What Does it Mean to Repent?
Jesus came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God
. What were the first words in His message? Matthew 4:17 tells us: "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Jesus was not suggesting repentance here, He was commanding it. Indeed, God commands all people everywhere to repent
(see Acts 17:30) because repentance is a prerequisite to seeing and entering the Kingdom of God.
Those who don't repent cannot be saved; they will perish in their sins. "I tell you, nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish"
Those who justify their sin by saying they will simply repent afterwards do not understand repentance. Repentance
is not a penance for guilt or a quick prayer for forgiveness. Repentance is a complete brokenness, a change of heart, and a detest of one's sin. "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions so iniquity shall not be your ruin"
Those who sin willfully, knowing the commandment of God, risk enslavement by their sin and the very real possibility that they will not be able to repent (Hebrews 6:4-6). We see this in the example of Esau, who sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for some bread and a bowl of lentil stew (see Genesis 25:34). But then "afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears"
(Hebrews 12:17). Judas also, when he had betrayed Jesus, regretted his actions but found no way out: "Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, 'I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.' And they said, 'What is
that to us? See thou to that.' And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself"
(Matthew 27:3-5). Jesus' words in John 17:12 tell us that Judas was lost and would not be saved.
True repentance means grieving over our sin (which God hates) and coming to the sobering realization that it was our sin that put Jesus on the cross. The Bible calls this godly sorrow
, and it leads to salvation. "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death"
(II Corinthians 7:10). Godly sorrow must occur before a person is ready to receive God's mercy and forgiveness. Until a person realizes the condemnation of his sin, he will not see the need for a Savior.
Jesus told some who were healed by Him to "go, and sin no more"
(John 8:11), and "behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee"
Repentance is a change of mind
that involves turning away from idols in the heart and making a complete change of direction (180° turn) toward God. Ezekiel 14:6 says, "Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations."
When a person changes his mind
about sin, a change in behavior
will naturally result. For example, those who repented of their sins in the Old Testament often showed outward evidence by tearing down idolatrous statues (see II Kings 11:18). In the New Testament, signs of repentance included water baptism, restitution for theft, and the burning of occultic possessions (see Matthew 11:20-21; Mark 1:4; Luke 19:8; Acts 19:19). Such deeds are called "fruits meet for repentance"
The Scriptures warn us not to trivialize repentance, for even the ability
to repent is a direct result of the goodness of God working in our lives (see II Timothy 2:25). Don't you know that "the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent [unrepentant] heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds"
(Romans 2:4-6). Thanks be to God that He is longsuffering, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance"
(II Peter 3:9).
The result of repentance is freedom
from the condemnation of sin and joy
from a pure conscience before God. "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord"
(Acts 3:19). Even now, God is calling both believers and unbelievers to repentance
, that they might turn from their sin and experience the riches of His goodness and mercy.