I have noticed a subtle error as of late regarding the concept of repentance. Recently someone said, “Repent not of some behavior but rather change the way you think.” And if the mind change is directed to someone already walking uprightly, then yes, a mind change alone without a corresponding behavioral modification is all that is needed. But what are the chances that that person exists? Nil!
If a mind is wrongly oriented, then behavior corresponding to that wrong orientation is inevitable and immediate. Perhaps if you caught someone at the exact moment they formed a wrong thought, but before they executed the bad behavior that follows wrong thought, they would only need to repent of the thought and not the bad behavior also. But what does Christ say? “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Ah, the level of guilt is subterranean and hidden from apparency.
Behavior is not the determining factor of guilt in the kingdom of God, but man who sees the outside is not God who sees the inside, so guilty behavior remains the determining factor in the kingdoms of this world. This might seem to substantiate the idea behind “Repent not of some behavior but rather change the way you think”—being that it was said by someone in the kingdom of God—but this is not the case. It is true that changing the mind is the primary definition of repentance, but it also includes the attitude or will; this complicates what constitutes genuine repentance. The intent behind behavior is the dominant factor of consideration when determining guilt or innocence in the arena of judgment. Behavior may be the flower and mind the trunk, but the will is the root.
Perhaps a change of mind from one mindset to another is sometimes all that is needed and requested, a change from one worldview to another, but this presupposes the willingness of that mind to change. A change from adolescence to adulthood, for example, is not repentance per se, but certainly it requires a change of mind of sorts (and a willingness to grow up is behind that). In this way, yes, “Repent not of some behavior but rather change the way you think”; but the addendum to mind change is behavior change, so it is incorrect (in practical terms) to think of mind change and behavior change as separate things. Though behavior is not the determining factor of guilt in the kingdom of God, as I stated earlier, it is not excluded from consideration; deeds will indeed be judged!
The overarching point I am trying to make is that genuine repentance does not distinguish between thought, action and intent. True repentance involves all three of these aspects. A repentance from good to better, however, is seemingly more complex, and sometimes this type of repentance is required, but even in that, guilt is intrinsically behind it (even when it is not apparent to man’s discernment).
Look at Job for example. Job was righteous and blameless according to God’s own testimony concerning him, YET, he repented in dust and ashes (implying real guilt) when he actually heard and saw God for himself. He had based his righteous and blameless walk on what he had learned ABOUT God, but when he ACTUALLY heard and saw God for himself, he repented of his lackluster level of compliance, and began to walk righteous and blameless on a higher level of compliance. Before God thundered at Job from the whirlwind with these guilt-ridden words, “Who is this that darkness counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2), Elihu said to him, “For God speaks once, and even twice, yet no one notices it [including you, Job]. In a dream, a vision of the night [one may hear God’s voice], when deep sleep falls on men while slumbering upon the bed, then He opens the ears of men and seals their instruction, that He may turn man aside from his conduct, and keep him from pride” (Job 33:14-18).
We are not responsible for what we do not understand in the same way that we are responsible for what we do understand excepting that pride is often the reason for our lack of understanding. If pride is behind our denseness, than we are guilty even if we no longer see the connection. And even denseness by immaturity, though assumed innocent, is not innocent if that immaturity is born of the blinding influence of pride not repented of. According to Elihu, God is working behind the scenes always to keep man back from pride, a pride we are no doubt prone to, or otherwise, why would God so work while we sleep? It is a forever an eternal truth that the publican pounding his breast and lowering his head is justified rather than the Pharisee—who though externally and comparatively better than the publican—is nonetheless guilty because of self-righteous pride. Everyone who genuinely loves Him will repent in dust and ashes when they see and hear Him directly for themselves, no matter what position or condition they find themselves in when that occurs.