What is repentance?


Is the repentance that is involved in the new birth, simply believing the gospel message of repentance, and having a change of heart concerning sin? Is the repentance that is involved in the salvation of the soul, the continuation of the repentance which is experienced at the new birth? I believe the gospel, I can speak in tongues, I've been immersed in the name of Jesus. Now, do I have to do something more than believe the gospel message of repentance, and have a change of heart, in order to be born again? I do not bother with tongues anymore because I realize now that my experience was not scriptural.


Jesus warned, "I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3, 5); so yes, repentance is involved in salvation. But exactly what is repentance? Perhaps the best definition is found in the following passage: "For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (II Corinthians 7:8-11).

Repentance begins with a regret for things done in the past. The sorrow itself is not repentance, but it is an attitude that leads the individual to repent. At times we discover for ourselves that we have done wrong, but more often we realize our wrongs because someone took the time to point out our faults, as Paul did with the brethren in Corinth. Being told that we are wrong, even when we know it is true, is never fun. "Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:9-11). Too often, in order to cover our embarrassment, we turn on the one rebuking us. "They hate the one who rebukes in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks uprightly" (Amos 5:10). In our shame, we don't see that those delivering the rebuke are doing so because of their love and concern for us. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19). This is why God rebukes us. He doesn't enjoy rebuking the sinner, but He wants us to turn from our wickedness. "Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him, and be full of reproach. For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. To crush under one's feet all the prisoners of the earth, to turn aside the justice due a man before the face of the Most High, or subvert a man in his cause - The Lord does not approve. Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed? Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the LORD" (Lamentations 3:30-40). Instead of giving grief, we should give appreciation to those who chasten us. "Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you" (Proverbs 9:8).

But sorrow is useless if it doesn't cause an improvement in a person's life. Our prisons are filled with people who are sorry they were caught, but they do not change their lives -- as evidenced by their return to their same sins when they leave prison. The word repentance means to change you direction. It can be seen in Acts 26:20, "but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance." In fact the word "repent" in the Greek comes from a military term for doing an "about face." Any change will not do. The direction which we chose to face is important. "We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them" (Acts 14:15). This is why Paul called repentance a sorrow that leads toward salvation in II Corinthians 7:10. If we stay in our sins, we will die, because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We must regret our past enough to change our behavior.

If you truly realize that changing your life toward the better is important, then you will make every effort to make sure the change is done correctly. This is why Paul complimented the Corinthians on their earnestness or carefulness in II Corinthians 7:11. "This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men" (Titus 3:8). Random changes in random directions is not biblical repentance. "A wise man fears and departs from evil, But a fool rages and is self-confident" (Proverbs 14:16).

There should even be some disgust with ourselves for our falling into sin's trap. Such was Israel's response to the chastisement of God. "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself: 'You have chastised me, and I was chastised, like an untrained bull; restore me, and I will return, for You are the LORD my God. Surely, after my turning, I repented; and after I was instructed, I struck myself on the thigh; I was ashamed, yes, even humiliated, because I bore the reproach of my youth'" (Jeremiah 31:18-19). We also see this in the indignation displayed by King Darius when he was forced to send Daniel into the lions' den. "And the king, when he heard these words, was greatly displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him" (Daniel 6:14). Darius regretted making a law that trapped him in doing what he knew to be wrong. His anger with himself showed he repented of signing the law into effect.

Like Darius, if we truly realize that we were wrong, then we will work hard to clear our misdeeds. Repentance is useless if we don't' take it personally, as a matter of honor, to fix our mistakes. Remember Paul talking about doing "works befitting repentance" in Acts 26:20? Becoming a Christian involves a change in our lives. "This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:17-24). Though we were wicked creatures, we are to become holy. "As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."" (I Peter 1:14-16). It is not a hidden change. Our lives will be so altered that even non-Christians will notice the change. "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation" (I Peter 2:11-12). Zacchaeus demonstrated such a zeal to change. "Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."" (Luke 19:8-10). Notice that because Zacchaeus was determined to repair the damage he had done, Jesus declared that salvation had come to him. So, once again we see that repentance is strongly connected to salvation. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7).

One of the motivations for changing is the fear of the consequences if we do not make the change. If we truly believe God, then we fully believe He will carry out judgment upon the evil doers. After all, God has warned us that He is impartial. "And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear" (I Peter 1:17). We don't want to come up short in the end as Esau did. "Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears" (Hebrews 12:15-17). Esau was sorry, he sought for a change diligently, but he did not change -- he did not repent. He wanted the world to change to match his life.

When a person truly repents, there is a strong desire, a zeal, to do the best that one can, so that one can be found pleasing to God. As Jesus told one church, "Therefore be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19). Or as Paul told Titus that Christ died that He might bring to Himself people "zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14).

With our decision to change our lives, there accompanies it a change in our attitude toward ourselves. "Sure, I did wrong, but I found out about it before it was too late and I'm going to do something about it!" Our sorrow and regret is replaced with dedication and joy. The Corinthians did not stay in their sorrow. They changed their lives for the better and in their eagerness to please God, they cleared their names of the wrong they had done. They showed the world that they were now innocent. Repentance is not some invisible change in thought. It shows itself in all that we do, both in correcting our past wrongs and in living righteously in the future.

If we are going to live righteously, we must first prepare ourselves by removing wickedness from our lives. ""If you will return, O Israel," says the LORD, "Return to Me; and if you will put away your abominations out of My sight, then you shall not be moved. And you shall swear, 'The LORD lives,' in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; the nations shall bless themselves in Him, and in Him they shall glory." For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: "Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings."" (Jeremiah 4:1-3). First things first. To attempt to do righteousness without first removing wickedness is like a farmer trying to plant a crop without first removing the weeds. It just will not work!

April 6, 2010