Teshuvah: Turn Away from Death unto Life

We are a week away from Day of Atonement, in the midst of the Days of Awe. As we near the end of this solemn time of Teshuvah, it seemed appropriate to republish this article that I originally wrote in 2015. Will you join us in this time of soul-searching and repentance, beloved?

Teshuvah (pronounced tesh-oo-baw’) is the name for the 40 days preceding the Day of Atonement. Thus, it begins on the sixth New Moon for renewal; in fact, this moon is sometimes called Teshuvah. It is a time for preparation, just as both Moses and Christ prepared for 40 days for their respective ministries. Teshuvah is thus representative of our probationary time on this earth when we are to prepare for the kingdom of glory, where “there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth” (Revelation 21:27). “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away … And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new” (vs. 1, 6).

Note: Technically, as there are 29 days in the sixth month according to the calendar we use, this is really a 39-day period. However, all months were originally 30 days and still are in prophetic time, so we still begin this period on the sixth New Moon.

What Does “Teshuvah” Mean?

Outside of the context of time, Teshuvah is a Hebrew word for repentance; however, we have little understood what true repentance involves. It is more than just a feeling of remorse after we sin. It entails much. But the literal meaning of shub, the root word of Teshuvah, means “to turn away”; it is a turning away from the old, but most importantly, to the new. The Bible writers most commonly applied it to the transition from one year to the next in spring.

A Greek word for repentance gives additional meaning: metanoeo (meta-no-eh-oh). According to Strong’s, this literally means “to think differently” and its noieo root literally means “to exercise the mind”. Therefore, this turning back from the old way that leads to death unto the new way that leads to life is a habitual process, and this process of learning to habitually turn away takes effect whenever we are tempted to go down the old way of sin. Seeing repentance in this way will, instead of repenting FOR sin, cause us to repent BEfore sin.

This is the way in which Jesus repented, for He never once sinned. For 40 days He experienced Teshuvah as He remained in the wilderness of temptation but overcame by the Word of God and faith in His Father. It is thus how He lived His whole life. He had a fallen nature from his mother, just as we all do, but He always allowed His own divine nature—from His Holy Spirit that birthed Him in Mary—to override His fallen nature.

Repentance Is a Gift

Though He had no taint of sin upon His character, yet He condescended to connect our fallen human nature with His divinity. By thus taking humanity, he Honored humanity. Having taken our fallen nature, He showed what it might become, by accepting the ample provision He has made for it, and by becoming partaker of the divine nature.

Pamphlet 80, 1896

Thus we may have the Teshuvah experience that our Saviour attained for us in His flesh. His Holy Spirit will provide it for us as a precious gift if we will receive it…

Peter clearly presented the fact that repentance is the gift of God. Speaking of Christ, he said, “Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). Repentance is no less the gift of God than are pardon and justification, and it cannot be experienced except as it is given to the soul by Christ. If we are drawn to Christ, it is through His power and virtue. The grace of contrition comes through Him, and from Him comes justification.”

1 Selected Messages, p. 391

SOP’s take on Teshuvah

Now did Sister White teach that repentance is more than only contrition and that it involves an effort of “turning back” on our part as well? Yes, she did…

True repentance is more than sorrow for sin. It is a resolute turning away from evil.

Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 557

Repentance is a daily, continued exercise, lasting until mortality is swallowed up of life. He who thus repents, appreciates the righteousness of Christ as above silver and gold, above every earthly tie and affection.

Signs of the Times, 11/26/1894

Although as sinners we are under the condemnation of the law, yet Christ by His obedience rendered to the law, claims for the repentant soul the merit of His own righteousness. [Praise His Name!] In order to obtain the righteousness of Christ, it is necessary for the sinner to know what that repentance is which works A RADICAL CHANGE OF MIND AND SPIRIT OF ACTION. The work of transformation must begin in the heart, and manifest its power through every faculty of the being; but man is not capable of originating such a repentance as this, and can experience it alone through Christ, who ascended up on high, led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

1 Selected Messages, p. 393

Thinking Differently

Again, how did Strong’s define metanoeo (a Greek word for repentance)? “To think differently”. Thayer’s Lexicon defines it as “to change one’s mind. Sister White says that “man’s repentance implies a change of mind” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 630). This ‘changing’ is the process of ‘turning’, or ‘turning back’, that teshuvah defines. And we now know that this repentance is a gift of God. However, He cannot change our mind unless we are continually “exercising the mind” to form His new habits of thinking towards moral situations in life. This exercising is twofold…

Step 1: Put on the Armor

Firstly, morning by morning, evening by evening, we are to think upon the matchless love and majesty of God in His Word, especially the Living Word, Christ in His perfect plan to redeem us. Our devotional time is sacred and essential and will carry us throughout the day and night…

It is in beholding the love of God that repentance is awakened in the sinner’s heart, and an earnest desire is created to become reconciled to God. When the transgressor becomes acquainted with God, and experiences His love, it produces in his heart a hatred for sin and a love for holiness.

Review and Herald, 3/9/1897

Repentance is an intense hatred of sin in all its forms … He who is truly repentant, he who is regenerated, hates sin. All manner of selfishness is distressing to him.

Bible Echo, 11/5/1894

Jesus teaches that salvation does not come through our seeking after Almighty, but through God’s seeking after us. Repentance is born in the heart by beholding the love of Christ, who gave His life to save the sinner. It is the goodness of God, manifested in Christ, that softens the heart. It is the virtue that goes forth from Jesus that inspires the purpose of the soul to turn away from sin. We do not repent in order that God may love us, but God reveals His love to us that we may repent. Thus repentance is not the ground of God’s love toward us, but the fruit of that love.

General Conference Bulletin, 12/1/1895

Therefore, we see that repentance flows into us from Christ’s heart into ours as we take time to behold His wondrous love. Then the second exercising of the mind that is necessary in repentance is throughout the day when temptations arise.

Step 2: Use the Armor

We gained our spiritual armor in our worship time, but then it is time to use it…

Repentance is turning from self to Christ; and when we receive Christ so that through faith He can live His life in us, good works will be manifest.

Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 87

Repentance includes sorrow for sin, and a turning away from it. We shall not renounce sin until we see its sinfulness; until we turn away from it in heart, there will be no real change in the life. Repentance is the only process by which infinite purity reflects the image of Christ in His redeemed subjects.

Signs of the Times, 6/28/1905

This turning away from self and sin to Christ and His righteousness is a process, for it develops through practice—under various life situations—until “in every unexpected trial our thoughts will turn to Him as naturally as the flower turns to the sun” (Mind, Character, and Personality, Vol. 2, p. 670).

Watch Out for These Common Sins

One of the most common sins is complaining, which is usually accompanied with speaking with an escalated tone or volume of speech. It is damaging upon the complainer and any others that may be present; and it will never pollute the purity in heaven. Therefore, we must experience Teshuvah now in our probationary time. We must turn away from complaining and various lusts, until they are entirely absent in our lives, for these are the common sins that hold us back.

Behold, Yahuah cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are unholy among them of all their unholy deeds which they have unholy committed, and of all their harsh speech which unholy sinners have spoken against Him. These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts.

— Jude 14-16

Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the Tree of Life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

— Revelation 22:14

Recognizing Temptation

Now I would like to share something with you that is very critical, so please read carefully. We will take one step at a time together…

There is often a signal that comes just before sin is brought forth. Satan knows it well and it is how temptation usually comes:

“Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth DEATH. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:14-17). This is revolutionary; but what does it mean?

Firstly, the Greek word translated to “lust” is epithumia, which means “a longing desire, usually for what is forbidden”. This is the signal, friends, because sin is so much a part of us that we do not think before we act; therefore, some sort of longing or restless feeling or desire suddenly erupts. Our habitual response is to act on the desire without thinking. This is what we must override. The feeling is not sin; we cannot prevent it from occurring. But, if we habitually practice biblical responses, this will by and by lessen the amplitude of those feelings.

So, here is how it works…

A feeling will come. It could be a memory of some forbidden taste or chemical high from a stimulating substance or activity. Or it could be a feeling of anger after an annoyance or worse. Where we used to respond by giving into the desire and letting it carry us away, we can now begin to habitually practice the Teshuvah response: turning away from death unto life.

Sin Brings Death

Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth DEATH.

— James 1:15b

Dear friends, I hope you are paying really close attention; this is totally life-changing, soul-saving. May it be understood that the moment we sin, the Holy Spirit is withdrawn from us in relation to the severity of our sin, for Christ will not force His presence upon someone who chooses sin over Him. At any given moment, we are either dead or alive—”dead in sins” (Ephesians 2:5), or alive in “Christ, who is our life” (Colossians 3:4). Christ does not slay us but sin slays us, for sin cuts off His cheerful, peaceful life from us. Without His Holy Spirit we are spiritually dead, only living by the probationary physical life He purchased for us all at Calvary.

But “whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God” (1 John 3:9, 10).

The Teshuvah Response

A feeling will come. Instead of being carried away with it by natural habit, right away, think: TURN AWAY FROM DEATH… Not just death to us, but to our Saviour who must die to that sin by both an infinite and continual Sacrifice, peradventure we seek Him for healing afterwards. He must endure pain for every transgression. And sin will only bring us and those affected pain as well. Sin keeps our Saviour tied up in His sacrificial atonement, thus delaying His Second Coming. He cannot come while His people are still trying to overcome sin by His blood. He must be there for them.

The point I’m making here is that sin is extremely expensive, and this is part of the change of mind we must have. So as soon as we feel a desire coming on—it may be very subtle—that has any potential of carrying us away into sin; then immediately we must TURN AWAY! Yea, turn away FROM DEATH, and most importantly, UNTO LIFE….

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice!

The moment we choose LIFE at a temptation, we are born of God afresh. His Spirit’s influence upon us is stronger than before the temptation. And being thus born again, we cannot sin, for His seed—His Holy Word, His Holy Spirit—remaineth in us, sealing us, settling us into His way of life. But the opposite also remains true: “Every sin cherished weakens the character and strengthens habit; and physical, mental, and moral depravity is the result. You may repent of the wrong you have done, and set your feet in right paths; but the mold of your mind and your familiarity with evil will make it difficult for you to distinguish between right and wrong. Through the wrong habits formed, Satan will assail you again and again” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 281).

Therefore, the following can be either good news or bad news, depending on how we choose to respond when tested: “Repeated acts in a given course become habits. These may be modified by severe training, later in life, but are seldom changed. Once formed, habits become more and more firmly impressed upon the character” (Gospel Herald, 1/1/1880). “Thus actions repeated form habits, habits form character, and by the character our destiny for time and for eternity is decided” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 356).

A feeling will come. Instead of being carried away with it by natural habit, right away, we think: TURN AWAY FROM DEATH, UNTO LIFE.

The Gift of Life

Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

— James 1:14-17

LIFE is a GIFT. But we must TURN AWAY from our tempting feelings to see and receive the gift. We need to get to the place where we do not dwell on it for a second, for our passions are strong and we are weak. We need Christ! He is our LIFE! So as soon as we turn away, we turn to Him, for He has gifts to give us. With Him there is no shadow of *turning* from His righteousness and mercy; He will never repent from exercising His divine love toward even the most undeserving, for “His compassions fail not. They are *new* every morning” (Lam. 3:22).

The Name Above All Names

Now, please do not miss this part. This is the most important. It is simply this: “Call upon the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:2). His Name, Jesus (Yahushua), means “Yahuah saves”. This Name is infinitely powerful. And the more we get to know Him, by morning and eventide, the more we will love Him and the more His Name will mean to us when we call upon Him. His matchless love will melt our hearts and dissolve all desire for sin. Sin will become hateful, and instead of enjoying the forbidden pleasure of sin for a season, we will enjoy lasting, abundant peace and joy.

If you get caught into sin—whether you saw its danger of death immediately, or if you dwelt on it and didn’t turn away in time and became swept away by your own lust, into the pit of hell—CALL upon the Name of Jesus“! Cry out to Him and He will most assuredly save you, for it is in His Holy Name to do so.

Please realize that this Teshuvah response

  1. the gift of discerning the signal desire and its serious potential for death,
  2. turning away from DEATH unto LIFE, and
  3. calling upon the Name above all names, Jesus

all takes place within seconds. But it works—1, 2, 3.

Take Time to Reflect

After you escape from death unto life, you may want to take a moment to reflect—mind you, not on the passion itself, but on the seriousness of death and the blessedness of the life that is yours in Jesus because He saved you. Take a moment to praise Him and thank Him. Also, you may just want to meditate on His love. This will especially help if you are in a longer lasting trial in which you cannot complain or indulge, because His seed is in you and you cannot sin—even claim this promise (which is 1 John 3:9) and other promises.

You may even have to continue on these spiritual reflections—turning away, turning away each time that passion comes, reflecting again and again on the danger of sinning and the wonderful love of Jesus and His perfect life, which is yours to enjoy. In the trial, just smile as you think of His saving love winning your heart.

The Work of Choice

Do you see how the Teshuvah experience of repentance involves both an effort on your part to turn from your passions and Christ’s part in giving repentance to you as a gift? It is like Sister White’s parable of one oar in a boat being ‘faith’ and the other ‘works’. The oar of faith is in Christ’s meritorious gift to give you the ‘change of mind’ ‘to think differently’ and the hatred of sin; and we need to pray for this gift daily. The oar of works is more than anything the working of your will. You can daily surrender your will to God, but when the moment of temptation comes, you will still have free choice. That means you will still need to CHOOSE to actively form new habits of thinking—but always by His help. But O the blessedness of habits when they are good ones and mature ones!

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

— 2 Corinthians 5:17

Practice Teshuvah Today

How do we get to that blessed point in our Teshuvah process? It is by practicing every time a temptation comes your way. It may be a feeling, a thought, or some external stimulus—anything that is impure, unholy. But the most important thing is to START RIGHT NOW!

And then try to be consistent. If you waited until a later time, you would forget much of this study. Impressions would be lost. You would likely slip back into your same old life pattern. If your life is like a lake of glass—calm with no waves—then try to do something challenging. Work on a project that will put your faith to the test.

And then practice. Especially practice calling on the precious Name of Jesus and spending lots of time with Him in the sacred twilight hours. “CLEAVE UNTO HIM: FOR HE IS THY LIFE, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which Yahuah sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:20). Try to keep up an ongoing conversation with Him throughout the day. Fail not in giving Him ceaseless praises!

May He be very alive in you, and may you thrive in Him. May He use you in putting an end to the great controversy between good and evil.

Finally, my brethren and sisters, may the peace of Christ be yours.


Ricky Bokovoy loves to study and share what he learns, especially on the subjects of the Bible and the writings of Ellen White, as well as health. He really digs deep, so he often shares long messages, but they are well worth the time! His other love is music. In fact, he used to be more about music ministry than writing! He still loves to sing, but sadly is no longer able to play guitar due to a health issue. His greatest desire is to see Seventh-day Adventists (by profession, whether they are members of a denomination or not) properly organized and united as a great army, doing the work God raised us up to do.

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