Humanity Changes Its Course: Repentence
There was a small boy who had a great appetite for sweet foods. He was especially fond of candy and cookies. One day his mother baked some cookies. She told him, “Son, I don’t want you to have any cookies until after dinner.”
He really wanted some of those delicious, tempting cookies. And as the day passed, his hunger and desire grew. Finally, he went very quietly into the kitchen and opened the cookie jar, taking only two or three cookies. But as he hurriedly replaced the lid, he overturned the jar and broke it. As his mother entered the room to see what had happened, he realized that he was going to be punished. He pleaded, “Mother, I’m sorry. Please don’t punish me. I’m sorry.” She was understanding and sympathetic, but firm, as she said, “Yes, I know you are sorry—but not because you disobeyed and took the cookies. You are sorry because you were caught.”
In this case, the boy was not repentant; rather, he was sorry for the consequences of his actions. In this lesson you will examine the difference between true repentance and concern over the consequences of sin. You will marvel at the nature of true repentance as you see how it begins the process of bringing together a loving and holy God and sinful people. And you will learn to appreciate more fully the sweet and gentle moving of the Holy Spirit that brings us to repentance.
- Nature of Repentance
- Aspects of Repentance
- Relation to Restitution
- New Testament Emphasis
- Experience of Repentance
When you finish this lesson you should be able to:
- Explain why repentance is a necessary part of the process of
- Analyze the aspects of repentance and explain the importance of
- Describe the experience of repentance and its results
NATURE OF REPENTANCE
In Lesson 1 we learned that God provides salvation for all people. And through the atoning death of Christ, He made a way for them to come to Him. Also, we saw that the salvation He offers meets every spiritual need. And it leads to abundant life, great peace, supreme joy, and finally, eternal life. But for the wonderful process of salvation to begin, men and women must respond to God’s offer. Our response begins with repentance.
The title of this lesson suggests that repentance produces change. To some people, repentance suggests an uncomfortable change, because they are content to live on in their self-centered ways. To others who are without hope and purpose, the light of the gospel offers a refreshing change: peace of mind, freedom from fear, and an unending hope. If they are to know the grace of our Lord Jesus that can change the hopeless, shake the careless, and produce changed lives, then repentance must be proclaimed. Repentance is an absolute condition of salvation (Luke 13:2-5). Repentance combined with faith produces conversion.
Definition of Repentance
Objective 1. Recognize the meaning and identify examples of repentance.
A small boy has defined repentance like this: “It is being sorry enough to quit.” Repentance, like a coin, has two sides.
- It is the act in which one recognizes and turns from sin, confessing it to
- It is more than just turning away from one’s sins—it means to leave them completely!
Repentance also includes the idea of feeling pity, suffering grief (sorrow), and comforting oneself. In addition, to repent means “to turn back, change a course of action.” In this sense, repent indicates a change of mind or purpose.
As you study the concept of repentance, you will notice some Scriptures that say that God “repented” of some action. Let’s examine what is meant by this expression.
These Scriptures show that God was grieved over the attitudes and actions of His people. Their sinfulness, disobedience, and rebellion against God’s revealed standard of conduct called for change.
We have learned that God knew in advance how people would respond to His grace and His revealed plan. But their free, though sinful natures, under the deadly influence of Satan, could not produce the righteous and holy character that God requires and longs for in His people. When He created man, or chose Israel, or selected Saul, He did not determine how each would respond to His grace, although He knew what the outcome would be. Each had the opportunity to respond positively, but did not do so. (We will consider the subject of God’s foreknowledge in greater depth in Lesson 5.)
Let us remember that God’s nature is unchanging. Everything He does is consistent with His nature. Thus, when God said to Nineveh, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed” (Jonah 3:4), we recognize His unchanging justice and righteousness. But when Nineveh repented, His other unchanging qualities—mercy and long-suffering—became evident as He “repented” and spared the city. God, in this example, did not change; the people of Nineveh did. All Scripture that refers to God’s “repenting” can be understood in this way.
In the New Testament we see examples of repentance that show clearly what this word means. In Matthew 21:28-31 Jesus gives the Parable of the Two Sons. In this parable, the Father asked his older son to go and work in the vineyard. The son responded, “I will not,” but later he changed his mind and went. The Greek word translated changed his mind (repentance) also means “to feel regret, experience a change of feelings, remorse.” Other words used for repent and repentance give us the meaning of one who has arrived at a different view of things. This person has had a change of mind and heart. He has recognized his errors and shortcomings, is sincerely sorry for them, and is willing to forsake them. The person who repents demonstrates a different attitude toward sin and God from that point on.
Repentance may include a spirit of grief (Luke 18:13) and a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17). As we confess our sins, we may be greatly moved by their awfulness. Some, like Peter (Luke 22:62), may weep bitterly. But regardless of the extent of grief that one feels or expresses, the important thing is confessing the sins and deciding to forsake them. No amount of emotion will make up for confessing and forsaking sin.
Repentance includes a godly sorrow for sin. The regret of the truly repentant person involves a deep sadness of heart, not because he or she will be punished but for the terrible wrong done to the holy, loving, and gracious God. Paul speaks of this kind of sorrow to the Corinthian believers: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
While it is imperative for you to recognize sin and confess it, it is equally important that you turn away from sin, forsaking it completely. You will remember the illustration of the boy’s sorrow over disobeying his mother and breaking the cookie jar. His sorrow was not true repentance. Why? He had no intention of turning away from future temptations to satisfy his desire for sweets. To repent is to turn away from sin.
Repentance is not just feeling sorrowful about our sinful actions. To truly repent, we must turn away from sin. For example, Maurice is caught cheating on his examination. The instructor punishes him by giving him a zero. Maurice regrets being caught and failing his test, but he is not at all sorry about the times he cheated and was not caught. He is sorrowful but not repentant. In fact, he is ready to cheat again at the first opportunity. Mary also cheats on an examination, but her conscience bothers her. She goes to her instructor, confesses her dishonesty, and offers to accept the penalty. She is truly repentant, because she has decided to stop cheating. Someone has said, “Heaven is full of repentant people who were once sinners; hell is full of regretful people.” Regret or sorrow for one’s actions is not enough; repentance is required if one is to be forgiven and is to know the joy of having sins forgiven.
In Question 7, you saw that there was a difference between Alonzo and the father. The father was deeply sorrowful for his error, but he continued to do the thing that caused the tragic accident. Alonzo, however, was more than sorrowful. He recognized his errors and then made a decision—he had a change of mind and heart—and broke away from his life of crime.
In Luke 16:19-31 we see the rich man in hell crying out for pity. He was full of sorrow, but it was too late for him to repent. Those who do not repent now will some day weep and wail in sorrow (Matthew 13:42, 50; Luke 13:28), but not in true repentance. One day they will cry for the rocks and mountains to fall on them to hide them from God’s judgment (Revelation 6:16,17) because they were unwilling to turn from their sin.
Sorrow without a genuine change of mind and heart leads only to despair. But true repentance, which is the godly sorrow that leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10), involves a change of mind and heart. Sorrow over our failures, shortcomings, and errors (without the change of heart and mind), makes us place our attention on our own weakness and sins. This kind of sorrow even makes us hate ourselves—even though we may love sinning. But repentance opens wide the door of God’s mercy and pardon. True repentance helps us to see beyond our unhappy, miserable condition to the cross of Christ—where there is freedom, light, and life.
In answer a) we see a tendency that has led some people to completely misunderstand the nature of repentance. That is the idea that we can gain the favor of God by doing good works. As we have seen, repentance, when it is united with faith in Christ, produces conversion, while doing good works is part of an unscriptural plan to gain merit before God. Nothing can be added to Christ’s work of atonement. Moreover, a person may do good works without ever forsaking sin, and he or she may mistakenly believe that as long as he or she does good deeds, it is okay to continue in sin. But in repentance a sinner must recognize his or her sins, turn away from them, confess them to God, and forsake them completely. It is only in this way that sins will be forgiven; only in this way will we enjoy the benefits of God’s great salvation.
ASPECTS OF REPENTANCE
Objective 2. Identify the three aspects of repentance and explain their significance.
Scriptural repentance has three aspects or ideas: the intellectual, the emotional, and the volitional (which we will refer to as “an act of the will”). To illustrate these aspects of repentance, let us consider the following example. Suppose you were traveling on a bus and suddenly realized that you were on the wrong bus and traveling in the opposite direction from your desired destination. This knowledge corresponds to the intellectual aspect by which a person recognizes, through the ministry of the Word, that he or she is not right with God. You are disturbed when you discover that you are traveling to the wrong destination. You become anxious, maybe even fearful. These feelings illustrate the emotional aspect of repentance, which is a self-accusation and genuine sorrow for having offended God (2 Corinthians 7:9,10). You leave the bus at the first opportunity and find the right one. This decision illustrates an act of will: to make a complete turn-about and to begin traveling in God’s direction. This simple illustration shows that true repentance affects the intellect, the emotions, and the will of the repentant sinner.
The cost of turning from our sins is high: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). Repentance involves every part of our life. It means not merely recognition of sins and sorrow over the past, but also our intentions for the future. It is the forsaking of our own way to go God’s way in obedience and fellowship with Him.
Often we hear messages that stress the appeal of Jesus, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28), but He who says “come” to the burdened sinner says also, “Take my yoke upon you” (v.30). We cannot “simply accept Jesus and be saved,” with no strings attached. It is impossible to accept the Lord Jesus as our Savior without involving our intellect, emotions, and will, which include every aspect of life: our affections, desires, and intentions. We must totally surrender to the Lordship of Christ and accept His yoke.
RELATION TO RESTITUTION
Objective 3. State the relationship between repentance and restitution.
In Luke 3:3-18 John the Baptist preached the Good News to the people and urged them to change their ways. In verse 8 he urged them to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Here John was asking for evidence that would prove that their repentance was genuine. Paying back what we have wrongfully taken, or making right a wrong we have done, is called restitution.
Restitution is a principle that is introduced in the Old Testament Law (Exodus 22:1; Leviticus 6:5; Numbers 5:6,7). Although the custom of making restitution for the wrong we have done is biblical and time-honored, we must understand that in itself, it does not save a person.
Restitution is a visible evidence of our decision to turn from sin to Christ. It supports our testimony that we are following a new Master. Although restitution is not a means of salvation it is a healthy indication that we have experienced God’s saving grace.
NEW TESTAMENT EMPHASIS
A Continuous Message
Objective 4. List four New Testament persons who preached repentance and state the emphasis of each.
The Bible declares that repentance is the first step in the soul’s return to God (Ezekiel 14:6; 18: 30; Malachi 3:7; Luke 13:3, 5). Without repentance no one can be saved. Thus, the plea to repent is primary in God’s call to people in both the Old and New Testaments. The compelling and urgent plea of Old Testament prophets, ending with Malachi, was revived in the powerful message of repentance proclaimed by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2, 8, 11; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3, 8).
There is a definite development of the use of the word repentance in the New Testament. In the New Testament alone the words repent and repentance occur 64 times. From a desert of Judea, John the Baptist sounded the warning to the Jewish people that they should repent in view of the coming of the Messiah (Matthew 3:1-12). His message of repentance produced great results among the people, and multitudes repented and reconsecrated their lives to God. Undoubtedly many of these people who sincerely responded to John’s preaching were among the thousands who came into the church on the Day of Pentecost and following.
Jesus began His public ministry in Galilee and like John He declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17; compare with Mark 1:15). In Matthew 4:17 (TEV), the definition of repent is: “Turn away from your sins, because the Kingdom of heaven is near.” Repentance continued to have a prominent place in the preaching of Jesus and His disciples (Matthew 11:21,22; 12:41; Luke 5:32; Mark 6:12).
One of the last commandments Jesus gave before He returned to heaven was that repentance and forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). But the fully developed message of repentance and faith appears in the Book of Acts, where it is emphasized from beginning to end. Peter preached repentance for salvation from sin on the Day of Pentecost and thousands repented (Acts 2:38). He continued with this same message soon afterward, and again many people repented of their sins and turned to God (Acts 3:19). In his later ministry through letters, he said of the Lord: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Paul preached repentance to the city council in Athens (Acts 17:30). And in summarizing his ministry he said, “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). He adds this fact about the ignorance of repentance: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
Repentance is an oft-repeated theme in the Bible. For as long as there is need for salvation from sin, there is a need for repentance. This has been true since the fall of man, and it will be true until the time of grace and opportunity to repent has passed.
Who Should Repent
Objective 5. Identify who should repent and why.
The call to repentance is universal. “God has overlooked the times when people did not know him, but now he commands all of them everywhere to turn away from their evil ways” (Acts 17:30, TEV). Every person is included in this call. All those who have never believed in Christ are invited to repent, receive God’s forgiveness, and become a part of His family (John 3:15-17; Titus 2:11; Revelation 22:17).
Also, those who have already believed in Christ and become His followers are called to repentance. Sometimes Christians lose their zeal for Christ as their love for Him grows cold. Christians in the church at Ephesus were guilty of this (Revelation 2:5). They were urged to repent and renew their relationship with Christ. Others, such as those at Laodicea, became so spiritually indifferent that their very spiritual life was threatened (Revelation 3:15-17). True repentance is the only cure for the spiritually dead, indifferent, or unresponsive. Repentance is the only way back to God whenever there has been failure and sin. God’s promise of forgiveness if we confess our sins (1 John 1:9) is directed primarily to Christians, although it can be applied to anyone who is ready to repent.
EXPERIENCE OF REPENTANCE
Objective 6 Explain why repentance is necessary, how it is produced, and what are its results.
Why Is It Necessary?
To the question, “Why is repentance necessary?” we may respond: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This includes all of us; no one is excluded (except the Lord Jesus Christ). You may recall from Lesson 1 that sin is failing to live according to the law of God or else breaking His law. The switch operator who fails to put down the safety gate and thus causes the express train to hit a car full of unsuspecting people who are killed is as guilty of causing death as a criminal who willfully shoots and kills a person. The switch operator is guilty of the sin of omission; for he knew what was required of him, but he failed to do it (James 4:17). The criminal who willfully shoots and kills another person is guilty of the sin of commission. He is guilty of breaking the law (1 John 3:4). Whether our sins are those of omission (failing to do what is commanded) or commission (doing what is forbidden), we may be sure that all wrongdoing is sin (1 John 5:17).
Having sinned, we stand guilty before God. The law demands payment of a penalty. And since sin pays its wages, death (Romans 6:23), in our sinful state we stand condemned and without help. But God offers pardon and eternal life for all who accept His forgiveness.
How Is It Produced?
Paul says in Romans 2:4 (TEV), “Surely you know that God is kind, because he is trying to lead you to repent.” God in mercy and love leads people to repentance (John 6:44), but He uses a number of ways to bring them to this experience. One way is through the ministry of the Word of God in general. When Jonah preached God’s Word to the people of Nineveh, they believed it and gave up their wicked behavior and evil actions (Jonah 3:4, 8, 10).
In addition, the preaching of the cross produces repentance. The message of God’s love demonstrated at the cross moves people greatly. It appeals to those who are miserable and helpless in their sins—those in need of spiritual healing (Matthew 9:13). Such love, which provides a way for unworthy human beings to be forgiven, leads to repentance.
A fresh vision of God also brings repentance. When Job saw the majesty of God revealed, he despised himself and repented (Job 42:1-6). You see, then, that the goodness of God leads us to repentance through God’s Word in general, through the preaching of the cross, and by means of a fresh vision of God. There are other means that He uses as well.
Have you ever heard it said that “the only time some people look up is when they are flat on their backs”? A loving Heavenly Father must often permit more drastic events to overtake us to get us to recognize our own need (Revelation 3:19). Sometimes troubles, sicknesses, or tragedies help us to recognize our need for God. Remember, it wasn’t until the prodigal son recognized the awfulness of his problem that he “came to his senses,” repented, and turned toward home (Luke 15:17-20).
Sometimes God uses the example or witness of godly and dedicated Christians to bring people to repentance. We may be sure that God will use whatever means are required in order to speak to the hearts of people.
What Are Its Results?
The results of repentance are great, indeed. Repentance produces joy in the heart of the sinner, and at the same time it creates joy in heaven as the angels of God rejoice (Luke 15:10). Repentance opens the door that leads to faith and the forgiveness of sins. John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1: 9).
In addition to the wonderful joy the sinner experiences when he or she repents; there are other beautiful benefits. When Job repented, God healed him and restored his children and his material blessings (Job 42:10-17). And when Jonah repented, God rescued him at the point of death (Jonah 2:1-10). Moreover, God promised that if His people would repent and turn away from their evil deeds, then He would hear them in heaven, forgive their sins, and make their land prosperous again (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Imagine that salvation is like a chain and then think of repentance, faith, and conversion as links in this chain. As each link in a chain is separate, so in the “chain of salvation.” Each link is separate and yet it is linked to each of the other “links.” As the process of repentance begins, it ignites a “chain reaction,” in which faith, conversion, regeneration, justification, and adoption are joined to produce the miraculous experience of salvation.