Lesson #9 - Repentance
by Douglas Jones
What is Repentance?
In New Testament Scripture the Greek word translated "repentance" denotes basically a change of mind such as leads to a change in one's actions (a change for the better). The same basic idea, although expressed in different terms, is found in the Old Testament as well. Repentance, it should further be noted, is attributed to both God and man but, as we shall see, with very significant differences.
In God's case, repentance involves a change of mind, and consequent change of action, with regard to some person (or persons) who has changed toward His will. We read, for example, of God's repentance as a result of King Saul's disobedience. Scripture says: "Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying, it repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments" (I Samuel 15:10-11). It is thus evident that in repenting God changed His mind with regard to Saul's kingship. But is it equally clear that His repentance also involved a change of action. For he promptly sent Samuel to anoint David King in place of Saul (I Samuel 15:26; 16:1-13).
Since man is a sinner, repentance in his case commonly involves a change of mind with regard to sin, accompanied by a genuine sorrow for past sins and a turning from sin to God for forgiveness and reformation of life. Note: Repentance is sometimes indicated where the word itself does not occur, the idea being expressed or implied in other terms.
Note: Repentance is sometimes indicated where the word itself does not occur, the idea being expressed or implied in other terms.
Luke, for instance, relates that as a result of the gospel being preached in Antioch, "a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord" (Acts 11:21). Here repentance is implied in the statement that these believers "turned unto the Lord." This same idea of turning to God is a theme also common to Jewish Scriptures. Isaiah, for example, said: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7).
Regret is Not Repentance
This fact is clearly demonstrated in the sordid episode of Judas' betrayal of Christ. Matthew writes: "Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he say 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 innocent blood... And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went out and hanged himself" (Matthew 27:3-5).
Our text says Judas, when he saw that Christ was condemned, "repented himself." In this instance, however, "repented himself" translates a Greek word which denotes regret or remorse. Judas acknowledged his sin and regretted what he had done. But he did not exhibit the repentance which God requires--i.e., he did not change his mind so as to turn from sin to God for pardon and redirection of his life. Instead, he remorsefully went out and hanged himself.
Godly Sorrow and Repentance
Godly sorrow and repentance are not identical responses. They are, however, closely related. The repentance which God requires of the sinner must be accompanied by a godly sorrow for his sins. Paul illustrates this vital connection in his second letter to the Corinthian church. He had earlier rebuked the Corinthians for the immorality tolerated in their congregation and they had now amended their ways. Hence he writes: "I now rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye were made sorry unto repentance; for ye were made sorry after a godly sort... For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which brigeth no regret: but the sorrow of the world worketh death" (II Corinthians 7:9-10, ASV).
It is important to note that the Apostle here describes two types of sorrow. There is a type of sorrow that issues in repentance and thus leads to life. This is godly sorrow. But there is another type of sorrow which plunges one into remorse and leads only to death. This is the sorrow of the world.
Repentance and Forgiveness
One cannot be saved without receiving forgiveness of sins. Neither can one be forgiven without repenting of his sins. For these reasons Christ throughout His ministry continually urged men to repent. For example, speaking of certain individuals who had calamitously lost their lives, He warned: "think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:4-5).
Finally, just before His ascension, Christ instructed His disciples "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). This commission began to be carried out when in Jerusalem on the next Pentecost Peter preached Christ to the Jews. "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:37-38).
Repentance a Must for All Men
In as much as all men are sinners, all are called upon to repent of their sins. In Paul's words, God "now commandeth all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). Moreover, God in His mercy has gone to great lengths, even to withholding promised judgment to the last possible moment, in order to give men every opportunity to repent. Hence Peter insists: "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9).
Repentance and Reformation of Life
The gist of Paul's plea to Jews and Gentiles alike is "that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20). When a person repents of his sins and is baptized for the forgiveness of those sins, he becomes "a new creature" in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17), committed thereafter to conduct worthy of or consistent with repentance.
This requires, the apostle says, "That ye put off concerning the former conversation [i.e., manner of life] the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24). He further urges: "be ye therefore steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (I Corinthians 15:58).
Consequences of Impenitence
To those who think they can continue in disobedience and yet somehow escape the judgment of God, Paul says: "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Romans 2:4-5). God's goodness is thus cited as an incentive to repentance. Let no one, however, regard His forbearance as an indication that those who persist in disobedience will go unpunished. "But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil..." (Romans 2:8-9).
Sin has alienated men from God and made them liable to the penalty of death and everlasting ruin. But Christ died for us, bearing our punishment, that we thereby might be pardoned of our sins, reconciled to God, and made heirs of eternal life. This marvelous grace nevertheless cannot be ours without repentance. But when the sinner repents and turns from sin to God, then God rejoices to receive and bless him, like the repentant prodigal welcomed home by his loving father (Luke 15:11-32).
There are two short quizzes for this lesson. Review all the material and go to the quizzes! You may wish to print this lesson to assist you with the quizzes.