TABLE OF CONTENTS
In the section of salvation on our website, we spoke about the basic steps that are needed to accept the grace of God by which we are saved. We understand very well that we are saved only by the grace of God, it is an underserved and unearned gift. There is nothing we did and can do to merit this grace and mercy of God after our rebellion. It is not only because Adam and Eve disobeyed God that we fell from God’s presence, it is because we understand that if it were us in the garden, we would have acted the same way. We would have disobeyed God the same way, and we would have willingly chosen to listen to the serpent and ate from the forbidden tree.
In a previous article, I explained what it means to be saved by grace through faith. In this article, I will tackle the subject of repentance. What is repentance? What does it mean to repent? Is it optional to repent? Do we have to repent to be saved? Is it something we have to do to earn extra reward in heaven? Is it part of a “works based salvation”?
These questions are all relevant in today’s Christian world. I have encountered many Christians and there are varying opinions. However, the truth is not about opinion, it is about searching the Word of God in the Bible and seeing what our Lord has revealed to us through the holy scriptures.
In this article, I will attempt to answer these questions from a biblical perspective. We will first define the word repentance. Secondly, we will look at what the New Testament says about repentance from the mouth of great men and apostles of God and from our Lord Jesus Himself. Finally, I will conclude by providing the answers to the questions stated above.
What does the word “repent” mean? This is a question we have to ask to understand its true biblical implications.
The word “repent” is found 105 times in the whole Bible, with 45 times in the Old Testament scriptures and 60 times in the New Testament. That fact alone is very telling considering the Old Testament scriptures are much longer than the New Testament. We see then that there is a stronger focus on repentance in the New Testament after the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here is the meaning of the word in New Testament Koine Greek:
Original Word: μετανοέω
Part of Speech: Verb
Phonetic Spelling: (met-an-o-eh’-o)
Short Definition: I repent, change my mind
Definition: I repent, change my mind, change the inner man (particularly with reference to acceptance of the will of God), repent.
In short, I think it is safe to say that to repent means to change one’s mind. But what do we have to change our minds about?
In the Bible, since the fall of man, sin is lawlessness which means to sin is to disobey the commandments of God. In that context, to repent means to acknowledge we have disobeyed God and that we are in a state of sin and death. It means also to seriously change our mind and heart about sin and to be determined to follow the will of God.
If I had to define “repentance” in the shortest way possible, I would say to repent means to be sorry enough to stop deliberate sinning. I know some would object to this statement, but I cannot compromise what I clearly see from my Bible. If Jesus says that we are known by our fruits, how can we be seen as true Christians if we don’t at least forsake our lifestyle of sin?
Repentance in the Bible
In this section, I want to look at repentance in the Bible and specifically in the pages of the New Testament scriptures. I found it interesting to approach this subject by looking at what the great men of God had to say about repentance. Therefore, we will start with John the Baptist, continue with the words of our Lord Jesus Christ and then finish up with Peter and Paul in the book of Acts.
John the Baptist
To start with John the Baptist, all we have to do is go to the first book of the New Testament which is the gospel of Matthew. Then let’s look at the first words John the Baptist said in chapter 3.
Matthew 3:1-2 (KJV)
1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
The first word of John the Baptist in the first book of the New Testament is the word “repent“. That says something. That was the main message of John the Baptist, it is repentance. We see that this is the message of his preaching as seen in verse 1. In order to accept the Kingdom of heaven which is “at hand” meaning it is near, we have to repent.
Let’s continue with Matthew chapter 3.
Matthew 3:7-9 (KJV)
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
In verse 8, John the Baptist warns the Pharisees and Sadducees that they have to bring forth fruit meet for repentance. Notice that not only they have to repent and change their mind about sin but they also have to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance. It’s an indication of a state of being, and not an isolated experience of sorrow and regret as our Christian world of today make it seem to be.
In verse 9, John the Baptist is quick to discern the deep thinking of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Since they are physical descendants of Abraham, they thought that this guarantees their standing with God, that they are special and saved in God’s eyes. John the Baptist, told them they have to change their minds about sin and bring forth fruit for the Kingdom of God without forsaking repentance.
Verse 9 should be a warning to Catholics today, who think they are part of the only true church because they claim to be direct spiritual descendants from Peter the “first Pope”.
Finally, continuing with verses 10 and 11:
Matthew 3:10-11 (KJV)
10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. (That says something about people who say that bringing forth good fruit is not necessary for salvation but only for extra reward)
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
We see in verse 11 that the baptism of John the Baptist was one of repentance. It’s the main message of his preaching, it is how the voice in the wilderness prepares the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel of Matthew puts emphasis on showing us that the first step toward salvation is in repentance. It is part of man’s response to the undeserved call of God. It is not a work, it is part of faith in God, to know our state of sin and repent from our sinfulness by going in faith believing in the shed blood of Jesus on the cross.
Let’s now go to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
The Lord Jesus Christ
After the baptism of Christ at the hands of John the Baptist, the Lord is then led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and comes back to dwell in Capernaum where His ministry starts. Let’s go to chapter 4 to see what the first words of the Lord are when He starts preaching:
Matthew 4:17 – From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
The Lord Himself used the same main message of John the Baptist starting with repentance. Why am I emphasising this my friend? The reason is that Christians today are very quick to say that ALL we have to do is to only believe inside and have faith. The reason I am emphasising this dear reader is to show you that the first word of Jesus Christ’s preaching in the first book of Matthew is the word “Repent”. He did not begin to preach saying: “believe for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, he began to preach and to say: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
Repentance is the first step in believing. It is part of the faith, not an extra “work”.
Jumping to Matthew chapter 9, let us look at verses 11 to 13.
Matthew 9:11-13 (KJV)
11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
In that passage, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being a friend of sinners. Jesus Christ explains that He did not come to save those who think they are righteous but those who know they are sinners. He describes sinners as being sick in need of a physician. He said that He came to call sinners to repentance. That means to change their minds about sin and to start walking with God.
In Mark 6, it is also very interesting to see what the Lord Jesus Christ sent His twelve apostles to preach. Let’s look at the passage:
Mark 6:7-13 (KJV)
7 And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;
8 And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:
9 But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.
10 And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place.
11 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.
12 And they went out, and preached that men should repent.
13 And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.
Again, the word “repent” comes back in direct link with preaching. This was a main part of the preaching of Jesus and His apostles in the days of His ministry on earth.
Finally, I want to quote from Luke chapter 13 to illustrate that repentance is not an optional work, it is a necessary step included in the faith. If we don’t truly repent and turn away from sinning, we will lose salvation.
Luke 13:1-5 (KJV)
1 There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?
3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
My friend, except we repent, we shall all likewise perish. There is no way around it, this message is for all of us.
We clearly see, therefore, that Jesus Christ preached a message of repentance first and foremost as a necessary step to believing in Him.
The Apostle Peter
Let’s now jump to the book of Acts and look at what the apostle Peter preached on after the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. I will summarize fast the context of chapters 1 and 2.
In chapter 1 of the book of Acts, Luke talks about Lord Jesus Christ appearing to His apostles and telling them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father. This promise is the power they should receive after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which Jesus will send them after He is exalted at the right hand of the Father.
In chapter 2, the apostles receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire. They are filled with the Spirit and start speaking in other tongues. Devout Jews in Jerusalem coming from different nations are astounded at this because they hear them speak in their own respective tongues. They don’t know what to make of this and some of them ridicule the apostles saying they are drunk with new wine.
At that moment, Peter stands up and delivers his first sermon. The apostle’s preaching is found in Acts 2:14-36 which we can read for ourselves: Peter explains that they are not drunk but that the Lord Jesus Christ poured out the Holy Spirit upon them and that this Jesus whom the Jews have crucified at the hands of the Romans is now exalted at the right hand of God.
Upon hearing this, these devout Jews of Jerusalem were cut to the heart. Let’s look at these verses:
Acts 2:37-39 (KJV)
37 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?
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Here we see that these Jewish men were genuine. They really understood what Peter told them and got convicted because of what happened to Jesus. They asked the apostles what they must do. The answer of Peter is clear and it begins with the word “Repent” along with baptism in water in the name of Christ. This obviously is done with genuine faith. This promise is for all whom the Lord will call unto Himself.
So you see my friend, the new testament preaching starts with Peter’s sermon which ends with the first thing one must do to accept the gospel of Christ: Repentance.
The Apostle Paul
In the book of Acts chapter 17, the apostle is at Athens and preaches to the Athenians who have never heard the gospel.
Let’s look at these verses:
Acts 17:22-31 (KJV)
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
The apostle Paul had to set some facts before preaching the gospel of Christ which he did by first mentioning an altar where it was written: “to the Unknown God”. Paul claimed to know this God and started declaring Him unto the men of Athens.
After telling them that God is not as statues of gold, silver or stone, Paul exhorts them to forsake this ignorance which God winked at before and explains that God now commands EVERYONE to REPENT. Notice how this fits exactly with what I stated before, that the New Testament has 60 times the word “repent” vs the Old Testament scriptures containing only 45 even though the Old Testament is much longer.
Let’s now go to Acts 20 where Paul speaks to the elders of the church of Ephesus:
17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.
18 And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,
19 Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews:
20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house,
21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, REPENTANCE toward God, AND FAITH toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
How beautiful is this passage summarizing what the apostle Paul has taught publicly from house to house from the first day he came to Asia: Repentance and Faith.
In this post, we saw how great men of faith in the New Testament preached. Repentance starts with John the Baptist before the coming of Jesus Christ. It is part of the main message in the ministry of Christ. It is part of the central preaching message of the apostles Peter and Paul after the ascension of the Lord. Therefore, the preaching of repentance extends from the beginning to the end of the New Testament. This is without mentioning the book of Revelation in which the word “repent” is found 10 times.
My friend, is repentance optional? Of course not, don’t let anyone deceive you. If this article does not convince you, if the New Testament and the words of the apostles do not convince you, that means we are willingly ignoring God’s own words. Repentance is part of coming to the cross with faith. It is acknowledging that we are sinners, that we need His atoning blood shed for us on the cross of Calvary. As He was prepared to die for us on the cross, we have to be prepared in dying to our fleshly sins. Our body of sin must be buried.
Many Christians think keeping repentance after being born again is a kind of work earning salvation. Keeping repentance is not earning salvation, it is the RESULT of genuine salvation. If we are born again, we will be new creatures, we won’t desire to sin, we will hate sin because the Holy Spirit will guide us and the Spirit is HOLY. Dear brothers, I pray that you acknowledge the need for repentance, I pray this for anyone who thinks that repentance is not needed for salvation.
May the Lord Jesus guide you into His true gospel of Faith in His shed blood while keeping with repentance!