There are some religious phrases that just bring confusion to those outside of the faith. I think one of the more confusing terms is the word, "repentance". Say this word to a non-Christian and he will often give you a look of complete ignorance.
To help us understand this concept, let's look at what the New Testament says about repentance. Is it important? Is it necessary? Does everyone have to repent? If so, what does that require? What do you mean, when you say, "Repent"?
Turn Your Life Around: -- In simple terms, "to repent" means to turn your life around. It means a change of will, a change of choices. To repent is to acknowledge you have been wrong before God. Further, to repent is to ask God to help you go in the right direction. Many people balk at repentance because it begins with an admission of failure and ends with a complete surrender to God's way of life.
"But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, 'Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you" (Acts 24:24,25). These Roman citizens heard about repentance. It frightened them, but they did not want to change. Like many today, they did not want to give up their way of life and submit to God's Will.
The Need For Repentance: -- Whatever you think of the idea of surrendering your will to God, you cannot escape one important fact. Repentance is mandatory. You don't get a choice if you want to know God. When Jesus first started His public ministry, His first message was, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mk. 1: 15). Jesus' first command was to repent, then believe. That is, we must be willing to turn our lives over to God (repent) and then trust God (believe) to lead us.
Later, Jesus would say that His mission was to save people. Jesus' whole purpose was to "seek and to save that which was lost" (Lk. 19:10). He would do this by calling them to repentance. "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Lk. 5:32). You cannot claim Jesus as your Savior unless you accept the first thing He asked of everyone. You must repent.
Repentance was also a central part of the message of the apostles after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul describes how his mission work unfolded. "How I did not shrink from declaring to you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:20,21). Paul's message was simple. You must repent and put your trust in Jesus as the Christ. That was what Jesus taught, and that is what His apostles taught. There are many reasons to repent. The New Testament tells us what they are.
Repent To Be Clean: -- "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19). The apostle Peter spoke these words to a crowd of Jews who had gone to the temple in Jerusalem to pray. These were religious people, but they too needed to repent. Peter even helps define repentance by urging them to turn, or return. The reason for this change? It was in order that their sins could be wiped away.
Peter had preached this same message not too long before on the Day of Pentecost. "Peter said to them, 'Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:38). Repentance, coupled with immersion in water, brought the forgiveness of sins. If you want to be cleansed of your mistakes, of your guilt before God, you start with repentance.
Repent To Be Safe: -- Jesus give another reason to turn your life around and surrender it to God. "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Lk. 13:3). Those who refuse to repent and turn back to God will face judgment. If you want to be safe, you must repent.
"For, the one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; He must seek peace and pursue it" (1 Pet. 3:10,11). Peter describes what it means to turn back to God. It means avoiding sin and giving in to our weaker desires. We never get to be selfish, or insist on having our way. We turn from evil to do good. There is only one way to be safe from the consequences and guilt of sin. The is only one way to do good. That way is the way of repentance.
Repent To Be Connected To God: -- "Peter said to them, 'Repent, each of you and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:38). Peter not only offers forgiveness of sins, He promises that those who repent and are baptized will receive the gift of God's Spirit. If you want God in your heart, if you want Him directing your steps you must be connected to Him. This happens when you repent and are baptized.
"For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God" Rom. 8:14-16). When we repent and God gives us His Spirit, wonderful changes takes place in our lives as we follow the Spirit's teaching as found in the gospel. We are now sons of God. As His children we are no longer afraid, but confident. We are adopted as His children. When you are born again, you fin a new connection with God. None of this can take place in your life, until you believe in God and repent of your sins.
Repent To Do Good: -- God calls us into His kingdom so we can represent Him to the world. To do this you must first repent. Again, we see Paul describing his message. "I kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance" (Acts 26:20). Paul encouraged people to repent and turn to God. This was then coupled with a new lifestyle that was full of good deeds.
Paul is saying that true repentance is always followed by a change in actions. We turn from selfish ways to unselfish. We turn from doing evil, to doing good. Repentance is a change of will, but it is demonstrated in a change of lifestyle.
Repent To Stay Focused: -- After we become Christians we are not finished repenting. Some people make the mistake of thinking repentance is a one time act we perform as we are baptized. In fact, it is a lifestyle. That is, from now on, we keep turning to God. That is what John said to encourage the Christians in Laodicea. "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent" (Rev. 3:19). God works on His children just as our fathers raised us. He will reprove and discipline us, so that we will stay focused and keep an attitude of repentance at all times.
It is easy to think that once you are a child of God all the changing is over. But, in fact, we each must keep turning toward God each day. Each day we must repent, and stay focused by doing the good that proves we have genuinely turned our lives over to God.
Repent To Spread Good News: -- If we are going to share the good news of Jesus Christ, we must talk of repentance. When Jesus gave His message He told them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Lk. 24:46,47). The key ingredient for spreading the good news is that repentance from sin will bring forgiveness for sin.
It might be popular in our culture to play down sin. Often, people today won't even call actions wicked. But, if we are going to spread good news to the world, we must start where Jesus started and where the apostles started. That starting place is repentance for believers.
So, to tell people of Jesus and His love is to tell them of their need to be sorry for their sins. It is to tell them they must turn from their sins and surrender their wills to God's will. It is to tell them that this process of repenting will last throughout life. Then, like Jesus and the apostles, we will be sharing good news with the whole world.
Have You Repented?: -- Have you made this critical decision? Have you turned from your sins and offered yourself to God and His service? If not, why not do what Peter told people on Pentecost to do. Why not, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Repent -- Today!
By David Thurman in Gospel Minutes, Vol. 54, No. 25, June 24, 2005.
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