The Forgotten Word
The word repentance has been neglected in many of today's churches. But while it may have dropped out of some pulpits, it has not dropped out of the Word of God. In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about repentance.
The Mandate for Repentance
The first sermon Jesus preached was one of repentance: "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17). And in the last message He gave to the church in Revelation 3:19, Jesus also preached repentance. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."
And in Luke 13:1-5 Jesus again preached a message of repentance. Twice in this passage Jesus stated emphatically: "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
People were talking about some who were put to death by Pilate and others who were killed when a tower fell on them. They were wondering what sins these had committed that were so terrible that they deserved death. But Jesus said, "No, they didn't die because they were more sinful than anybody else; and just because you are not experiencing trouble, doesn't mean you don't need to repent." So we're all mandated to repent, but what is repentance?
The Meaning of Repentance
1. Repentance is more than conviction of sin. You can be convicted of sin and still not repent. Paul preached to Felix until he literally trembled under conviction (see Acts 24:25), but he didn't get saved. He was convicted, but he did not repent.
2. Repentance is more than confession of sin. You can confess your sin and still not repent. There are a number of episodes in the Bible where men literally said, "I have sinned." They confessed their sin, but none of them repented. Consider these examples:
- A Horrified Confession — When God brought hail and fire on Egypt, Pharaoh said, "I have sinned...." But in Exodus 9:34, "...when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart...."
- A Hypocritical Confession — Balaam wanted to serve God but also wanted to rake some profit off the side. His talking donkey saved him from the wrath of God, and in Numbers 22:34, "...Balaam said unto the angel of the Lord, I have sinned...." But he never changed.
- A Half-hearted Confession — King Saul decided to keep some of the spoils of war against God's commands. When confronted by the prophet Samuel, he replied in 1 Samuel 15:24, "...I have sinned...because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice." Saul said, "I have sinned," but he had an excuse — an alibi.
- A Hemmed-Up Confession — There was also Achan in the battle of Jericho. He too brought home some of the spoils of war. When found in his sin, Achan answered, "indeed I have sinned" (Joshua 7:20). But his was a hemmed-up confession. He was not sorry for the sin but sorry he got caught.
- A Hopeless Confession — And Judas confessed after betraying Jesus. In Matthew 27:4 Judas said, "...I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood...." But it was only a confession of remorse.
Repentance is more than conviction or confession of sin. Every one of these men used the words "I have sinned," but not one of them repented.
3. Repentance is a heart change. To repent is to turn from sin to Jesus. There is a negative and a positive action involved. In Acts 20:21 Paul said we are to testify "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." You cannot repent to God unless you turn to Jesus. You must tell God you are sorry for your sin and turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
4. Repentance is a continuing change of heart. And it is not something you do once in order to get saved and then forget it. Repentance is a crisis followed by a process. We live repenting day-by-day.
The Motive for Repentance
Because we are all sinners, Acts 17:30 says, "...[God] commandeth all men every where to repent." Repentance is the only way to remove the curse of guilt. Your heart will never find rest apart from repentance. Isaiah 57:20 says, "But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest...." Repentance allows God's grace to work in your heart. God will save you, but you cannot cling to your sin and to Jesus at the same time. It's time to repent!