Reshaping the Church

Teshuvah: A return to repentance

Posted October 06, 2023

by Lexie Ludlam

Photo by Tanner Mardis for Unsplash

Too often in Christian culture, Christians view repentance with shame and regret. Somewhere along the way, we defined it as a guilt-ridden, difficult thing to do. To repent is to feel the crushing weight of your sins.

These feelings, though real, are not the purpose of repentance. God does not want His people to suffer and dwell on their mistakes with constant guilt. Instead, He wants them to acknowledge their wrongs and guard against repeating them.

Repentance is a step to healing and becoming a better, truer version of oneself. When the Bible mentions repentance, it is followed by the promise of purification, forgiveness and celebration.

Luke 15:10 says, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Further, 1 John 1:19 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Luke 17:3 tells us to forgive when a brother or sister repents. Not only to forgive but to celebrate the new light they step into.

Oftentimes, forgiveness is very difficult to practice. Even though God provides the same forgiveness He asks of us, it is still difficult to forgive ourselves and others — let alone celebrate — in times of repentance.

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The Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur teach a greater purpose to repentance that Christians can learn from. The central theme of both holidays is "Teshuvah" or “repentance” in Hebrew.

The word “Teshuvah” more closely translates to “return,” according to Brandeis University. As much as this time calls for repentance and remorse, it also symbolizes a return to what one has “strayed or looked away from.”

Rosh Hashanah begins on the first day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar and ushers this return with rejoicing and celebration for the repentance ahead, according to My Jewish Learning.

Yom Kippur follows later on the 10th day of Tishrei, a month in the Hebrew calendar, as an intentional day of Sabbath through contemplation and fasting, according to Judaism 101.

Each of these holidays symbolizes a return to something greater, which is a cause for celebration. Jewish people across the world take the time to embrace and accept repentance with dedication and discipline.

When Yom Kippur comes to a close, celebrators gather in the synagogue for Ne'ilah, a worship service at the end of the fast that acts as “a revitalization of spiritual strength,” according to Judaism 101. This service is a very community-centered celebration as Jewish people are linked together in this cleansing.

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This type of repentance is not one many Christians are familiar with. It is not a time of “self-abasement,” according to Baptist News. Instead, it is a sign of “renewal and hope.” It is a return to God, a time to start again.

However, this return does not happen absent-mindedly. It requires the honest recognition of “fearful, faithless, frail ways,” through contemplative and intentional fasting, according to Baptist News. These celebrations present repentance as a serious, dutiful act that must be thought through.

Repentance is not words spoken absently or unfulfilled promises. It is an active choice of prayer. However, this practice should not be a scary thing. Times of repentance should be cherished and celebrated as much as they are taken seriously.

Though Christianity may not share the same traditions as Judaism, Christians can learn a lot from the mindset. God’s people are not meant to wallow and shrink under the weight of repentance.

Baptist News reminds that “God is not a sadist” and “repentance is not a form of masochism.” Instead, it is a gift bestowed upon His people, a chance to return and be cleansed.

These holidays are a great reminder for Christians to view repentance through new eyes — to not only forgive those around us but also forgive ourselves. More importantly, it is a reminder to give up the weight and give it to God. Our repentance is the angels’ rejoicing, and we should rejoice about it too.