Imagine driving on the interstate about 50 miles up the road heading north, but you think you are heading south until you see a road sign. You realize you have been going the wrong way for some time. So you turn around and go in the opposite direction. Repentance is like that but it involves a change, not just of body, but of heart and mind. The natural man does not love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength so repentance is necessary to reorient us to God. We have sinned against God by not acknowledging that he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Doing the right things on the outside, like being baptized, serving at church, or attending church regularly does not make us Christian. Without humility and repentance, it just makes us religious. How many of us have ever done something for which we are sorry. A child, when he is told to stay out of the pantry before dinner, is sorry when he is caught for sneaking a bag of potato chips but unless his heart is changed, he will do it again.
Repentance requires a heart change. When the apostles preached, it was so that people would repent and believe. Repent from what and believe in what? They were being called to repent from rejecting Christ as the Messiah and to believe in Him as Lord and Savior. John preached a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Repentance is crucial in the life of a Christian and vital to a life of faith. When our hearts change, our actions will change. That is why John the Baptist called people to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:21-23
“Repent and do the things you did at first.” Revelation 2:5
If your relationship with Jesus is genuine, you have experienced a heart change. The prodigal son experienced a heart change as he confessed to his earthly father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven (God) and against you, and am unworthy to be called your son.” True repentance is acknowledging that we sin against God and others. Repentance restores relationships. Jesus is reminding us that we are to turn back to God with a repentant heart and love him the way we did at first.