. But a life of repentance means that we continue to turn to God, again and again, seeking him and seeking to honor him by how we live each day.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever experienced repentance in any way like that of Zacchaeus? When? Why did you repent? What gives you a desire to leave behind your sin in order to live more fully for God?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for this powerful picture of repentance. Zacchaeus models something that happens when we encounter you in your justice and righteousness, in your love and grace. When we truly meet you, we feel drawn to turn our lives around, not in order to earn your favor, but in response to your favor freely given. Thank you!

Help me, dear Lord, even today, to live a life that moves in your direction. Help me to say “no” to sin and “yes” to you all day. Amen.