Everyone must call out earnestly to God. Each must turn from his evil ways and from the violence he is doing. Who knows? God may turn and relent; He may turn from His burning anger so that we will not perish.Jonah 3:8b-9 (HCSB)
Repentance literally means ‘to turn again’. Repentance is to purposefully change direction, to look away from what you were doing and look to Jesus. It is to turn around and walk in the opposite direction from Satan; it is to walk back into the loving arms of Jesus. There is a world of difference between remorse and repentance, between ‘feeling sorry’ and ‘turning again’.
Repentance is not just misery over what has happened but a complete change of heart, a setting of the mind and your whole being against what has happened and a determination to make sure it never, ever, happens again. It is to utterly reject what you have done so much so that, in the words of the Book of Common Prayer‘s confession from the Lord’s Supper, “the remembrance of [our sins] is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable.” Likewise, in the confession for Morning or Evening Prayer, repentance is to recognise that “there is no health in us.” In the words of the Jonah passage, you could say that true repentance is to ‘earnestly call our to God for forgiveness whilst purposefully turning away from all our evil ways and the violence we have done against God’s Holy Laws.’ That is a good summary of repentance.
What is sad, however, is the second part of today’s passage—the people of Nineveh have no assurance that God will forgive them if they repent. I love the words of the Book of Common Prayer‘s absolution during Morning and Evening prayer “[God] pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent, and unfeignedly [sincerely] believe his holy Gospel.” We know this to be true because we know that Jesus died for our sins, died in our place, two thousand years ago. When we repent, we have complete assurance that we are completely, totally, 100%, forgiven. Praise the Lord!