JOEL 2:12-13: “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”
OBSERVATION: What does true repentance look like? This is the question that comes to my heart as I read these verses from the Book of Joel. Joel was writing of the coming judgment of God against Judah. Yet, the prophetic book of Joel reaches beyond the judgment of Judah to the final judgment that is coming against the world in the “Day of the Lord”. With that in mind, this call to repentance takes on both a historical and a present importance and relevance.
Some have called Joel the “John the Baptist” of the Old Testament. When we ask the question – “What does true repentance look like?” – the life and ministry of John the Baptist offers a good comparison. John was preaching a message or repentance to prepare hearts for the coming of the Messiah. When the religious leaders came to John, he proclaimed:
- “…You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” (Luke 3:7-8 ESV)
The religious leaders were proficient at “rending the garment”. This was an outward show of repentance through the visible act of tearing their garments and putting ashes upon their head. We too can do things outwardly, while inwardly our hearts remain unchanged. This is why the Lord called Judah to rend their hearts and not their garments. The outward show that feigns repentance will never move the heart of God. Repentance that is sincere must begin within. Only then will it be acceptable to the Lord.
How can one discern “true” repentance from “feigned” repentance? Feigned repentance finds its’ security in outward showings of “religious acts”. True repentance is manifested in changed behavior and “selfless acts”. True repentance is not concerned about giving an outward show for others to see. True repentance is concerned with humbling oneself before God and redirecting one’s life toward the pathway of life. John the Baptist once again gives us insight into understanding the fruits of true repentance.
- “And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:7-8, 10-14 ESV)
God desires to save, forgive, and to heal us. Again, the prophecy of Joel proclaims this truth – “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” The time for the church to turn away from mere outward displays of repentance and toward sincere rendering of the heart is now. While John the Baptist was calling men and women to prepare for the “First” coming of Jesus Christ, the prophetic words of Joel are calling us to prepare for the “Second” coming of Jesus Christ. It is time for all believers to rend their hearts, to turn to the Lord, and to offer fruits worthy of repentance. Jesus is coming soon, and He is calling us to become ready once again.
Lord, create in me a clean heart that turns to you in sincere repentance. Give me the grace each day to live in and walk after Your Holy Spirit. Help my life be a light to lead others to Jesus Christ both in word and in deed. I know I can only do this by grace through faith, so keep me in the position of humility and full dependence upon You. Help me to rend my heart in preparation for Your soon coming!
In Jesus Name!