'... unless you repent you will all likewise perish'. Luke 13:3.

Jesus' message is clear and concise; a message that Saint John the Baptist knew and which was the core of his preaching, 'Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is near' Matthew 3:2.

None of us want to perish; we all want to have eternal life and Jesus' words in this verse clearly state that unless we are repentant, we will perish. To perish means we will have no true relationship with God and no eternal life. Therefore playing such a significant role in our lives, it's important to know what it is and how to achieve it.

What is repentance?

RepentancePope Shenouda III stated that if sin is the separation from God, repentance is turning away from these sins and returning to God. Think of a U Turn and imagine that one way is us moving away from God, and the other way is us changing our direction and deciding that we want to move back towards God. Repentance is us feeling remorse over our sins and wanting to go back to following God's way and not ours.

Repentance in its simplicity is a change of mind and intention from wanting to sin (be far from God) to not wanting to sin (coming back to God). The reason behind that change of mind decides whether someone has truly repented or not. For example, if I change my mind and turn back from sin because I am afraid or embarrassed or just out of mere convenience to myself, I have not repented. True repentance is forgetting sin because of my love for God and therefore obedience of His commandments and my genuine care and heartfelt desire for my eternal life.

Ok, so I have changed my mind and decided that I truly want to stay away from Sin; does this mean I will not sin? No, not necessarily. Because of our fallen nature and human weaknesses, even though we have completely rejected sin from our hearts, we often fail to complete our repentance and fall into sin again. Thankfully, through God's Grace we are still able to turn to Him and receive the promise that He gave; 'Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness...I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you...and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them' Ezekiel 36: 25-27.

So, if I know that I will gain this cleansing even if I fall into sin again, why do I not just do what I want to do anyway? That's not how it works. We must have a genuine desire and must have truly rejected sin and whole heartedly wanted to return back to God for repentance to take place.

How do I achieve it?

Let's look at two examples from the Bible and see how they've achieved it.

1) The sinful woman who when she found out that Jesus was in Simon's house 'brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil and stood at His feet' Luke 7:37-38.

2) Zacchaeus the tax collector who when he found out that Jesus was passing through, 'ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him' Luke 19:4.

Neither Zacchaeus nor the sinful woman denied their sins; they acknowledged that they were walking in their own ways as oppose to God's righteous ways; but they had an intention to change and wanted to turn to Christ – This is repentance and in turn God accepted their repentance and their sins were forgiven. They returned to God, they sought Jesus; and when they sought Jesus, He fulfilled His promise and forgave them their sins.

Repentance is not a way to earn our forgiveness; it is merely the means by which we receive it. Once we take that step in rejecting sin and with a true heart desire to not want to sin again, we have repented, in other words, returned to God. What happens after that – the forgiveness of our sins, is not something we can decide. We repent and wait for the fulfillment of God's promise, 'Return to me, and I will return to you' Malachi 3:7.

St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church in London is one of the oldest Coptic churches in the lands of the immigration, and one of the first to be supported and cared for by our beloved patriarch, HH the late Pope Shenouda III.

  • St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church
    Allen Street, Kensington
    London W8 6UX