Theologians rightfully point out that the distinguishing mark between Christians and non-believers is repentance. Christians are not a bunch of flawless people detached from the everyday experience of living in an imperfect world. They are imperfect people who have repented of their sins and are striving towards holiness. Though these people sin, they grieve over their sins and long for the day when they will be delivered from their bodies of death. (Romans 7:24-25)

What is repentance? How does it relate to obedience?

Repentance is a turning away from sin. It is not merely regretting about sin and its consequences, but a turning from it to pursue what is right. It is a change of mind that results in a change of action. 

Salvation is by faith alone. Remorse and repentance of sin accompany conversion. Repentance and faith are like two sides of the same coin. To place your faith and trust in Christ, you had to recognize your sin and the inability to deliver yourself from it. God gives the gift of faith and repentance that are essential for salvation.

Obedience, on the other hand, is a fruit of repentance. Repentance implies that there is a new trajectory. This new course of action is obedience. A repentant person admits their rebellion and disobedience, making a turnaround to pursue what is right. The Bible is the standard for obedience that we adhere to. Scriptures dictate what is right or wrong and true or false.

Whereas obedience is doing good works, good works don’t qualify us for salvation or justify us before God. Salvation is by faith alone, meaning that there is nothing in and of ourselves that we bring to the table as a bargaining chip for Christ to save us. Works are not the cause of salvation but the evidence of it. Repentance produces obedience – good works. It is no wonder we are instructed to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matt 3:8)

King Josiah’s repentance (2 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 34)

Scrutinizing King Josiah’s life in the Bible will mirror for us what repentance and obedience look like.

Josiah was an exemplary king who assumed leadership at the age of eight years. Then, Israel had rebelled against God by worshiping Baal and Asherah gods, oppressing the weak, trusting in the strength of their armies and their relations with other strong nations, disregard for God’s prophets, etc. They had gone in the opposite direction of the path that God had instructed them to walk in. Most of the kings before Josiah did not lead in the way of righteousness. God was angry and sent prophets to warn them of the imminent day of judgment. He would take them to exile and disaster would befall them.

In his twelfth year, Josiah sent for Hilkiah the priest and instructed him to use the tax money collected over the years to renovate the temple. While Hilkiah was clearing the treasure room of the temple, he found ‘the book of law’. This was an obliterated book in which God had instructed His people on how they should live. Scholars believe that this ‘book of law’ may have been the book of Deuteronomy as we know it today, with the laws that God had communicated to His people through Moses.

When Josiah heard the words of the book, he tore his clothes and his heart became penitent, a sign of regret and grieving over sin. He then sent Hilkiah and some of his officials to inquire of the Lord, for he feared that God’s wrath against them was great. Huldah the prophetess confirmed his fears. God was going to bring disaster upon all the inhabitants of Israel according to His word. However, since Josiah had humbled himself when confronted by God’s law, God would spare him from His wrath. Indeed, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

This is true repentance – understanding that God is holy, recognizing and admitting one’s Sin, and how much they fall from the path of righteousness, becoming sorrowful over Sin, and crying out to God for help and salvation. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor 7:10)

King Josiah’s obedience (2 Kings 23, 2 Chronicles 34)

King Josiah demonstrated repentance that did not merely stop at the regret of his sins and those of the people of Israel. That is not true repentance. He carried out reforms that confirm that his sorrow over their sins led to a change of actions.

Josiah gathered all the people of Jerusalem, both small and great. He read, in their hearing, the words of the book of the law. Then he made a covenant before the Lord to walk after Him, to keep His commandments, testimonies, and His statutes with all his heart and soul. He forbade other forms of worship and encouraged the exclusive worship of Yahweh, the one true God.

Then the king commanded the priests to bring out all the vessels made for Baal, Asherah, and the hosts of heaven and burned them. He deposed and executed all the priests and male prostitutes who had been ordained to make sacrifices to the idols in the high places. Josiah took out Asherah from the house of God and burned the idol. He ordered the destruction of all the altars and high places dedicated to other gods. Josiah also re-instituted the Passover celebrations.

This young king’s heart’s disposition was obedience. The law of God condemned him. He responded by changing his mind resulting in a change of actions. Likewise, we have been called to obedience. God’s word commands us to be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving ourselves. (James 1:22) Our profession of faith must be accompanied by good works of obedience, holiness, and faithfulness to God. Faith that does not bring about good works is dead. (James 2:17)

Conclusion

Repentance and obedience go hand in hand. We show our love for Christ by obeying Him. (John 14:15) Obedience isn’t merely following laws in a Pharisaic manner. It is an action resulting from our faith in Christ and love for Him and His commands. Obedience is not selectively picking what to obey and what to circumvent. It is embracing the whole law of Christ and seeking to please Him who has redeemed us. Hence the emphasis that true obedience is a fruit of a repentant heart.

Our obedience, while on this side of eternity, will not be perfect. However, since Christ is daily performing His work of sanctification in us, we are better today than yesterday, and we will be better tomorrow than today. 

We achieve continuous impartial obedience by daily looking at the law of Christ (the scriptures) and informing our thoughts, actions, and emotions with this law of love. Christ promises that everyone who hears His words and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. (Matt 7:24)