Biblical Repentance

Turn away from sin, reject the wrong, and be saved by the power of God. Wherever the message of Jesus Christ is preached, the message of true repentance must be heralded; for without repentance, there is no true salvation.
Turning Around

Repentance occurs when one is sorry for past sin and turns away from it in pursuit of Christ. It involves actively turning away from that which is wrong and a decision to never go back. Repentance infers a reversal or a change of direction. Many professed Christian churches are preaching Jesus Christ as the atonement for sin but are not preaching the message of repentance. It is one thing to accept Christ, but it is another to make a change and quit doing those things which are displeasing to God. While salvation is not attained by good works and is a divine gift of God, we also have personal responsibility. The apostle Peter told the people, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). God will only forgive people who are serious about their salvation to the extent that they are willing to completely forsake all ungodliness.

Jesus came to this earth and died for the sins of mankind so that all people might be saved. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus came to call the “sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13), and God “commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30). No one is exempt from the call to repentance, for all have been separated from God through sin and wrongdoing. Without an abhorrence of that wrong and a sorrow for that which was displeasing to God, there is no salvation.

Integral to the Gospel Message

The message of repentance was not a one-time message preached in a corner. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, “came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Luke 3:3). Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God with a clear message: “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). The disciples were sent out and “preached that men should repent” (Mark 6:12). Paul testified “both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). This message is far different from a simple message of just believing in Jesus, which alone relieves mankind of the responsibility of change. Thus, many false churches today teach that one cannot live without sinning. The very power of the gospel is that through repentance and belief in Christ, there is power to go and “sin no more” (John 8:11). God will accept nothing less, for without holiness “no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

Required for Salvation

Repentance is a necessary part of the salvation experience for one to have eternal life. Jesus said in Luke 13:3 “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” It is not enough to join a religious fellowship and worship the Lord with a form of godliness. There must be a life-changing experience that begins with personal repentance. It is the only way for sin to be “blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Unless they repent the anointing and blessings of God will be removed from individuals and congregations who have backslidden and fallen.  This is exemplified in the letter to the church of Ephesus: “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Revelation 2:5).

John the Baptist warned the Pharisees to, “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father” (Luke 3:8). Position and recognition do not exempt anyone from the need to repent. There are people in leadership in religious organizations that need to humble their hearts and cry out to God. Pastors, singers, and teachers will perish and lose their souls if they have not with true contrition turned away from their public and private sin.

The works of repentance are our responsibility—changing the heart and mind and following through in word and deed. “Repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20). “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners” (James 4:8), and turn to the Lord to be saved.

Godly Sorrow

Repentance is a multifaceted word that has various attributes and characteristics. Godly sorrow is an integral part of repentance that brings salvation. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.  For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves”
(2 Corinthians 7:10-11). Clearly, godly sorrow is more than the surface sorrow of the world when someone feels guilt for doing wrong and yet continues in the pattern of transgression. Godly sorrow is deep, heartfelt contrition that brings forth change. God will accept and receive that sorrow and humility for “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17).

Confess and Forsake

Repentance includes confession and open acknowledgment of sin committed. Without confession there is no forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 states: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” However, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy”
(Proverbs 28:13).

Confession of sin without forsaking sin is empty and vain. Many are willing to confess but not to forsake. The scripture is very clear on this point. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). Even in the Old Testament the prophet told the people to “Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin” (Ezekiel 18:30). Sin will still be your ruin unless you turn from your transgressions.

Another aspect of forsaking sin in repentance is that of separating from all ungodliness and evil influences. Paul instructed the church at Corinth to separate themselves from close association with unbelievers, idolatry, and all uncleanness (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Similarly, Ezekiel instructed the people of Israel to, “Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols” (Ezekiel 14:6). Repentance still requires turning away from the modern-day idols of riches, fashion, sports, entertainment, etc. that are captivating the hearts and minds of people.

Make Things Right

Restitution is another attribute or fruit of repentance. When Zacchaeus pledged to restore the money to those he had wronged, Jesus responded by saying, “This day is salvation come to this house” (Luke 19:8-9). Restitution is correcting the wrongs of the past and indicates a true spirit of repentance which motivates to action.

Scripture illustrates the beauty of sincere repentance. The prodigal son expressed, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son” (Luke 15:21). The publican praying in the temple was justified, as he could not even lift his eyes to heaven and cried for God to “be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). The mercy of God was extended to the wicked city of Nineveh when they repented and turned away from their evil ways (Jonah 3:8). God is merciful and gives sinners space to repent (Revelation 2:21) and receives them with great joy and rejoicing in Heaven (Luke 15:7). God is “longsuffering…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Repent Today

God’s longsuffering will one day end in judgment. The message of Peter on the day of Pentecost, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), is still the message to this generation. If you have not truly repented, “now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). There is wonderful peace and rest that comes with real repentance. ■