Have you ever noticed that the trip home from a vacation seems to take twice as long as the trip to your destination? I know it isn’t really the case, but after a fun but exhausting visit with family the other weekend, I knew that the six-hour trip was certain to feel a lot longer. However, once we got in the van and hit the “Go Home” button on our GPS, I zeroed in on getting to the end of the journey as quickly as possible. But by 1:45pm, the late-lunch hunger pangs had overtaken our vehicle, so we veered off the highway toward the closest fast food restaurant. I’d barely swerved onto the exit ramp when the strong male voice of my GPS barked at me: “Recalculating! Recalculating!”
Usually after that annoying announcement, the unit will quickly offer an alternate route, but this time it didn’t. Instead, it just kept pestering me to turn around and go back the way I had come. I didn’t realize it till we had our food and were back on the highway that my persistent GPS wasn’t just getting me back to the quickest way home, it was also illustrating an important spiritual principle. As Paul writes, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
God offers us absolute forgiveness for every sin. There’s not anything that you have done that the blood of Jesus Christ cannot cover. His work on the cross is indeed that powerful, and that complete. But in order to consistently walk in godliness, there will be times when believers need to repent.
Now I know that repentance isn’t a popular word these days. It seems almost archaic in today’s “do whatever you want” world. But the truth is that repentance is an essential discipline for maintaining a strong commitment to God. So let me use my trip off the highway as an outline for the steps necessary to complete repentance:
Recognize – As I headed down the off ramp, my GPS instantly alerted me that I was off track. The Holy Spirit, your conscience, and the Word of God are in constant operation to warn you when you stray off the path of righteousness. The quicker you acknowledge your error, the faster you’ll be able to get back to where you need to be, and the less time you'll have wasted wandering from your destination.
Decide – Not only did I have to recognize I was off-track, I also had to decide what I was going to do about it. The biggest—and most important—part of repentance is a decision. It isn’t enough to just know you are off course, or even feel bad about it. You have to hear what God says about where you are headed and then, consciously and deliberately, agree that He is right.
Return – Once I agreed that my GPS was right, the obvious next step was to actually make that U-turn and head back in the other direction. Action is the last part of genuine repentance, but many people fail to take this final step. They have real remorse over their decisions and may even believe God knows best, but they never really take the actions necessary to get back onto His right path. While dealing with sin is uncomfortable, remember that restoration almost always happens at the point of departure.
Are you off-track in your life somewhere? What led you to where you are? Don’t let this post be just an academic study of a biblical principle. Make it personal. With God's help, think through your current position clearly. Do you recognize where you are? Have you decided His way is the right way? And are you ready to return to Him? His path will always be the most direct and safest route to where you really want to be!
“I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life” (Prov. 4:11-13 NIV).
Learn more about what it takes to follow Christ whole-heartedly in Dr. Stanley's sermon series, "Unfailing Commitment," available for purchase in our online store.