The Biblical idea of repentance is much more than most modern Christians associate today. It is more than just simply asking for forgiveness or feeling sorry for your actions. While these things are part of repentance, true repentance goes even farther by completely changing after your remorse. True repentance means “a change of mind”; mind here being much more than simply the way you think, but the whole being: the intellect, the reason, the understanding, the heart, the emotions, the will, etc. And I don’t think I could think of a better example than the Apostle Paul.
When we first meet Paul (who was then Saul), we are told that those who were stoning Stephen were laying their clothes at his feet (Acts 7:58) and that he was “consenting to [Stephen’s] death” (Acts 8:1). We can also learn more about Saul, prior to his conversion, in Acts 26 when he was giving his defense to Festus and Agrippa:
Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme, and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities. (Acts 26:9–11)
So as you can see, Saul was a terror to the newly established Christians. On his journey to Damascus to imprison the converted Christians, however, Jesus comes to Paul to forever change the course of his life.
While surrounded by the divine light of Christ, aside from asking who Jesus was, the only other thing Paul says is, “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 9:6 NKJV only; Acts 22:10) As we can see, an immediate transformation has already begun. Paul doesn’t argue, he doesn’t deny Jesus, he simply asks what he is to do. The answer, of course, is that he is to continue to Damascus to be told what is to become of him.
In the mean time, the Lord goes to Ananias, who was a disciple in Damascus, in a vision telling him to go find Paul and inform him that he is to be a “chosen vessel” of Christ’s, to “bear [His] name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Ananias, however, was afraid knowing what kind of person Paul was: “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13). Even though Ananias had direct instruction from the Lord, he was still afraid of Paul because of what he had been doing to the Church. Ananias concedes, however, and does as he is instructed.
When he finds Paul, Ananias lays his hands on him saying, “brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17). Paul’s sight immediately returns to him and he was then baptized. He gets some food and rests for a bit and then notice what the next verses say: “Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20; emphasis added). This change in Paul was so dramatic the people who heard him speaking were astonished and confused: “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” (Acts 9:21) Even the disciples in Jerusalem were afraid of him when he returned to meet them.
It was this experience where Paul exemplifies true repentance. He went from the persecutor to persecuted in a matter of moments. He would go from destroying churches to establishing them. Paul would journey more than 10,000 miles teaching the gospel to all who would listen, and those who wouldn’t listen persecuted him nearly to death many times:
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often , in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. (II Corinthians 11:24–27)
Yet Paul never faltered in his faith. He continued working for Christ, spreading the Gospel all over the world even to his death. This is the perfect example of repentance (metanioa). A complete change of mind where there is no in between; no flip-flopping. Paul changed completely and never looked back. He didn’t repeat offenses, but changed from them. And as true Christians we are called to do this very same thing. There is no room for double-mindedness and back-and-forth (or lukewarm) Christianity. When we convert and become true Christians, we repent of our sins and change our minds (our complete inner being) to seek God first and foremost. We seek to please Him always. We strive for perfection: “therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Can you say that you are following the example of Paul? Are you putting forth all you have to please God? Are you living as a living sacrifice for God? Striving for perfection as our Lord calls us to do? If not, I pray that you will rethink your stance on Christianity and realize the importance of true repentance. It is much more than a sorrowful feeling, but a complete change. A complete turning from sin to righteousness; always seeking perfection.