This past year I spent some time studying Revelation 2:1–7 and the topic of repentance in the Bible. “Repentance” as I understand it is a turning away from something and a turning toward something. When the Bible talks about humans repenting it generally means people are turning away from sin and turning to God with all their inner being, with all their mind and heart and will. True repentance is accompanied by actions that show this turning away/toward is genuine. (That is why John the Baptist tells the Pharisees to “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” in Matthew 3:8).
So actions are the fruit, but what is the root of repentance? What motivates us, especially as Christians, to repent? Jesus gives solid, and perhaps surprising, motivations for repentance in Revelation 2:5. We’ll just look at one of those motivations, or roots, of repentance in this post.
Jesus had told the church in Ephesus that they had done a great job sticking to the truth and enduring trials, but that they had abandoned the love they had at first (Rev 2:4). The Ephesians had somehow forgotten that their greatest priorities as Christians were to love God and love people. (Side note: Its intriguing that Christians still get things wrong and need to ask for forgiveness and turn away from sin!) In the second half of Revelation 2:5 Jesus calls the Ephesians to repent and practice the works of love they once practiced. But in the first half of that verse Jesus offers a root of repentance by telling them to “Remember where you have fallen from.” Remembering can motivate repentance.
What would this remembering be about? How would it move us to repent? I think “remember” coupled with the “love you had at first” sounds a lot like remembering a “honeymoon period” of belief and joy that new Christians often experience. I think Jesus is pointing us back to first experiences of belief. When we remember the closeness with God that we first experienced when we confessed and believed, it should move us to want to get rid of sin and experience that same closeness with God again. Remembering motivates us to repent by stirring up a longing for closeness with God.
Here are my reflections on how this remembering might work in a daily fight to turn away from sin and turn to God:
If you are a Christian, remember a time when the gospel became vivid and clear to you, when you realized, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 10:8, that salvation was near you and not far away. Remember when the dreary fog of skepticism disintegrated and you saw, with compelling clarity, that Jesus died and was raised. Think of when the self-imposed wall crumbled and for the first time you believed, with all your being, that God could forgive and embrace you in Christ. Remember the heightening heartbeat and the pulse of adrenaline as you opened your mouth to acknowledge Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Can you recall the weight of the baptism water as you identified with Christ’s death? Can you feel again the waves break over you as you came up to live a new life in Jesus? Remember how the Holy Spirit filled you and gave you assurance of salvation, and started creating love and joy and peace. Don’t you long to be close to him again? Don’t you long to know the beauty of Jesus again? Turn from sin and turn to Christ! He will forgive and take you in.