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What is Repentance?

by Stephen Kimball  
8/23/2018 / Bible Studies

Repentance is a common theme throughout the New Testament and central to the gospel message. John the Baptist was the first to declare “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand! (Matt 3:2).” Jesus echoed this charge in Matt 4:17. In Mark 6:12 Jesus sent out the disciples to preach that…”people should repent.” Jesus sums up the gospel in Luke 24:46: “…and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…” After Jesus’ ascension Peter preached repentance in his first and second sermons (Acts 2:38, 3:19) and wrote in 2 Peter 3:9 of God’s desire that “…all should come to repentance.” Paul also taught that “(God) …commands all men everywhere to repent… (Acts 17:30).”

Jesus’ teaching in Luke 13:2-5 illustrates the life or death importance of repentance in the gospel message. Speaking about the death of a certain people…”Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.“ So it is that repentance is not only an integral part of the gospel message but an absolutely necessary step in the salvation process. But what does repentance really mean?

During Jesus’ ministry he often battled with the pious Pharisees, who placed the cleanliness of the outside of the cup above that of the inside. When He pronounced in Matt. 9:13 that He “did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance”, Jesus makes it crystal clear that he is not interested in “religion” but rather, he is interested in the heart.

When I was a child and I got my hand caught in the proverbial cookie jar, I could be very apologetic and I could be truly sorry for the disappointment or embarrassment that my action caused and the consequence that it led to. In actuality, I was sorry for being caught. And I say that because my heart wasn’t truly turned away from myself and my own will and desires, toward a heart of obedience to my parents. That kind of sorrow does not lead to genuine, permanent change. Rather, it reeks of self-interest and it was never very long before my true colors made another appearance, proving my human nature remained in control. 

Believing that Jesus is God and even admitting that I have offended Him with my sin is not enough. There must be a change of mind and heart. James 2:19 says: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble.” True, godly repentance is the humble admission, before a holy God that I have sinned and that I am personally responsible for that sin; that Christ died for my sin and that He wants to rule my life and that I am willing to submit to His authority. This recognition produces sorrow and shame in the truly penitent heart and brings about a change of direction; a turning away from your sin and a turning toward God and his righteous nature.

This process of surrender begins at salvation but is really a life-long process of confession. Surrender to Christ doesn’t mean you become sinless but it does mean that when you fall you don’t indulge the behavior but rather you recognize it as sin and grieve your weakness and disobedience and return to the Lord. In the gospel of Matthew (3:8) we are admonished “…to bear fruits worthy of repentance.” What are the fruits worthy of repentance?  A changed life - true repentance results in action.

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