Imagine you are a long road trip to visit your grandmother for Thanksgiving Day. The low-fuel light turns red on your dashboard indicating you have about 30 miles worth of gas left in the tank, and the next exit is not for another 80 miles. At that moment in time, the most frustrating road sign in the whole world is “No U-Turns Allowed.”
Or imagine you are on your way to work and you’re listening to news on the radio. You hear the name of your hometown and become engrossed in the story. When you come back to your senses you realize you are in the far left lane of a 4-lane congested highway and your exit is ¼ mile ahead on the far right. So you blow right by your exit. You glance at the clock on your dash. It’s now 7:54 and you start work at 8:00 a.m., and the next exit is 5 miles further down the road. At that moment in time, the most frustrating road sign in all the whole is “No U-Turns Allowed.”
We live in a world where U-Turns are difficult at the times we need them the most, reserving them only for unusual circumstances (for safety reasons, of course). But living our spiritual lives before God is different. Living authentically with God, and for God, in this world requires innumerable U-Turns.
The good news of the Bible is that we can take U-Turns. In fact, God loves them. In God’s world, U-turns are not only allowed—they are required, encouraged, commanded, and welcomed by the Creator who became our gracious Redeemer. And this offer of redemption is openly made to men and women, boys and girls—all people of all ages, all colors, and all nationalities.
But Jonah refused to believe this; he didn’t joyfully embrace God’s heart for all people who have lost their way. Jews like him deserved a second chance (or third, or fourth), but the sinful people of Ninevah did not. So when God commanded the prophet to go to the pagan city of Ninevah and preach the message of repentance, Jonah refused. He defiantly went in the opposite direction. But God intervened. He whipped up a storm and had Jonah thrown into the raging sea in order to have him picked up by an uber fish to spend some alone-time with God. Now, at the end of Jonah 2, we find the fish has vomited Jonah onto the beach, and he is ready to preach.
In the third chapter, Jonah preached God’s message to the people of Ninevah and they repented. This biblical example reveals what our repentance should look like. So, what does it mean to repent? What does a spiritual U-Turn look like?
To repent means to turn to God with a heart of faith (v. 5a).
“And the people of Ninevah believed God.” Biblical repentance is married to faith. It is not merely an exercise of the will; that is, having enough “will power” to change. The person who is repenting—in the biblical sense—recognizes that he or she cannot make the necessary changes without God’s supernatural help. This is why the doctrine of repentance presents us with another mysterious tension in Scripture. Repentance is both a command from God to men; that is, we must repent (Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47), but Scripture also says it is given to us from God, thus God is the one who enables us to repent (Acts 11:18; Rom. 2:3-5).
Jonah preached the message and God granted the repentance—a repentance which included faith. This is ESSENTIAL to our understanding of repentance because many confuse repentance with penance, a form of self-punishment, or an attempt to make oneself acceptable to God. But biblical repentance is different. Repentance is a spiritual U-Turn; that is, we realize we are heading in the wrong direction, STOP, and turn back to God with a heart of faith.
To repent means to turn to God with godly grief (vv. 5b-8a).
Ninevah responded with a grief that led to repentance, symbolized by them all putting on sackcloth, a course fabric (think old, nasty burlap), which was a sign of grieving and deep humiliation.
But is grief repentance? Does feeling badly or being sorry for our sin equal being repentant? No, but it is a part of repentance. Read 2 Corinthians 7:8-10. Notice there are two kinds of sorrow. There is worldly sorrow, which leads to death (a sorrow that does not lead to life change or transformation) and there is godly sorrow, which leads to repentance (a spiritual U-Turn), that shifts the direction of your life. If our sin does not produce grief in our hearts, which then leads to repentance, then we should ask ourselves if our hearts have become calloused toward God or too comfortable with sin. To repent means to turn to God with a godly grief.
To repent means to turn to God away from evil ways (vv. 8b-10).
When the king repented, he commanded his people to turn from evil (Jonah 3:8-10). If repentance is a spiritual U-Turn of faith and life then two directions are in focus:
- What you are turning toward.
- And the evil way that you are turning from
Another way to say it is this: There is no turning to God without a turning away from sin. Repentance is essentially a change of mind but, like faith, it involves the heart of man in its entirety: intellect, emotion, and will. Biblical repentance is more than sorrow, or regret over failing to meet God’s standard (2 Cor. 7:9); rather, it includes a decision to turn from our sin toward a life of righteousness.
Do you need to make a U-Turn?
Is your life driving away from total dedication to God? What sinful ways or unhealthy habits do you need to turn away from in order to follow God with all your heart? Remember this: In God’s world, there are no signs saying, “No U-Turns Allowed.” Instead it is the very opposite. God says, “Turn around anytime. Come back to me. Leave behind your burdens. Give them to me. I will carry them for you.” Jesus says to you, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Make a U-Turn today. Turn back to God. Jesus has already paid for your sin. Receive the Savior, His forgiveness, and the gift of a new life He is offering to you.
[LISTEN to the two-part message What Does It Mean to Repent?