Repentance and Return
Repent: “to feel such sorrow for sin or fault as to be disposed to change one’s life for the better.” In the Bible, the Hebrew word translated as “to repent” comes from the verb “to return,” and connotates turning back to something you’ve left. In the New Testament, the Greek word for repentance does not just mean to be sorry for something, but describes a change in thought. Again and again, God calls his people to repent: of their sins, their idolatries, and even good things that draw their hearts from him.
God asks us to repent and return because he loves us, and because he wants us to experience true life. If we do not turn away from our sins and back to the him, then we are doomed to experience a pale and perverted version of life. When we hold onto other idols, we are walking through a life that is no true life at all, but a poor imitation of the vivid vitality God desires for us.
This July, we have been praying for the church in China to hold fast to repentance. Repentance is a hard topic for us in the Western church, but as I read and edit Chinese Christians, I have often noticed how regularly they talk about the role of repentance. It seems Chinese churches are continually calling their people to repent; not just of private and individual sins, but of the corporate sins of society.
I have often been struck that Chinese Christians don’t shy away from saying that they, as believers in Jesus, have a responsibility for sins of their nation. Off the top of my head, I remember reading calls to repent of the way society treats women (with the specific example of the Xuzhou woman in chains), the way Chinese society kills the unborn through abortion, China’s oppression of Uyghurs, and even calls to repent because their nation openly persecutes the house church! Now, obviously, Chinese Christians are not persecuting themselves – but it seems they are saying their society is sick, and they, on behalf of their community, are turning back to Christ.
A few years ago, Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu shared this prayer:
“Righteous Father, we repent to you for the Chinese house churches’ inward focus in the midst of persecution…Not only are we to live according to your holy law, but we are also to ‘do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’ Lord, we need to repent before you. In many things we have not witnessed your righteousness and have fallen short of your mercy: we have not prayed for the people of Hong Kong, we have not prayed for the people of Xinjiang, we have not even prayed for our brothers and sisters in bondage…. Lord, may Your holy and good Spirit rebuke us, and Your gracious Spirit uphold us.”
A prayer I read from a Chinese house church last year specifically prayed for “general repentance” for the American church, and then went on to pray for Americans not to look to political victory for assurance, but to depend on Christ alone and the power of the Holy Spirit. To me, this is an area where the maturity of the Chinese church has much to bless and teach Western Christians.
Praying for repentance is interesting for me, as an American. I have always heard a lot about repenting of my own sins, and of course that is extremely important. It’s much harder to think about corporate repentance; honestly, I’m often murky on what that looks like. But I think the prayers I read from China are a good place to start.
So, how have I prayed for Chinese believers to hold fast to repentance? I’m praying they will stay the course. I pray they will realize that “in repentance and rest you shall be saved.” I pray they will not think the difficulties they face give them merit; that they will not be prideful in what they see the Lord do among them; that they will not lose hope when circumstances appear insurmountable. I’m praying their hearts will be soft, and they will return, again and again and again, to Jesus, the author of salvation.
E.F. Gregory is a mom of three. She lives in the San Gabriel Valley on the border of East Los Angeles, where her husband is a P.C.A. church planter.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese Christians to continue repenting and returning to Jesus.