The Joy of Repentance


Repentance and joy are two words we don't usually see near each other. It’s not exciting to be told that you are doing something wrong, or worse, that you stink in life! I like how our modern world invented the term ‘constructive criticism’ to dilute the sting of criticism. Yet criticism is criticism. It hurts. It is always destructive. Even when I know I've done wrong, I don’t like to be told so.

I still remember my first born snapping back at me when he was only six months old after I told him not to touch the TV. I was looking the stubborn, old Adam right in the eye. We don’t like to be told we are wrong even when we know we are.

Still there stands Jesus, preaching, “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand, now is the time, repent and believe the Good News!”  There are many things wrong with that sermon, Jesus. First of all, aren’t you the laughing hippie dude that loves me for who I am?  Second, what do repentance and good news have to do with each other? Am I supposed to be happy or scared?

Repent! Jesus says. God is not giving us constructive criticism; He wants to destroy those evil desires and acts that screw up His creation. We don’t need constructive criticism so we can reshape our life to look more pleasing to Him. We need to die and rise again; a full reboot! Which, by the way, is impossible to do by ourselves or even with some help.

Repentance is not a call to improve. It is a call to die. Sure, the fruits of this dying will be trying to be better and live according to God’s will, but that is not the essence of repentance.

So how can it be a joy to fess up to God that we have sinned in thought, word and deed; that we hurt one another with our words and our deeds?  It’s a joy because the one who tells us to repent isn’t the State, Allah, or the American Deist God who helps those who help themselves. It is a joy to lay all our dirty deeds on the carpet because we are standing before the God on the cross. He already knows what you have done and who you are. You cannot freak Him or shock Him. In fact, knowing everything about you, Jesus still laid down His life for you. In Him, all your shame has been buried for good.

It is now safe to be honest with yourself and God. He loves to dry our tears, forgive our sins and lift us up. It is a joy to repent. Repentance is like going to your dad to tell him you crashed his Ford Focus and receiving a Rolls Royce in return. It’s that ridiculous and that joyful.

Repentance is not a call to improve. It is a call to die. Sure, the fruits of this dying will be trying to be better and live according to God’s will, but that is not the essence of repentance.
— Joel Hess

Are you tired of pretending you are perfect or rationalizing your behavior? You are safe. You do not need to hide like Adam and Eve. Jesus died for the sins you are ashamed of. He forgives them, period! It is a joy to confess our sins because afterward, we always hear God's ridiculous promise of forgiveness. And God not only forgives, he truly forgets.

Repentance means admitting to guilt and pledging to do better. But it doesn’t mean we will never sin again. We probably will. The good news is that our salvation isn't based on whether we perfect our lives. God is not waiting for us to repent perfectly because that will never happen! Our salvation depends on our perfect Christ who fully covers all of our sins.  

Next month, many Christians will participate in an old season called Lent by repenting, fasting, etc. So often the mood of this season is sad. May it not be! Sure, it may be a time of getting serious. But don’t let the Devil rob you of the joy we have in Christ no matter what season it is. This Lent, put a smile on your face, wear white, and sing Alleluia.


Rev. Joel Hess is the fortunate pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Cadillac, MI, where God’s reality pierces through our illusions by His Word, flesh and blood and gentle waters.  He is the author of many half written projects; a talented musician and artist.  His contributions to the Jagged Word deal with the intersection of theology, culture and the arts.

Joel HessJoel Hess