Emotional Health•Healing • 5 minutes to read
Scripture records one of Jesus’ first sermons:
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!“Mark 1:15 NIV
Maybe you’ve had some of the same questions I have about the word repent or repentance:
- What does this actually mean?
- Am I doing it correctly?
- Will God only forgive those who repent?
- How often should I repent?
- What if I’ve tried to repent and I’m just not good at it?
If you’re a person of faith who has struggled with addictive behaviors, like I have, this term can be a really complicated concept.
From the time I began to struggle with managing my sexuality, as a young teenager through my early 20s, I thought I was repenting—and I was doing it often. I was sorry for my poor choices and I did my best to avoid them. I was taught that repentance meant being very sorry for your sin; turning away from it and going the other direction. It was doing a 180-degree turn and not returning to it. Well, I had the sorry part down, but my 180-degree turn always seemed to end up a total 360 within a short time—it was a vicious cycle!
I was repenting as hard as I could, or at least the best I knew how, hoping to tip the “repent-o-meter” so that somehow God would see my sincerity and offer me some help and forgiveness.
Over the years, I’ve come to see the meaning of the word “repent” in a different way
In Mark 1:15, the Greek word for repent is metanoéō: from metá, which means “changed after being with” and noiéō, which means “think.” This literally means to “think differently afterwards.”
Another way to see repentance is to “change our thinking.”
This word repent, “Metanoeo,” isn’t about being sorry or just turning the other direction. This is about dealing with my “thinking errors” and learning how to think differently.
This sounds a lot like the description of neuroplasticity or what is called brain plasticity. It is the ability of the brain to change through growth and reorganization. These changes happen when individual neural pathways make new connections and the new connections create new neural pathways in the brain.
This contributes to new ways of thinking. And the end result? Retraining the brain.
This seemed to be what my therapist was saying years ago when I went to him in my 20s seeking help for my unwanted sexual behavior. We looked at my addictive cycle: my thoughts, feelings, rituals, behaviors, and how my core beliefs affected my cycle. Honestly, it sounded like a foreign language to me—hard to understand and get my brain around. I just wanted to focus on stopping the unwanted behavior. My behavior was being influenced by “bad thinking” or what he called “thinking errors” which stemmed from my core beliefs. He said it was going to take some time to examine my core beliefs. He was talking about months and years and I just wanted a quick fix. I met with him on Tuesday and wanted to be fixed by Friday! But this is not how it works.
Our core beliefs are about how we think about ourselves, God, and others. I discovered that one of the main areas of belief I needed to look at was my belief about God. Part of my repentance—or the process of changing my thinking—was connected to how I viewed God.
My perception of God was that he wasn’t for me. I didn’t believe God had my best interest in mind. I really believed God was just putting up with me, highly disappointed from all my mistakes and sin. I was very frustrated with myself and didn’t understand how to appease God so he wouldn’t be angry and disappointed with me.
This is who I thought God was and what God was like. Sometimes scriptures in the Old Testament, how they were interpreted, seemed to validate this kind of God.
However, there are some scriptures that reveal our humanity and our “thinking errors” about God. This is what I love about the Gospels! To me, they are the pinnacle of scripture because God is revealed so clearly in Jesus. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9); “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30); “…the scriptures point to me!” Jesus said (John 5:39).
Jesus didn’t come to save us from God but to reveal God as Savior!
Jesus didn’t come to earth to change the mind of God about humanity—it didn’t need changing. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.
In Jesus, I see God as a great physician desiring to bring healing and wholeness to humanity. In Jesus, I see God’s judgement, but this judgement is redemptive, not punitive. It is like a doctor making a diagnosis or a judgment of the problem so he can prescribe the cure. God is not a courtroom judge sentencing me to prison. In fact, I have found my sin and addiction has its own punishment—causing plenty of hell in my life and in the lives of those around me.
I see sin as a disease to be healed not a mistake to be punished!
In Jesus, I believe God has nothing but my best interest at heart. Like a doctor, or therapist, or a recovery group. This is good news!
This is where I see scripture encouraging us to beware of thinking errors, like in 2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV: “…take every thought captive” making it obedient to Christ. Or Romans 12:2 NLT: “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”
Over the years, I have found that changing behavior is far more effective if I get down to the root of my thinking and core beliefs. Changing my thinking about God is only one of many areas I have found myself repenting and continue to repent when I’m aware of my thinking errors.
Now, for me, the word repent is one of the most positive and encouraging words in scripture. I see it more as a process than a one-time event. This is why I’m so grateful for counselors and recovery groups, where we can journey together through the process of renewing our minds.
If I were going to share this scripture in my own language, it would sound something like this:
“Something amazing is available right now. God is here to help! Rethink this, get your mind around it, change your thinking, and see it a new way. What seemed unbelievable is now believable. Talk about good news!!!”Mark 1:15 (the Rod Wright version)