We're about to begin a new year and many people are probably thinking about making some changes ... perhaps making some "new year resolutions." Sometimes people can make some changes in behavior through their own will-power, but often that same will turns back to the bad, even self-destructive habits, with a vengeance. The old nature does not let go of its sinful pleasures easily. While there are those that tell people they can do anything they set their minds to, that applies only to accomplishing certain things in this life. A certain amount of effort can help you to achieve "success" by the world's standards, but it cannot bring about true repentance.
Before Jesus began His ministry, His cousin, John the Baptist, was "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4). People were flocking to John and you might wonder why ... it is because people instinctively have feelings of guilt. And those who don't, should! Some have said that religion is based upon man's innate need to be forgiven. Throughout our lives, and especially at death, almost all people wonder about life after death and whether they have been "good enough" to attain whatever afterlife there may be. What people often fail to understand is the bondage they are living in today as they live for the pleasures of this world, without any thought of God or His holiness or His judgment.
The crowds came to John the Baptist and were baptized with water because it made them feel better about themselves ... "cleaner." John proclaimed, "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but HE will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:8). John called people to repent ... Jesus would give them the ability to do it!! The issue in the human heart is a matter of lordship. Are you and I our own bosses? Are we free agents? Most people certainly think they are. But in "doing our own thing" we reveal our stubborn rebellion against the One whom GOD has appointed Lord over all things ... JESUS!
After Jesus paid the penalty for sin, suffering in our place on the cross, He ascended into heaven and sent His Spirit into the world. Paul writes to the Corinthians, "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:3). "Receiving Jesus into your heart," means more than acquiring a good luck charm, it means that you acknowledge a new Master. Therein lies the key to repentance. Repentance requires turning from self to Christ. On the day of Pentecost the people were convicted by Peter's words about Jesus' crucifixion, His subsequent resurrection and His ascension into heaven. They cried out, "Brothers, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). They couldn't take their actions back. They had rejected Jesus and cried out to Pilate to crucify Him!
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Some have taken this to mean that the old nature can, by an act of the will, choose to repent and believe, but a more accurate reading points to the fact that repentance is the partner of true faith, and true faith is the work of the very Spirit of God within us. You might think that this is like the question, "Which came first: the chicken or the egg?" I always laugh at that question because the answer is so obvious: the chicken!! God created the chicken to lay eggs. In the same way, God creates a new heart in sinners like you and me and the result is repentance and faith ... the promised gift that comes from the Holy Spirit.
What an incredible way to begin the new year, knowing that the Spirit of God is at work within you! Repentance is not always a fun thing, but true repentance IS always a good thing. After correcting the believers in Corinth and seeing them turn from their sin, Paul wrote, "Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it - I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while - yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death" (II Corinthians 7:8-10).
Guilt that drives you away from God is from Satan or the old nature or from the world around you, but guilt that drives you to your knees in confession and repentance is from the Spirit, leading you to Christ for forgiveness and empowering you to turn from sin to follow the path of righteousness for the glory of the God who saved you by His mercy and grace. As you head into the new year, don't just make some half-hearted attempt to change a behavior. Draw near to God through faith in Jesus Christ and rest in His power to transform you into His likeness. He will complete the work He has begun ... or begin a new work in a heart surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
He is able and willing to do all He has promised. Don't settle for less!!