How to Repent

 If you have ever walked through a bookstore you have probably noticed the great number of titles that begin with “How to…” Some examples:

  • How to play golf
  • How to make money
  • How to cook just about everything
  • How to play keyboards
  • How to fall in love
  • How to dress for success
  • How to be a team player
  • How to book your own travel
  • How to understand the Bible

And that is only a small sampling of the number of “How To” books that are available at local bookstores.

As I read through Joel 2:12-17, I couldn’t help but to notice that it was God’s call to the people of Judah to repent. The best way to have God relent, to turn from something that He was planning on doing (like a natural calamity, or bringing upon a mighty army) is to repent from sin, and to turn one complete heart to the LORD.

I would suggest to you that what we have before us is a simple How to Repent. The basic steps in six verses. Let’s take a look at this brief look at biblical repentance. What are the basic steps? Here they are – make sure you get them down.

I. Turn to the LORD – vs. 12

   12 “Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”  

Underline the two words, “Now, therefore” In light of the “coming day of the LORD” what should we be doing? In light of everything that we read that will occur during that period of time (The Tribulation Period) how should we choose to live today?

Next, I want us to notice that our text says, “says the LORD,” God is speaking here in this section of Scripture. We have the very WORD of God! And God has a message for his people. If you are a child of God today this message is also for you! What we read about here in the book of Joel has implications for those of us who are alive today.

The word “turn” used here in verse 12 means to, REPENT. To repent means to change your mind. If you have been thinking a wrong way, or been heading down a wrong path you CHANGE your mind, or you change the direction you have been thinking or walking. You turn around.

Do you need to turn around today? Do you need to REPENT? Don’t allow pride to keep you from a sound relationship with God.  Judah needed to turn around. It has been said, “Sin will take you further than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cause more damage than you can ever imagine.” (Adrian Rogers)

BUT it doesn’t have to be that way – if we as the people of God will repent.

Well, how do we turn to God? 

  • With all your heart

Does God have your whole heart?

Jesus said,

   “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment’[1]

Do you and I really love God with all of our heart? Nothing held back? Let us be honest here – this is where repentance begins. We read in…

  • Prov. 4:23 – “Guard over our hearts with all diligence.”
  • Jer. 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”

Why do we need to keep watch over our heart? Because Jesus taught that it was from the heart that all kinds of sinful issues flow. Listen to His words,

   For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” (Matthew 15:19) 

  • With fasting

Remember that the word “fast” means to abstain from food for a period of time.

We abstain from food so that when our body reminds us that we are hungry that we turn our attention towards the LORD. This is the purpose of fasting – it draws us nearer to God.

We might even fast for the purpose of trying to discover what is in our heart. Instead of eating to satisfy the flesh, we deny the flesh to bring our heart into a spiritual focus. We really ought to pray the prayer of the psalmist, who asked,

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalms 139:23-24)

Once we discover what is in our heart we “turn” to God. We repent; change our mind. We seek to stay close to God and not allow anything to come between Him and us – NOTHING!

I really would like to encourage all of us to consider fasting as a part of our regular spiritual disciplines (fast along with prayer, Bible reading, evangelism, and tithing).  Fast for the purpose of experiencing God!

  • With weeping

When was the last time anyone of us actually wept over our sin that breaks the heart of God? Instead of weeping we often laugh at sin. Instead of seeing sin the way God sees it, we see it as acceptable social norms. Even Christians say, “Everybody is doing it.” Sin is NATURAL (fleshly), however, the follower of Jesus Christ has died to sin.

The Apostle Paul wrote,

   “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:2)

We probably will never witness a genuine revival in our nation or within our churches until the people of God begin to weep over the numerous sins we commit against God.

Are we aware that all sin is ultimately against God? Yes, we may sin against others, but in reality we are actually sinning against God. Does that thought move you to tears?  We break the heart of Almighty God when we sin against Him.

  • With mourning 

Mourning shows the genuineness of ones repentance. To mourn means that one has internal wrestling occurring within their soul. People can fake it, but we are speaking about being genuine.

So, there we have some very basic steps towards true spiritual repentance. Does anyone present need to take these steps?

 II. Rend your heart – vs. 13

   13 So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. 

  • It’s about the heart and not the garments.

Underline the word “rend”. This word means, to tear, or to rip apart. Too many times as people we are quick to tear our outside garments when we have done something sinful, but we forget what is happening internally. What we should do is to tear the heart. Remember that all sin begins in the heart.

Therefore, God is asking that something occur in our heart, and not just some outward expression! Too many times we get caught up with only taking care of the external, that we neglect dealing with the weightier matters of the heart. We think if we can do something outward that it is sufficient. Well, this is not what God is asking from us. God is asking that we deal with the sin in our heart.

I think we would all become better Disciples of Christ if we would but only deal with the matters of the heart (Revisit Prov. 4:23). Ask: Is what is in my heart right now drawing me closer to God, or is it pushing me further away?

  • Return to the LORD your God

The word “Return” carries the idea that we have somehow turned from, or turned away from. Now the prophet writes,

“Return to the LORD your God.”

I would think that if we are truly God’s people that we would want to quickly return to the LORD our God. Why would any of us want to wait? Why wouldn’t all of us want to be quickly restored to fellowship with God?

What I find troubling in my own life is how easy it is to be away from God believing that I am actually close to God. Hear this: Proximity doesn’t mean nearness. Many a husband and wife live in the same house but they do not enjoying intimacy, or oneness in their marriage. Many people come to church, but they are far from God, and they might even carry their Bible into this assembly place. Returning to God has nothing to do with being in church, but it has everything to do with repentance – a change of mind. It’s having a full-heart desire to be in fellowship/oneness with God.

Why is it that we are so prone to wander from the God we love? Why do we forget that sin in our lives breaks our fellowship with God? Why wouldn’t we want to return to God? And why do we so often pretend to be in wonderful fellowship when reality we know we not? Do we really want to play act before God and God’s people? Is hypocrisy really something we want in our lives? I don’t believe that it is.


  • Is He your LORD?
  • Is He your God?

There is only ONE GOD! There is no one else that any one of us can turn to. Therefore, I encourage all of us to RETURN to the LORD our God.

Why turn to God? Well, we read several wonderful reasons provided here in our text. We return to Him because…

  • He is gracious

God is full of grace! And beloved let us be thankful He is. It is by grace we are saved, and it is though His grace that He quickly forgives us (Eph. 2:8-9). If we will turn and return to Him, then He will forgive and restore each one of us. How good it is!

  • He is merciful

Do you ever feel you need some mercy? When we know we deserve judgment, God extends mercy. God doesn’t give us what we deserve. Maybe a few earthly examples will help us understand God’s mercy.

Earthly Example of NO Mercy

   If you were to walk away from your place of employment without permission how long do you think your boss would keep you? Probably not long.

If you committed adultery in your marriage do you think your spouse would forgive you and restore you? Maybe, but it would be an awfully long haul.

If you refused to pay your income tax do you think the IRS would understand? Probably not.

The point is, we sin against God all the time, and yet, He is always quick to show us mercy. Why? Because He is an all-merciful God. It is God’s nature to be merciful However, just because God is quick to extend His mercy, let us not abuse this attribute of God.

  • He is slow to anger

This means that God is long-fused. The Bible says,

God is a just judge,  And God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11)

What we know about God is that He deals perfectly with anger!

  • He is great kindness

Not only is God kind, but also we read here, “great kindness”. It is through the kindness of God that you and I were able to come to Jesus Christ for personal salvation (Titus 3:4). Let us thank God for His kindness towards us.

  • He relents from doing harm

The word “relent” means to stop. God will stop the judgment He was going to brig upon individuals and nations if they will repent and turn to Him.

In other words, if we will get right with God, He will make things right around and about us! That is pretty awesome my friends!

I would think that you would agree with me that these are some great reasons for us to turn to God? There is no other religious faith on the planet that has a deity described like what we have before us in this verse.

Friends, let us be thankful today for the attributes and characteristics of God that we have before us in this verse. Remember, a part of my Goal in preaching through the Minor Prophets is for us to get to KNOW God in a much more intimate way. We KNOW someone when we really KNOW someone!

III. Have an expectation – vs. 14

14 Who knows if He will turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him– A grain offering and a drink offering For the LORD your God? 

God’s people should have an expectation from God. God said if we would repent, that He would provide a blessing. You and I can take God at His Word. He is fully trustworthy (Titus 1:2). What God says, He will do! We can count on God 100% (I Thess. 5:24 – A truly great verse. Memorize it).

If we do what God asks from us, we can expect (expectations) that God will do what He has said He would do. Joel writes,

   “Who knows if He will turn and relent,” (other translations read: return and repent). 

   If we will return to the LORD our God, and if we will repent, then God will act on our behalf. He will be quick to turn and relent from bringing judgment upon us as individuals and as a nation.

Here in this verse we read about a “blessing” that perhaps God would leave behind Him. The truth of the matter is that God is more interested in blessing you than judging you, but He will judge you if you turn from Him and go your own selfish way. However, He will be just as quick to provide blessings for those who repent and return to Him.

Do you want to experience God’s judgment, or His blessings?

In my life I want God’s blessings! O God, help this man to be quick to turn to the LORD my God! Watch over this man’s heart – keep my heart near to you O God.

I also find it interesting that the blessing that God brings here is a blessing that I to be used in the act of worshipping Him. We have both the meal and the drink offering. Both of these were used in the sacrificial system.

The meal offering would indicate that the ground is producing crops again. This would be a good sign especially in light of the locust plague, or the invasion of a mighty military force. Now the priest would have something to bring before God.

The drink offering was poured on the other offerings and became a part of them. When it was poured on the sacrifice, it went up in steam on the hot coals. The apostle Paul you recall, said that he wanted his life to be like that – just a drink offering on the sacrifice of Christ. (McGee, P. 696)

There is a final point that I want to bring your attention if we as a people (individuals or nation) are going to experience real revival. What is it?

III.   Everyone must respond – vs. 15-17

   15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; 16 Gather the people, Sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her dressing oom.” 17 Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, Weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, “Spare Your people, O LORD, And do not give Your heritage to reproach, That the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” 

As I read through thee three verses I couldn’t help but to notice that it is actually a call to all of God’s people to turn to Him. Everyone in Judah was to turn to the LORD. Everyone in the United States of America is to return to the LORD. Everyone here in Spirit Lake, Idaho is to return to the LORD. You and I are to return to the LORD, and we are to do it quickly!

The steps here are the same we read back in Joel 1:14ff. They are:

  • Blow the trumpet in Zion (Get everyone’s attention).
  • Consecrate a fast (Abstain from food to draw near to God)
  • Call a sacred assembly (A holy congregational gathering)
  • Gather the people (Everyone – No one left out)
  • Assemble the elders (Spiritual Leaders)
  • Gather the children (Newborns to young children)
  • Bridegroom and bride were called (You seem now was the time to pause personal events – what event are you will to set aside to make sure you and your nation is right with God?)

In verse 17, the priests are to take the lead. They are to set the standard for the people of God. These ministers of the LORD were to come and weep between the porch and the altar. They were to cry out to God in prayer,

“Spare Your people, O LORD, And do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, “Where is their God?”

Underline the words, “Where is their God?

When the people of the world see God’s people being judged by God’s hand they are quick to say, “Where is their God?”

The prophet is telling Judah to repent so that the nations cannot ask that question. What a message for the church today. What a message for the United States of America today. Let us not give the nations of the world any wiggle room to mock our God. 

 How to REPENT! We looked at four very simple and basic steps, but the question remains, “Will We REPENT?” Will we… 

  • Turn to God (with all our heart?)
  • Rend our Heart (inside heart change, not external)
  • Have an Expectation (expecting God to act upon our repentance)
  • Everyone must REPENT (This message isn’t for those not present today, but it is for everyone who is present) 

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