The month of Elul, the time period before the Fall Feasts, is known as a time of returning. Of teshuvah, or returning. Since the 14th century, ELUL has been referred to as the acronym:
As we prepare our lives, families, and homes to celebrate the exuberance of Yom Teruah, the solemnity of Yom Kippur, and the jubilant joy of Sukkot, I don’t want to forget to prepare my heart as well. I don’t want to forget who I serve, honor, and obey. Or the One I am intended to reflect to the world.
What does it mean to engage in teshuvah? What does this word mean? Why does it matter?
At its most basic point, according to the 13th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, teshuvah is “returning” to where we have previously failed and doing what we can to ensure we are not making the same mistake a second time.
Here are some guidelines for biblical repentance and returning to YHWH and to our fellow man.
“Tell the people of Isra’el, ‘When a man or woman commits any kind of sin against another person and thus breaks faith with Adonai, he incurs guilt. 7 He must confess the sin which he has committed; and he must make full restitution for his guilt, add twenty percent and give it to the victim of his sin.” Numbers 5:6-7 CJB
(All Scripture references from the Complete Jewish Bible unless noted otherwise)
Repentance should be out loud.
“A person guilty of any of these things is to confess in what manner he sinned.” Leviticus 5:5
James wasn’t making a new rule for the body of Messiah. He was referring to the commands of the Torah.
“Therefore, openly acknowledge your sins to one another, and pray for each other, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16
Does this mean we yell our sins to each other in some sort of bizarre exhibitionism? No.
If we have sinned against man, and I promise you that we know when we have, we should go to this man and speak to him. Have we sinned corporately? Confess publicly. We don’t have to make up offenses. We all stumble as we walk. And we know it.
What if we have sinned against YHWH? Again, we know. Confess to Him.
Even though He knows our inward being better than we do, we should speak to Him. We should always speak for there is no way to atonement without confession. There is no understanding of our need for redemption if we do not recognize and verbalize where we have fallen.
Even the High Priest, as he put his hands on the azazel, the scapegoat, had to proclaim over it, confess if you will, the sins of Israel upon its head before releasing it to the wilderness if it is to be a shadow of atonement Yeshua gave for us with His life. (Leviticus 16:21)
Repentance should cost us.
There is a price for sin. There is a price for an offense. We shouldn’t be satisfied with an “I’m sorry” shrug and handshake. If and when we have wronged others we should be diligent to make things right with them. Plus extra. If we have stolen, return what we stole plus 20%. If we have wronged someone on other levels we should work diligently to serve them, at our expense, above and beyond what seems fair.
If we have harmed someone we shouldn’t be satisfied with words only but should serve them with actions, as unto the Lord, without compensation. It is in our selfishness that we sin and, in His strength, we receive the opportunities to walk in generosity. Our rights to hold to our pride are often the very things keeping us from recognizing that we have even sinned in the first place.
But what is repentance?
“Let the wicked person abandon his way and the evil person his thoughts; let him return to Adonai, and he will have mercy on him;
let him return to our God, for he will freely forgive.” Isaiah 55:7
Repentance is turning away completely from both the action and the thoughts and returning completely to YHWH.
Moshe went back to Adonai and said, “Please! These people have committed a terrible sin: they have made themselves a god out of gold. Exodus 32:31
He who conceals his sins will not succeed; he who confesses and abandons them will gain mercy. Proverbs 28:13
Repentance is having the courage or even the desperation to speak specifically about your sin, whether before man or YHWH, because your desire for mercy is greater than your passion for your sin.
How do you express repentance?
- Grief. Often we are emotionally moved to tears or other expressions as we realize the depth of our own depravity and weakness. That moment of revelation when we see how far we have removed ourselves from openness and unity with YHWH.
- Give gifts, donations, or other acts of service. Make restitution to those we have wronged. Don’t know how? Find a way. Do not cease the effort until you do.
- Distance ourselves from the thing or area in which we have sinned.
John the Baptist, Yochanan the Immerser, tells us there should always be proof of our repentance.
If you have really turned from your sins, produce fruit that will prove it!!” Luke 3:8a
In reference to true repentance, Maimonides says the repentant is one who has had. “…his identity changed as if saying, ‘I am now another person, and not that person who perpetrated those misdeeds,’ to completely change his conduct for the good and straight path, and to exile himself… because it leads him to submissiveness and to be meek and humble-spirited.”
What leads us to sin? What gives us permission to give in to temptation? Pride. Fear. Anxiety. Lack of trust. Selfishness. Our fallen nature. None of these are excuses to remain in sin. We have a way out.
What are the benefits of repentance?
How blessed are those whose offense is forgiven,
those whose sin is covered! Psalm 32:1
Mercy and blessing. Future. Hope. Restored relationships with others. Restored relationship with Yeshua. Anointed ministry. Clear communication with the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit.
What are you waiting for?
Any time of the year, but especially during this season, return to your beloved. Remember who you are. Remove those things which stand in the way of your worship, your ministry, your relationships with YHWH, and the people in your life. It is work. It should be. But I challenge you to stop being satisfied with your status quo and seek the Lord while He is near. Prepare your hearts to meet Him on His appointed days.
Seek Adonai while he is available, call on him while he is still nearby. Isaiah 55:6