Biblical Repentance

Repentance is a change of mind about sin, self, and God, that affects men so that they turn from sin, self love and self reliance, and to turn in faith toward God and especially to the merit of Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable graces but we are going to deal with repentance separately for clarification sake.

We know that repentance is definitely given as a command to sinful men.

It was the first message John the Baptist preached when he arrived at the Jordan.

KJV Matthew 3:1 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.

It was the first word Christ had as He began His earthly ministry.

KJV Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

It was a major part of the message Peter preached on the day of Pentecost.

KJV Acts 2:38 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.

It was an integral part of the message Paul preached as he took the Gospel all over the Roman Empire.

At Athens:

KJV Acts 17:29 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:



To the Ephesian elders:

KJV Acts 20:17 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 publickly, 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.

Before King Agrippa:

KJV Acts 26:19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: 20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.

Men are to repent and believe the Gospel. And we know that it is not just certain men who should repent, but all men.

KJV Acts 17:30 . . . but (God) now commandeth all men every where to repent:

But there is something about repentance that is seldom mentioned in todayís easy-believism atmosphere. A repentant heart is not something a natural man has on his own. It must be given to him. Notice the passages that teach this.

Peter is testifying before the Jewish Council:

KJV Acts 5:29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. 31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.

Did you notice verse 31? "Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." The word "give" in this verse is extremely important. It means, among other things, to bestow a gift. In this verse repentance is a gift that is bestowed through the Messiahship of Christ.

In Acts 11 Peter is again the main character. He has been to Corneliusí house and is being questioned by the Jewish believers. When he finishes his account of God saving the Gentiles, the group responds. In verse 18 we have these words.

KJV Acts 11:18 When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.

Notice the response of the Jewish believers. They glorified God because He ". . . also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." The significant word here is "granted." It is the same word as that translated "give" in Acts 5:31. Again it means the bestowal of a gift.

Let me give one last example of this truth.

KJV 2 Timothy 2:23 But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. 24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.

Here Paul is instructing the young preacher, Timothy, not to strive with men over foolish and ignorant questions. He tells him that the servant of the Lord must not strive. He must be gentle and patient, "In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth." In the phrase "if God peradventure will give them repentance. . . " you guessed it. The Greek word for "give" is the same one used in the references above. It is a gift bestowed.

Yes, God commands all men every where to repent of their sin and turn to Him. But he is commanding them to do something that they cannot do on their own and He is commanding them to do something that only He can grant them the power to do. I believe the reason is simple. God will have all the glory for the salvation of men

Many times those who think they are including repentance in their message are preaching a faulty non-biblical repentance. I was at a meeting on one occasion with a group of missionaries working in Romania. We were discussing the fruits of some of the evangelism that was going on in that country. The leader of one of the mission groups was asked about his view of the integrity of the work being done there. His answer was, "The people cried." Now, crying might be an emotional attendant of real repentance, or it may not, but it is certainly not the criteria by which one should judge evangelistic success.

I was standing on a street corner in Bucharest once when I was approached by a ragged little Gipsy boy who sincerely looked hungry. He had left a small group of children to approach me. With tears literally streaming down his face he asked me for money and indicated that his stomach was empty. I reached into my pocket and gave him a little money. Immediately his tears were gone. He skipped lightly back to his friends with his tongue out, taunting them that they had not had the boldness to approach me and I noticed he put the money in his pocket and began to look for another "victim." Now there is no doubt in my mind that he needed the money to buy his food but I do doubt that the tears were real. They just dried up too quickly. Soon he had another person cornered and the tears flowed freely once again.

My point is that crying is not necessarily an indication of the condition of oneís heart. One can be moved emotionally and oneís will never be touched. I have felt the chill bumps on my arms and a sob arise in my throat on many occasions when no life change was involved. Emotional response is not repentance.

Temporary outward change is not repentance. In the parable of the sower Jesus tells of those who receive the word of God with joy. They even endure for a while. But, in the end, they fall away because they have no root in themselves. True repentance and true faith has not been demonstrated even though there was change for a while.

KJV Matthew 13:20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

The issue in the parable of the sower is not the seed. It is perfect. The seed is the word of God.

The issue is not the sower. He is doing exactly what he is supposed to do. He is sowing the seed in every place. The issue is the ground. The ground symbolizes hearts. Hearts that are full of this world, and are so busy that the word has no time to take root, are sure to have the word taken away by the devil. Hearts that are stony and hard, may have a surface change but there is no room for roots to grow and when the hot sun of tribulation or persecution bears down, the word withers away. Hearts that are full of the thorns of care or the briars and brambles of riches have no room for the word of God and soon it is choked out. Only those hearts that are called "good ground" are ready and able to receive the word of God and produce that which is eternal. Good ground is prepared ground. It is ground that has been plowed deep. It has lost the hardness of the beaten path. Good ground has had the briars and brambles uprooted and the stones thrown out. It is ground that has been throughly changed. Good ground is a heart that has been completely turned up by repentance. When the word of God is sown in such a heart the seed can take root downward and grow strong upward so that Only those hearts that are called "good ground" are ready and able to receive the word of God and produce that which is eternal. Repentance is not just temporary, outward change. It is rather the uprooting of sin, the breaking up of hard heartedness, the removal of obstacles that would hinder the Gospel, and the clearing away of secondary cares and temptations.

The Puritan Thomas Watson said that there were at least six elements to true repentance; sight of sin, sorrow for sin, confession of sin, shame for sin, hatred for sin, and turning from sin.1

Lewis Berkhof defines repentance by saying:

Repentance looks to the past, and may be defined as that change wrought in the conscious life of the sinner by which he turns away from sin. It includes three elements, namely, (a) an intellectual element, in which the past life is viewed as a life of sin, involving personal guilt, defilement, and helplessness; (b) an emotional element, a sense of sorrow for sin as committed against a holy and just God; and (c) an element of the will, consisting in a change of purpose, an inward turning from sin and a disposition to seek pardon and cleansing.2

The fact is, repentance is hardly ever mentioned in modern presentations of the gospel. When it is mentioned only temporary or emotional indications of its realty are usually considered. When true Bible repentance is not included in the Gospel presentation only half the truth has been told and sinners go away unsatisfied and in many, many cases deceived. Later these same people have great problems with the assurance of their salvation because they have only received part of the truth and they wonder why they cannot go on in their sin and have the peace with God they desire at the same time. Or even worse, they think they do have peace with God and that He is indifferent when it comes to their sins.

Mike Morrow is pastor of the Union Baptist Church of Marion, KY.

He is happily married to his wife of 33 years, Susan, has 3 wonderful children and a beautiful grandchild  (boy) with two more on the way. His only claim to fame is that he is an unworthy sinner saved by Godís amazing grace.

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