By Dr. Kevin Jackson
Why ‘repentance’ isn’t an old-time religious word
Editor’s note: Grenada pastor Kevin Jackson is writing a monthly Bible study through Psalm 119. Find the other installments at under the Bible Study column on our website.
Growing up in the deep, religious South, I attended many revivals. During these meetings, the special guest preacher would discuss repentance. Oftentimes, the guest preacher would emphasize repentance in negative terms only. Much later in my adult life, I realized repentance is not a negative event.
Repentance is not merely the door into the kingdom of God, but rather the pathway in the kingdom of God. All of the Christian life is repentance.
The psalmist began Psalm 119 describing the “happy” life. Psalm 119:1-2 says, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart.”
Happiness is a state of mind long before it is a state of being. Happiness originates in the mind; therefore, it is connected to one’s thought life.
Repentance is a work of the Holy Spirit in the mind; one’s perspective and worldview changes from self-obsession to self-sacrifice because that person believes in the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
In Psalm 119:17–24, the psalmist explained how individuals need to recognize their need for grace, and to pray for mercy to enable them to obey God in order to be happy.
In these verses, the psalmist expressed the essence of repentance: seeing one’s need for grace and praying for mercy. Apparently, the psalmist believed repentance was an ongoing reality in the life of a believer.
The psalmist prayed that God would “deal bountifully” with him and “open his eyes” that he may see wondrous things in God‘s law. The psalmist had concern for his spiritual life. He desired to realize, to perceive, to discern the breath of God in his soul.
He wanted a new way to look at the world; a new perspective on his personal life. He needed to understand the ways in which his life did not align with God’s ways, so he prayed God would “open” his eyes. This is a prayer of repentance.
He aspired to remain faithful and to stay the course. However, he knew that in order do so he needed greater repentance in his life. The only way to overcome the grip of self-directed love is to embrace the self-sacrificing love of God in his son Jesus Christ.
Repentance, therefore, is grief and sorrow over self-directed love and a simultaneous embrace of God’s love in Christ.
As the psalmist had already taught his readers, people were divided into two categories called the Hebrew “Two Ways” of living: self-actualization and self-sacrifice (Proverbs 3:5-6; 28:26).
In Psalm 119:20, the psalmist said he was “consumed.” He possessed a single-minded purpose for living. God implanted a deep longing within his being that drove him to long for God’s way at all times. God’s law created an “otherness” in him. It solicited a genuine interest in others whereby he wanted to serve and help other people. This is the effect of repentance.
True happiness does not come the way one would typically think. People tend to believe that in order to be happy they must get, take and have for themselves. In Psalm 119:21, the psalmist implored the Lord to rebuke the arrogant ones who “wander” away from His ways.
These individuals trusted in their own perspective instead of leaning on God’s perspective. They refused to align their thoughts to God’s thoughts. Consequently, their behavior was insolent, arrogant and contemptuous. These individuals focused single-mindedly on self-directed thoughts to get, take and have for themselves.
Psalm 119:23 says, “Princes sit plotting … your servant will meditate…” The words “plotting” and “meditate” translated are the same word in Hebrew. The princes “plotted” self-preservation and self-love, while the psalmist “meditated” on God’s way of love for others.
The psalmist had a new reference point for his thought life. No longer did he direct his thoughts toward himself, but through repentance toward God and faith in God’s promise, the psalmist now directed his thoughts toward loving others.
Modern believers, like us, stand in continual need of repentance. Repentance is not something limited only to those who do not know Jesus Christ. Repentance is a way of life for those of us who do know Him.
Happiness — true happiness — begins in the mind. Repentance also begins in the mind. The psalmist led his readers to believe there was a true connection between repentance and happiness.
Dr. Kevin Jackson became the senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church in 2009. He and his wife, Mary Ann, have two daughters, Perrin and Mary Pinson, and one son, Seth.