Israel had a long history of wandering far from God and disobeying His holy laws. Time and time again, God, in His infinite love and never-ending mercy (Lamentations 3:22), called His people to repent and come back to Him: “‘Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Malachi 3:7).
When God says, “Return to Me,” the Hebrew verb translated “return” expresses the idea of turning back or coming to a place, condition, or activity that one has experienced before. God wants His people who are far away in spiritual rebellion to repent of their sins and come back to a place of wholehearted obedience and devotion to the Lord. It’s a theme found several times in Scripture; in Zechariah 1:3, the Lord lovingly pleads, “Return to me, and I will return to you” (NLT).
However, when God says, “I will return to you,” He is not implying that He needs to repent from sin. Instead, the Lord Almighty is promising to come again as He had in the past and bring His people His unique presence and abundant blessings. Their wholehearted repentance would bring about such divine blessing that any doubt of God’s love and compassion would be removed.
Jeremiah 24:7 explains, “I will give them hearts that recognize me as the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly” (NLT). Nehemiah 1:9 further clarifies, “But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored” (NLT).
The entire book of Malachi points the way back to the Lord, explaining to the people how to get right with God. They were to begin through obedience to God’s Word and being faithful in their giving to the Lord (Malachi 3:8–12).
It is impossible to follow God and stay close to Him without faithful obedience to His Word (John 14:21). Throughout Scripture, God’s people are told to “be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left” (Deuteronomy 5:32; see also Joshua 1:7; 23:6). But if we do happen to stumble or turn aside, we can be certain that God’s heart cry to us will be, “Return to Me, and I will return to you.”
Our heavenly Father cares deeply for us despite our tendency to wander into sinful disobedience (Jeremiah 31:3). He draws us back with enduring kindness, commanding, “Return to Me.” We can do this through humble confession and prayer: “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NLT; see also 1 John 1:9).
“Return to Me, and I will return to you” aligns with Christ’s instruction to “remain in me, and I will remain in you” (John 15:4, NLT). How much better it is for us if we never leave Him in the first place!
Jesus also said, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them” (John 14:23, NLT). In the person of the Holy Spirit, God takes up active residence in our lives at all times (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:22).