The Role of Repentance

The fact that man can be saved from his sin through Jesus Christ and His blood is good news indeed. We must obey the gospel of Christ in order to appropriate the blood of Christ to our soul, and this involves repentance (Lk. 13:3, 5; 2 Thes. 1:7-9). Though many people often argue over baptism and other matters related to salvation, repentance is no doubt the most difficult and often times the most misunderstood part of the plan of salvation. Just what is repentance? How can I be sure that I have done this properly?

Repent (metanoeo) means to change one’s mind or purpose, to change one’s mind for the better, to think differently. After one hears the message of Jesus Christ and convicting faith is generated (Rom. 10:17), there must be a desire to change one’s course of life to have a different thought process toward sin, to repent.

Sometimes repentance is misunderstood to simply mean that I change my behavior. Repentance involves more than just a mere change in behavior, one can change behavior yet never have the right mindset toward that behavior. On one occasion Peter told a group of individuals “repent and turn” (Acts 3:19). When I repent, I am changing how I view sin and attempting to have the same mindset that God has toward my sin, rejecting my sinful way of life. This leads to me turning and going in another direction, but before I can ever turn in the other direction, I must know why I am changing and if I am choosing to do so for the right reason.

Godly Sorrow vs. Worldly Sorrow

The motivating factor behind repentance has a lot to do with whether or not I will do so with the proper intent according to the Bible. I am sure that there are thousands of individuals in prison who are sorry that they got caught committing a crime, and if they had a second chance they would simply attempt to be more clever and better calculate the steps of their crime to avoid being captured—this is not repentance. In Second Corinthians seven, the apostle Paul is writing in response to the Corinthians’ behavior regarding a man in sin, and the proper way in which the Corinthians handled the sin, which led to the restoration of this brother (cf. 1 Cor. 5).

Concerning repentance, Paul writes, “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Cor. 7:9-10). 

Every time individuals have a changed mind regarding an action, there are one of two motivating factors behind such change: worldly sorrow or godly sorrow. Worldly sorrow says “I am sorry I got caught” or “I didn’t think anything was really wrong with it, but since it offends you I won’t do this.” Godly sorrow recognizes the action as sinful or wrong and desires to see it for what it is, thus making a change and making the necessary restitution where possible (2 Sam. 12:6). There is no greater need in our world today than for people to hear a gospel that calls for them to not merely feel sorry for their sin but to repent and turn from it.

On the night that Jesus was betrayed and being tried in a fixed trial, there were two of His apostles that had done wrong and were in similar condition up to this point. Judas had betrayed the Lord and handed him over to the Jews for thirty pieces of silver, while Peter had denied that he even knew the Lord or had any association with Him (Mt. 26:47-50, 69-75). Judas responded to his sin and role in the death of Jesus with worldly sorrow, he felt sorry for betraying innocent blood, but he did not repent—he hung himself that night instead of changing his mind about his sin and being restored to God (Mt. 27:1-10).

Peter, on the other hand, went out and wept bitterly, but later had a change of mind about what he had done which led to a change of action—repentance as a result of godly sorrow—Peter was restored to the Lord and His service (Lk. 22:62; Jn. 21:7, 15-19).

Every individual in the world faces a similar choice as it relates to their sin. Will I see my adultery, lying, drinking, and gambling the way God does and have a change of mind which leads me to change my behavior (biblical repentance)? Or will I ignore my sin, simply slow down the frequency with which I engage in a particular sin, and never repent according to God’s word? The latter will ultimately lead to spiritual death and eternal separation from God (Lk. 13:5).

The Purpose of Repentance

It has been shown that repentance is a necessary component of salvation and that one must repent the way the Bible teaches in order to be saved. John the immerser came preaching a message of repentance, and so did Jesus (Mt. 3:2, 4:17). It has always been true that for men to be in the kingdom of God, they must repent. The church preached repentance in the first century to turn men’s hearts away from sin and turn them towards the God that will save them (Acts 2:38, 3:19, 8:22, 17:30, 20:21, 26:20). If one hears a “gospel” message today that does not include repentance, one has heard a counterfeit and not the real, genuine gospel (Gal. 1:6-10).

God wants all men to be saved and does not anyone to be eternally lost (1 Tim. 2:3-4). This can only occur as one hears the message of His Son Jesus, believes that message, repents of past sins, confesses Christ as the Son of God, and is baptized for the remission of sins (Rom. 2:4, 10:9-10, 17; Acts 2:38). The God of the Bible is not some angry tyrant who delights in condemning men for all eternity, on the contrary, He has delayed the return of His Son so that as many people as possible can be saved, but this can only happen when men repent and turn (2 Pet. 3:9).

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Hiram Kemp

Servant of Christ. Husband. Father.