Repentance vs. Appearance
When I was a college student, I was given the opportunity to serve as a counselor at a Christian camp for high schoolers. One night before we sent everyone away for bed, I asked my small group of girls to write down any of their questions on a piece of paper that they might be afraid to share out loud in our group. This simple exercise seemed to release a flood of honesty, and I was amazed at some of the incredible questions I got back that night.
The question I remember most vividly came from a quiet girl that hardly said much the entire weekend. Her question went something like this: “How do I know if I’m being genuine in repentance and worship? How do I know I’m not just “acting” for the people around me? I feel like I keep doing the same thing at every conference or youth group gathering. I feel like I’m just doing what people expect instead of truly changing. How do I stop the act?”
If we were mingling among the people of Israel in Hosea’s time, these questions might feel equally as pressing. As we moved into Hosea 6 and 7 this week in our study, God is desperate for His people to “return to Him” and repent, but the people remain content with just keeping up appearances. I believe this is a problem that haunts the Church even today.
So what exactly does it mean to “repent,” or to “return to the Lord,” as Hosea describes?
I have always heard “repentance” described as “a change of mind followed by a change in direction.” In other words, repentance is something that happens on the inside that is immediately (and consistently) seen on the outside. The Greek word for repent echoes the same idea: “to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins.” Similarly in the book of 1 Samuel, we find the people of Israel flirting with idols as in Hosea’s time; Samuel the priest urges the people to repent and return to God while providing some clear directions:
And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only. (1 Samuel 7:3-4, ESV)
It could be said that repentance includes two parts:
- Separation from false gods and sin
- Redirecting our heart’s affections and actions toward God
Repentance is not a half-hearted process. It’s important to note here that Samuel is intentional to include “all” our heart in the process. Repentance doesn’t begin with the outward actions -- it begins with changed affections that then bleed out into our actions.
Stepping back into the pages of Hosea, we hear God describe Israel’s affections like this:
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:4, 6, ESV)
Their love didn’t last. It evaporated like a morning cloud. Therefore their repentance proved itself to be false because their heart’s affections were distracted and fickle. Even though God was eager to forgive and restore them to Himself, their heart continued to prove itself unfaithful:
“When I would heal Israel… they deal falsely.” (Hosea 7:1, ESV)
“Yet they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek Him, for all this.” (Hosea 7:10, ESV)
“I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me.” (Hosea 7:13, ESV)
“They do not cry to Me from the heart…” (Hosea 7:14, ESV)
“They return, but not upward…” (Hosea 7:16a, ESV)
The people of Israel were content to offer God the appearance of love, while never fully separating from their countless other lovers. This is always the recipe for a false repentance. Like we learned earlier in Hosea, true love always requires sacrifice. Therefore, you cannot truly repent without putting sin to death.
Repentance is like a funeral and wedding all at once. The sin we once cherished is severed from our lives, which frees us to be united in love with the Savior of our souls.
Repentance is costly. Anytime we make it out to be something easy or casual, we create a recipe for disaster. But sadly this kind of deception has taken root in the church today, where we require nothing more than the tidy appearance of believers to prove that our hearts are directed toward God. It’s easier to act like we love God, than it is to walk to the altar and put a knife in our sin. But true repentance demands such.
Repentance is not a show. Repentance is revealed by a love that chooses righteousness in the day to day even when it gets hard. Repentance is a complete change of direction proven by divorcing sin and clinging to the Lord with reckless abandon.
So when I read over my young friend’s question that was scribbled on the back of that index card, I felt the weight of what she was asking. I thought about the passage listed above in 1st Samuel and the great divorce and marriage that needed to take place in her heart. When she came back to me afterward and asked if I had any thoughts on her question, I was honest and told her that we needed to redefine how she viewed repentance (and worship).
I felt such deep hope in her honesty because I knew she was looking for something costly and not cheap. She had tasted of a religion rooted in appearances and left unsatisfied.
And it was time to introduce her to the lasting transformation of true repentance.
“Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3, ESV)
Kaysie Strickland is definitely nothing fancy. Jesus found her in a mess and won her with His Words. She feels called to be a servant of the Word and His people through spending her life and words proclaiming the reckless restoration available in the gospel. She is married to her best friend on earth, drinks lots of coffee + tea, constantly rearranges the furniture in her house (God bless her husband), loves gardening and DIY projects, enjoys long conversations over coffee, and loves all the words. She and her husband are expecting their first little one this month! You can find her on Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Blog