And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Many people don’t understand the true meaning of repentance. Repentance is the continual turning away from sin and turning towards God. It is not just stopping, or trying to stop, a specific sin. It’s working to eliminate all sin and be in total unity with God. That is why it is a continuous effort. Because in this life, we can only try. We can’t succeed. Our entrance into eternal life will be based on our effort. And in heaven, there will be no need for repentance, for there will be no sin from which to repent, and there will be an eternal union with God.
Sin is not only doing wrong. It is also failure to do right. Hurting someone is a sin. Failing to help someone is also a sin. Sin is also a failure to love. In the moment we are sinning, we are not loving. In the moment we are loving, we are not sinning.
The word we translate as “repentance” is the Greek word “metanoia” which means “to change orientation or direction.” To repent, to make a “metanoia” is to change our direction. We change from going away from God, to going towards Him. We change from not loving to loving.
In Orthodox Church services, the clergy make “metanoias,” which as physical gestures where they bow before an icon or the Holy Altar Table. Symbolically, this causes them to change orientation/direction, from a posture that is standing up and “commanding the room” to a posture where the only person they can see is themselves. Whether we are clergy or laity, whether we are at a worship service or not, we are all supposed to make “metanoias” continuously. We should continuously look inward with humility. When the clergy make a “metanoia”, it is with the words “God be gracious to me a sinner, and have mercy on me.” This is a form of the “Jesus Prayer”: Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Continuously calling on the name of Jesus, whether through the Jesus Prayer or any other prayer, whether it is by bowing down or sitting still, this is what will help us make a continual repentance, a continual change in our direction to point towards Christ.
In choosing to thrive in our circumstances, repentance needs to figure into the equation. First of all, we must repent continuously. This exercise of turning away from sin and towards God is something we need to do constantly, multiple times a day. Second, when we have sinned, the result should be immediate repentance. If we sin in the morning on a Monday, we don’t have to wait until Tuesday to repent. We shouldn’t think that we’ve “blown” Monday and nothing righteous can happen. We can repent immediately and have a Christ-centered remainder of the day. We can re-center on Christ at almost any time.
Repentance is a choice. And it is a choice we need to make daily. Saint Peter, in today’s verse from Acts 2:38, connects repentance with baptism, forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. This is important, because although we might think of repentance as a need, we don’t often think of the benefits of repentance. Saint Peter charged the faithful of the early church to repent and be baptized, and the result was to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. While we have been baptized, and baptism is a one-time event, repentance and the resulting receiving of the grace of the Holy Spirit is something we can participate in daily, even multiple times per day. There is a sacramental confession and absolution, during which we make a confession in the presence of a priest and receive absolution through his hands. This does not need to be done daily, but should be done at least a couple of times per year. Repentance, however, does not need to happen in a formal, sacramental context, nor should it be restricted to only a few times a year. Repentance is something we can and should do daily.
Choosing to thrive spiritually means that repentance is part of every prayer and every day, and that we make a conscious effort to turn ourselves towards Christ and away from the sinful temptations of the world.
Lord, You have promised us that as often as we repent we will be forgiven, that as often as we shall fall, we should pick ourselves up again. Lord, forgive my sins, my bad habits, the things I knowingly do wrong and even the things I do not know. Help me to turn towards You and away from things that take me away from You. Send the grace of Your Holy Spirit on me to strengthen me as I turn toward You. May I be conscious of You and the need to repent to You on a daily basis. Amen.
Repent continually! Repent today!