Written by my friend Gene Taylor
Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, God has been calling upon mankind to repent. Brother H. Leo Boles once commented, “When God shut the gate of paradise to Adam, He opened the door to repentance.”
The Bible is filled with the command to repent. The basic task of the prophets, God’s spokesmen in times past, was to get the people to repent. Over and over again in their writings is found the command to “repent.” The message of Jesus while He was on the earth was one of repentance. “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).
Repentance was part of the fundamental message which after the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus was to be sounded out to Jews and Gentiles in every nation. “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’ And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, 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, beginning at Jerusalem'” (Luke 24:44-47). The apostle Paul, while standing on Mars Hill and preaching to the Athenians, said, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). The apostle Peter, writing in 2 Peter 3:9, said, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
Jesus emphasized the necessity of repentance when He said that if your hand caused you to sin it would be better to cut it off and have life than to continue to possess it and be lost eternally (Matt. 18:8-9). He was not advocating mutilation of the physical body in this text. Rather, He meant for His hearers to understand that they needed to cut off worldly things from their lives, repenting of them and then abstaining from them.
Repentance is “the change of mind of those who have begun to abhor their errors and misdeeds, and have determined to enter upon a better course of life, so that it embraces both a recognition of sin and sorrow for it and hearty amendment, the tokens and effects of which are good deeds…” (J.H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 406). W.E. Vine defines it by stating that, “In the New Testament the subject chiefly has reference to repentance from sin, and this change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 963).
Repentance is a turning. In relation to one’s spiritual condition, it is turning from sin and the pursuit of sin and turning to God and the pursuit of righteousness. It is the change of mind that causes one to forsake living in and for sin and to desire to live for God and in accordance with His will.
How Genuine Repentance Is Brought About
Repentance is brought about through the hearing of the gospel (Luke 24:44-47). When people hear the gospel and truly believe its message, repentance, a change of life, takes place. The word causes one to come face to face with his true identity. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (Jas. 1:22-25).
Hearing the gospel beings about repentance because when the word is received into a good and honest heart, it produces godly sorrow which leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). Godly sorrow makes one become repulsed at sin. It makes him desire to become a servant of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18).
The motivation to repent, as presented in Scripture, is, at least, threefold. One motivating factor is the goodness of God. “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4). The goodness of God includes such things as the gift of life (Acts 17:28); the gift of His Son as a sacrifice for sin (John 3:16); and access to His grace (Eph. 2:8-9).
The second motivating factor is that one must repent or he will perish (Luke 13:3, 5). “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, ‘who will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek” (Rom. 2:5-9).
The third motivating factor is that repentance allows one to receive eternal blessings and honor from our God and Father: “Eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; …but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 2:7, 10).
The Difficulty of Repentance
Repentance has often been called the most difficult command in the Bible. As we have seen, though, it is not difficult to understand what it is, what brings it about and why it is necessary. So its difficulty does not lie in those areas.
What is difficult is getting people to do it! Brother J.W. McGarvey once wrote, “When you look through the record of the Savior’s earthly ministry, you find that he induced a great many to believe in Him… But when you search for those who repented under the Lord’s preaching, you will find but few …When you go out preaching among the people of this country, you will not find it at all difficult to induce your hearers to believe the truth concerning Christ, and, when they are prepared in mind and heart for baptism, you will not find it very difficult to persuade them to submit to that… You will find no difficulty, provided they have repented and desire to obey the Lord; but how difficult it is to induce men to repent! Sinners outside the church and sinners inside the church cling to their sins, and it appears impossible in many instances to bring them to repentance” (Chapel Talks, pp. 71-72).
All people need to realize that the opportunity to repent is a blessing (Acts 11:18). Every person must heed God’s call to repent by reading and hearing His word, allowing it to produce godly sorrow in their heart and by living their life in obedience to the will of God. If you need to repent, though it may be difficult to do so, do it today.