Repentance is an unfriendly word. It's odd, too, because it is so ... biblical. But we prefer to go a "kinder and gentler" way. Tell them that Jesus loves them. Tell them that they can be saved by faith. Tell them it will be okay. If you're really far enough out there, tell them that Jesus will give them health and wealth, too. Why not? It's surely a much friendlier concept than "Repent!" I mean, that's that old "fire and brimstone" stuff and we don't want to go back to that, right?
As it turns out, "repent" is a continuous, ongoing message in Scripture. It's in the Old Testament. It's in the New. It was John the Baptist's message when he came out of the desert.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matt 3:2)Right on his heels was Jesus preaching the same first message:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17)"Yeah, yeah, sure, but is it important? I mean, can't we just go with the easier, friendlier message?"
"Repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15)
Jesus wasn't ambiguous.
"Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3,5)Got that? If there is no repentance, there is no salvation. Paul said, "I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:21) Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 18:3) No repentance, no salvation. Simple as that.
"So ... what is repentance? I mean, we live in a world that redefines things. Can't we redefine this to our liking?" Yeah, sure ... as long as you keep the biblical components. For instance, biblical repentance includes grief for sin.
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor 7:10)Be careful, though. Grief is essential but not sufficient (Matt 27:3).
What else? Well, the term means to turn from. Scripture bears this idea out.
Repent and turn from all your transgressions (Eze 18:30)So there is grief over sin and there is the need to turn away from sin. There is another factor repeated in Scripture.
"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." (Isa 55:7)
"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 18:3)
"Bear fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matt 3:8; Luke 3:8)Genuine, biblical repentance requires grief, turning from sin, and turning toward new behavior. "Fruit." Repentance without corresponding change in behavior is not repentance.
"I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance." (Act 26:19-20)
What else do we know about repentance? Well, interestingly enough, the Bible says that it is a gift from God. On one hand, the fact that we are allowed to repent is a product of His kindness (Rom 2:4). But Scripture is quite clear that we don't acquire repentance or drum it up somehow. It is granted.
To the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life. (Acts 11:18)That may not have been one of the pieces you were aware of.
God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim 2:25)
So, how does biblical repentance work?
1. God grants it (2 Tim 2:25).
2. We recognize sin (Psa 51:3-4).
3. We experience remorse for sin (Luke 18:13).
4. We turn from and to (2 Kings 17:13; 2 Chron 7:14; Acts 14:15; Acts 26:18). We turn from sin and to God, from sin and to works reflecting that turn.
Repentance is not an option. There is no salvation without repentance. Nor is it merely feeling bad about your sin. It is a gift that produces genuine recognition of sin, actual remorse for it, and a turn away from it toward God and corresponding good works. Do that ... repeatedly (1 John 1:8-10). A lot. Our "kinder and gentler" Christianity these days prefers not to go there. We do so in the face of our Savior who started with that message and in opposition to the repeated command throughout Scripture. And if we get to it, we often stop at one time and done. Brothers and sisters, repent!