Among the many commands a fresh recruit might hear from his or her drill sergeant are the words: “About face!” Like snapping to attention or giving a proper salute, doing an about face requires practice and precision. Otherwise, the pivot may throw one off-balance resulting in embarrassing, even painful consequences.
The spiritual equivalent to an “about face” is repentance. Repentance is a change of mind resulting in a change of life. While repentance is the result of “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10); sorrow alone is not repentance. While the Lord knows “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12 cf. Ps. 139:1-4); as human beings, we are incapable of accurately gauging what takes place in the heart of those making a claim to repentance. The best we can do is observe, in the conduct of others, the evidence or lack of evidence of genuine repentance (Matt. 3:8). A spiritual “about face” sends one in the opposite direction. Before repentance, one had turned away from the Lord; but, now, with true repentance, one has set his or her face toward God.
Too many practice sloppy repentance. They feel uncomfortable, even sorrowful, about their sins. But repentance involves so much more than that. One must also follow-through, making an “about face” and moving forward in the direction that God has revealed in His word.
Repentance is God’s most difficult command. We must not compromise where God has spoken. We do no one a favor by watering down God’s expectations. Diverting people away from genuine repentance because it is difficult or uncomfortable keeps them away from the blessings of forgiveness and everlasting life. Jesus said, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:3). But, the Lord “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). The kindness of God should lead “us to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). But, ultimately, we are the ones who must do an “about face.”