(Acts 17:30) “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed.”
(2 Peter 3:9) “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
It has been said that many people who appear to repent are like sailors who throw their goods overboard in a storm, but want them back again when all is calm. Today in many churches repentance is a neglected subject. Many think that repentance is to feel sorry for doing something wrong while others equate it with penance. Penance is the Roman Catholic doctrine of doing something good to make up for what you have done that is bad. Usually it is given through a priest. Others think that if they do more good things than bad things then God will somehow overlook their sins and let them into heaven anyway. Still others attend church all their lives yet never discover the true Biblical understanding of what it actually means to repent. There are many today that attend church regularly but have never really repented. The Lord Jesus spoke about such a group of people. “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish”(Luke 13:1-3). Apparently Pilate had killed a group of religious people while they were actively involved in worship. Some actually thought that this act was unjust especially since the people concerned were believers in God. However, Jesus says that they were no more upright in God’s sight than those who never attended worship. Why did He say this? Because the implication was that even though they were attending worship they had never really repented. The word “perish” Jesus uses not only implies physical death but spiritual death.
Religious people often equate repentance with a prayer of confession but it never really changes the way they live. Biblical repentance is much more that just confessing our sins. Confession of course is part of repentance but in itself is not true repentance. Roman Catholics go to confession every week but does it bring about in them a radical inner spiritual transformation? Usually they end up at confession the following week to confess their sins all over again and usually the same ones.
Why is Repentance Important?
1. John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ began their ministry by preaching Repentance.
“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:1-2). “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).
2. The Disciples began their first missionary journey by preaching repentance.
“They went out and preached that people should repent” (Mark 6:12).
3. The Apostle Peter preached repentance on the Day of Pentecost.
“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
4. The Apostle Paul always emphasized the need of repentance in his preaching especially to the unsaved.
“I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus (Acts 20:21).”First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20).
5. The main emphasis of Jesus last great commission to His disciples was that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations and they were obedient to His command to do this.
“And repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). God’s supreme desire for everyone is that they should come to repentance. “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
6. God’s one command to people everywhere is “repent.”
“In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed” (Acts 17:30).
7. The only “fire escape” from hell and the lake of fire is repentance.
“But unless you repent, you too will all perish unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13: 3, 5). The word used here and in other places in the New Testament for “perish “ implies something that still exists but is no longer useful for its original purpose. It implies not only physical death but also an eternal conscious existence cut off from God the true source and giver of life.
8. The Main emphasis and the universal call of all of the Old Testament prophets was repentance.
So much so-called prophecy and even preaching today has the missing ingredient of repentance. On the Day of Pentecost there was nothing ‘seeker sensitive’ about Peter’s approach to the unsaved! He not only told those listening to repent but we read, “With many other words he warned them and pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40).
9. Repentance must come first before we can receive any real and lasting spiritual blessing from the Lord.
In his second sermon Peter also said, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).
Real and genuine “seasons of refreshing” or revival do not proceed repentance but are the result of repentance!
What is Repentance?
In the Old Testament the primary thought of the Hebrew word translated repent means “to pant”, “to sigh”, “to lament and “to grieve” about one’s wrong actions towards God to the point where you want to forsake them with all of your heart. It is more than just feeling sorry when you are caught doing something wrong. You may be remorseful but not repent. Judas Iscariot was filled with remorse after he had betrayed the Lord Jesus but he never repented.
Repentance goes much deeper than just feeling emotional. True repentance does effects the emotions but specifically and primarily it affects the will. True repentance will produce in us a strong desire to turn away from that thing which is grieving the Lord. This is clearly seen in the book of Judges when the people of Israel repented. “But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord. And He could bear Israel’s misery no longer” (Judges 10:15-16). Furthermore notice the Lord’s response in that He could bear their misery no longer. He was more willing to forgive them than they were to repent, but repent they did! Repentance always precedes revival. (Acts 3:19)
In the New Testament the word used for “Repent” means “to change one’s mind.” The word “mind” contains the idea of the intellect, the emotions and the will. When we combine the word from the Old Testament and the word from the New Testament it implies both sorrow and a change of direction in life. These words contain the thought of regret and a willingness to change ones actions and direction in life. However, the main emphasis on the word “Repent” means to change one’s attitude towards God, towards sin, and towards the Bible but especially towards the Lord Jesus Christ and to embrace the will of God without reservation!
For all of us who are sinners by nature and by birth it means that we must be willing to turn from a Christ hating, Christ rejecting way of life to a Christ loving, Christ accepting way of life. It means a change of our will. The Lord Jesus Christ must become central to our life instead of self-will. Of course God will enable us to repent if there is a genuine and heartfelt desire to do so, however, He will not repent for us! We are the ones who need to rake action! Indeed, “God’s goodness leads us to repentance!”
Repentance of sin is such a sorrow for sin or a hate of sin, such a change of mind about it that leads us to turn away from it with all of our hearts. When we repent we turn from darkness to the light and from the power of Satan to God resulting in forgiveness of our sins and a place among all those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ. (Acts 26:18)
How is Repentance revealed in our Life?
1. Repentance is revealed in a deep sorrow for sin and by humbling ourselves before the lord.
“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). “Even now, declares the Lord, return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:12-13). “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes” (Luke 10:13).
No revivals either in the Bible or in the history of the Christian Church have ever begun by laughing, but by weeping and grieving over ones own sinfulness before a Holy and a Just God. During the great revivals of John Wesley in England and George Whitfield and Charles Finney in America when the Holy Spirit was really at work people fell face downwards and cried out to God for mercy because of their sins against Him. Furthermore they were in full possession of their faculties. At these meetings people were not laughing and rolling on the floor, nor were they falling backwards in some spiritual euphoric state. Wesley, Whitfield, Finney and Moody certainly didn’t go around blowing on people making them fall over! There is only one place in the Bible when people fell backwards and this happened to the men who came to arrest Jesus. When Jesus said ‘I AM” they all fell backwards. This was a judgment not a blessing. In the Bible people always fell on their faces before the Lord. Sometimes it was a voluntary act of the will but at other times they fell down under the Power of God.
2. Repentance is revealed when we confess our sins and pray to the Lord for mercy and pardon for all of our sins and offences against Him.
“Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips” (Hosea 14: 1-2).
When we really forsake our sins God freely and abundantly grants us pardon from all of them. “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him, and to our God for He will freely pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7). Repentance must go deeper than our emotions. It must affect our will. When we really confess our sins to God we actually agree with what He says about our sins in His word. We make no excuses. We have no arguments but totally cast ourselves upon Him for his mercy and pardon.
There is a story told about a soldier in the army of Alexander the Great who deserted in the face of the enemy. When he stood before Alexander to give an account of his actions he did not make any excuses but humbly confessed that he was indeed a coward. He knew that Alexander had the power to have him executed but he also knew that Alexander had the capacity to be merciful. He said to Alexander, “I know I am guilty and deserve to die and you have the right to execute me but I also know that you have the capacity to be merciful and I appeal to your mercy.” Alexander was so impressed with the humble attitude of this soldier that he forgave him and restored him to the ranks.
After David had committed murder and adultery he fell on his face before the Lord knowing his guilt but also knowing the mercy of the Lord and he prayed, “For I know that my transgressions and my sin is always before me. Against you, and you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:3-4).
If our repentance is genuine then we will not want to keep on committing the same sins over and over again. We will not be looking for a way to commit sin and get away with it but be looking for a way to be free of it. When the prophet Samuel confronted King Saul with his disobedience Saul replied, “I have carried out the Lord’s instructions” but in fact his obedience was incomplete. He had kept some of the best things that should have been destroyed for himself and his men. The Lord Jesus came to save us from our sins not in them. He came to purify and cleanse us from their power and stronghold over our lives. “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). “Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14)
Compare: (Psalm 51:1-12) (Luke 18:9-14).
3. Repentance is revealed when we turn away from our evil ways, our violations of God’s law, our idols and our evil thoughts and intentions.
“The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41).
When Jonah preached repentance in Nineveh to the people there they believed God and declared a fast and all of them from the greatest to the least put on sackcloth. Even the king himself wore sackcloth and sat in the dust. He then declared that everyone should repent. He told them that they must call urgently on God and give up their evil ways and violence and cast themselves totally upon the Lord to turn from his fierce anger. Now when God saw their thorough repentance and how they proved it by turning from their evil ways He had compassion on them and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened. (Jonah 3:5-10)
True repentance happens when we not only confess our sins but also turn from them with all of our hearts casting ourselves on the mercy of the Lord. “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:30-32). “Therefore, say to the house of Israel, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” (Ezekiel 14:6).
Compare: (1 Thessalonians 1:9) (Isaiah 55:6-8)
True conversion to Christ is the outward proof of inward repentance. Before the Holy Spirit brings about the New Birth He will firstly bring about true repentance. A person may claim to be born again but if we they have never thoroughly repented according to the teaching of the Bible then they are still not saved. Just having an emotional experience isn’t enough there has to be a change in the will.
4. Repentance is revealed when we are really willing to serve the Lord instead of our Idols.
“They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Now an idol is anything that we would not give up to God but consider it more valuable that God Himself. An idol may be our career or our sport or our love of money or even a relationship that has become more important to us than the Lord. It may even be some possession we have that we know hinders our complete consecration to the Lord but we hang on to it. It may even be our ministry. It has been said “The work of the Lord becomes more important to us than the Lord of the work!”
Whatever it is that consumes our thinking and our time and stops us from serving the Lord needs to be surrendered to Him. Repentance means that we are going in one direction and then we stop what we are doing, turn face about and then go in the opposite direction. This is true repentance and primarily an act of our will and not our emotions. We turn from our sin and self-will and we turn to God. Both of these actions are needed in repentance.
5. Repentance is revealed by outward actions that show we have truly repented.
This is not merely abstaining from evil but actively doing good. When the religious leaders came to John the Baptist to be baptized by him he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mathew 3:7-8).
In most churches today a preacher who spoke like John would be shown the back door of the church. Just as genuine faith produces works, so, genuine repentance also produces works. Repentance, faith and works are all connected. We are saved by repenting and believing in Him who shed His blood for us and if we are genuinely saved then we will have works!
We read what happened when Paul preached the gospel in Ephesus; “Many of those who believed now came and confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand Drachmas. (Possibly around $8 -10,000) In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (Acts 19:18-20).
Compare: (Acts 26:20,) (1 Samuel 7:3,) (James 2:14-24)
Paul was not into “binding and loosing territorial spirits” as such but he was into preaching the gospel of the kingdom! He knew that the preaching of the gospel was, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
6. Repentance is revealed by baptism.
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).
John’s baptism was not Christian Baptism but a form of Baptism practiced by those Jews who had a real faith in God. It was always connected to repentance. Christian Baptism is the same. It always follows repentance. In fact it is the outward act of what has already taken place spiritually on the inside. By being baptized we declare that we have died to our old way of life and risen to a new way of life in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 6:3-7) The prophet Isaiah put it this way when he said. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him and to our God for he will freely pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7). Baptism itself cannot save you but if you have totally yielded your whole life to Christ then you will want to be baptized.