“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping, and mourning; and tear your heart and not merely your garments.” Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in mercy and relenting of catastrophe. – Joel 2:12-13
In ancient Israel, and perhaps even in some orthodox Jewish cultures today, it was common to see a person repent in sackcloth and ashes. This action was intended to picture a humble, destitute, grieving spirit and often included the tearing (rending) of the outer garment to picture a broken or torn heart. It was an outward expression of deep-seated, inner turmoil.
Yet, as with many external rituals, form often replaced reality and the pretense of repentance (which should have been prompted by genuine and authentic grief over sin) replaced a true turn toward God. A God’s prophet, Joel saw through Israel’s hypocritical actions and warned them of the consequences of their falsehood.
If we cease to sense the gravity of our offending sin before a holy God, we too may be found guilty of a similar hypocrisy, of “going through the motions,” and find ourselves flirting with a spiritual ruin (that is often followed by physical disaster).
The best path to life-mending is often heart rending. Don’t pretend at repentance.
True repentance is no light matter. It is a thorough change of heart about sin, a change showing itself in godly sorrow and humiliation, in heartfelt confession before the throne of grace, in a complete breaking off from sinful habits, and an abiding hatred of all sin. Such repentance is the inseparable companion of saving faith in Christ. – J. C. Ryle