Repentance is a Process
By Benjamin H. Liles
When the apostles who were still in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When Peter and John arrived, they prayed that the Samaritan believers might receive the Holy Spirit. These people had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, but the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them. Then, when the two apostles began laying their hands on the people, they received the Holy Spirit.
Simon saw that the Spirit was given to people when the apostles laid their hands on them. So he offered the apostles money, saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands will receive the Holy Spirit.”
Peter said to him, “You and your money should both be destroyed, because you thought you could buy God’s gift with money. You cannot share with us in this work since your heart is not right before God. Change your heart! Turn away from this evil thing you have done, and pray to the Lord. Maybe he will forgive you for thinking this. I see that you are full of bitter jealousy and ruled by sin.”
Simon answered, “Both of you pray for me to the Lord so the things you have said will not happen to me.” ~ Acts 8:14-24, Expanded
From the passage here we see a number of things: 1) Peter and John came to give the Holy Spirit by laying their hands on the people; 2) Simon (the Sorcerer) offered money to be able to do the same thing; 3) Peter rebukes Simon for thinking his money can buy what the Spirit does; 4) True repentance is a heart change, not something someone else can pray for you; 5) Evil still resided in Simon's heart; the Holy Spirit enabled Peter to see Simon's lack of conversion to Jesus Christ; 6) Simon's last statement shows his lack of actual remorse over his sin.
Folks, when I say what I do it's not to discredit anyone's experience of being blood bought by Jesus Christ's crucifixion. But I am saying this here and now: true repentance requires a rending of your heart. It means you acknowledge you sin, and will continue to do so even though you hate it and put it off. Simon's chief sin is he made it known he wasn't changed. He saw the things the Holy Spirit enabled Philip, Peter, and John to do and he wanted the Spirit for his own financial gain.
Before Peter and John came to give the Spirit to the people by laying their hands on them, Simon chose to believe and was thus baptized, but I question also whether his conversion was true. We read in the previous verses, "Simon had practiced magic and amazed all the people of Samaria. He bragged and called himself a great man. All the people—·the least important and the most important—paid attention to Simon, saying, “This man has the power of God, called ‘the Great Power’!” Simon had amazed them with his magic so long that the people became his followers" (Acts 8:9b-11, Expanded).
Simon thought of himself. He made himself more important than he needed to. Such is a deceived, deceptive heart that lacks any compassion for others. He did those things which would bring greatness to himself, not to God. When Philip arrives in Samaria things truly happen. "But when Philip told them the Good News about the kingdom of God and the power of Jesus Christ, men and women believed Philip and were baptized. Simon himself believed, and after he was baptized, he stayed very close to Philip. When he saw the miracles and the powerful things Philip did, Simon was amazed" (Acts 8:12-13).
When we read that through the miracles that took place because of Jesus doing them, and even through Philip, people are easily amazed as they don't understand that level of life-changing power. Follow me here on this and with what I'm saying. I can't exactly show you my life has changed. That's just my testimony of the power the Holy Spirit within me and in my life. It could be seen as bragging. But I want to show you this one thing. Am I bragging about God and what He does through His Spirit, or am I bragging about something I've done?
If I were to say this is something I've done, then truly there has never been a change in my heart and in my life. The thing with actual repentance is it's more than just a change of mind, a change of heart. Let's look at what Peter said to Simon. "You ·cannot [L have no part or] share with us in this ·work [ministry; L thing; word] since your heart is not right before God. 22 ·Change your heart! Turn away from [L Repent of] this evil thing you have done, and pray to the Lord. Maybe he will forgive you for ·thinking this [L the intent of your heart]" (Acts 8:21-22, leaving the Expanded Bible's comments in here so you can grasp the fullness of Peter's context).
Simon's heart wasn't ever right with God. We can see that in the verses talking about him. Should his heart been changed and fully he would have bowed before both God and man in that instant, praying the Lord would help change him and his ways. Instead, he says to Peter, "Both of you pray for me to the Lord so the things you have said will not happen to me" (Acts 8:24).
I know this will open up a debate on whether or not repentance is truly needed. But I offer this as well to support that claim: repentance isn't an action we take or do lightly. Actual repentance is done through God's Spirit illuminating the darkness within our hearts. We may not understand why we feel a "gut wrenching pull showing us a vacuous and empty hole in our hearts" (the quote is mine, but I'm putting the thought within the quotation mark to explain the deep-seeded side of our conscience). Ah, the conscience!
Paul writes, "They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them" (Romans 2:15). This explains the law's natural work within our lives. Either we stand in condemnation or we are excused before God and His judgment, not by anything we actively do, but by His Spirit. Remember that gut level feeling I was talking about? If you feel a prompting within your heart telling you, "What you did was wrong," and you feel a sense of remorse that's guilt. Guilt isn't always a bad thing. It tells us what we did was not just simply wrong, but that our hearts are tender with and toward God.
Let me put it to you this way: think on the Prodigal Son. When Jesus offered that parable He tells us, "When he ·realized what he was doing [came to his senses; L came to himself], he thought, ‘All of my father’s ·servants [hired workers] have ·plenty of [more than enough; abundant] ·food [bread]. But I am here, ·almost dying [perishing] with hunger. 18 I will ·leave and return [get up and go] to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against ·God [L heaven; C Jews often used “heaven” for “God” out of reverence for the divine Name] and against you" (Luke 15:17-18). This is actual repentance.
In Matthew's gospel account, we read Jesus Christ saying, "to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 16:24-25, New American Standard).When we come to our senses, realizing we are indeed sinful people who transgress God's laws that we naturally have on our hearts, we're admitting, "Hey I was in the wrong!" It shows God where we're at. It's almost like being marooned on an island and you see the plane that was sent to rescue you. Instead of doing nothing, you send up a flare, a bonfire, something so you can be rescued.
Likewise, with true and actual repentance you're saying to the God of the universe, "Father, God, You are far more holy than I. I have come before You on bended knee. I realize I have broken Your law, Your word. I know I should be punished for my sin. Make me Your servant rather than Your child." God doesn't enjoy seeing us in pain. Really, He doesn't. But what He does enjoy seeing is us with our senses, coming before Him, letting Him know, "Hey, I want You. Not what You give me." It is the heart that is in essence saying, crying to Him with such desperate longing that only God can rejoice.
Recall these verses to show how joyful God is when what He lost is returned: "Suppose a woman has ten silver coins, but loses one. She will light a lamp, sweep the house, and look carefully for the coin until she finds it. And when she finds it, she will call her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Be happy with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God when one sinner changes his heart and life" (Luke 15:8-10, Expanded).
I know this is a rather long article on this subject. It needed to be said and given. We all have tools available to us as Christians and those seeking God in our lives. But not all of us can afford the tools with which we can have better understanding. Those of you who follow along with me, with what God puts on my heart to write about, you can verify these things yourself by reading your Bibles. It's not a hard or troubling thing to do. It makes it easier when someone such as yourself seeks, walks along with, asking these same questions, and showing you the way that leads to life.
Christ said this: "Enter through the narrow gate. [L Because] The gate is wide and the road is ·wide [broad; spacious; or easy] that leads to ·hell [L destruction; ruin], and many people enter through that gate. But the gate is small and the road is ·narrow [or difficult; hard] that leads to true life. ·Only a few people [And there are few who] find that road" (Matthew 7:13-14, Expanded). Friends, you bear with me in order to get the big picture. You follow along with so you can have life and have it everlasting. This is the full measure of repentance.
The repentant heart says this, "My eyes are open for what I have done to myself. I see that there is nothing good within me. God, I hurt. God I see I caused You such pain. I'm tired of feeling beat down and trodden upon. Set me free from this burden! I want and need You in my life so I can have peace! You say in Your word that You have lasting peace such as the world doesn't give. I want to have overcome as You have for me. Thank You. Not just for forgiving me, not just because of who You are, but because of what Your Son did on my behalf."
Friend, if you do these things from a true point of seeing your sin as they actually are, which is a burden, half that battle has been won! The other half is done by God alone. He takes those chains that were wrapped around you and you are set free. It means acknowledging your ways before you knew Him. It means seeing sin as it is: death made real and truly hellish. Sin binds us in such a way that if we don't see it we don't have a full realization of hell and being separated from a truly loving God. It's why I contend the faith for you. It's why I always have a burden to and for you.
Just like Peter I also believe, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some understand slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9, Berean Study). He is patient with us. We have one life to live. We make so many mistakes by sinning. We can do so much wrong in our lives. Repentance means we're tired and done with actual and purposeful rebellion. We're tired of living life that way. We hate it!
Father, I come before You and Your holy place right now. I know I sin, whether willingly or not. I put all these things off so I can be who You desire me to be. Whether it is to serve others and showing them You and Your ways, teaching them about You and Your love, or even simply showing them my heart grieves for them as much as they grieve over what they do. They need You, Lord, just as much as I need You. David said, "As a deer needs water to drink, so my soul needs You." I know I'm paraphrasing that, Lord, but I'm in a place where I want and desire You more than I want of myself. I want Jesus. I want You. This is me picking up my cross. This is me denying myself the right to live in selfishness. I don't want this anymore. I'd rather have You or nothing at all. In Jesus' loving and forgiving embrace, I cry out to You. Amen.