“Repent!” was the common message of John the Baptist, of Jesus, and of Peter. Peter having been baptized with the Holy Spirit preached the good news about Jesus to his murderers and the others and they were deeply convicted and convinced of their need of Christ and His forgiveness and cried out “What must we do?” (Acts 2:38) Peter’s answer was “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.
I think it is odd then that some people teach that a sinner must “clean his life up” (repent) before he can become a Christian. And, because of this teaching I have given the good news about Jesus to men who have responded, “I am not good enough yet”, or “I am not ready yet, I need to change some things in my life”. Asking a sinner to change his life is like asking a corpse to wave at you, it is impossible.
Repentance is not unlike faith as I discussed in my last post. Repentance is not subjective, but like faith it is objective. Faith’s object is Christ. Acts 2:21 says it well, “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”. I made the case that biblical, saving faith, begins at a moment in time and is proved up by corresponding works. In the same way repentance occurs at a moment in time and is proved up by a lifestyle change. Consider these verses that clearly make this clear. Stopping bad behavior and beginning good behavior is not repentance but rather the evidence you have repented.
“Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8)
“But declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” (Acts 26:20)
Just as with faith, good works show that you have faith, they are not the cause of it, so too good deeds show you have repented, they are not repentance. The person who has truly repented will live differently. His lifestyle will show he has repented.
To those who are depending on their own works of righteousness the Hebrew writer said “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” (Hebrews 6:1) Here it is clear that repentance and faith are foundational, they are the starting point of becoming a Christian. It should be noted that one of the things a penitent sinner should change is to stop depending on dead works (self righteousness).
Repentance, like faith, is given by God. The ability to truly repent is given by God.
“God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:31)
“When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18)
“…Correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth”.(2 Timothy 2:25)
Only when the Holy Spirit has done His blessed work will a sinner trust Christ and change his mind about the direction of his life. Repentance and faith are so closely joined together that they can’t be understood well apart from each other. No person can fully trust Christ without a change of mind about how he is living. And, no person can fully repent who does not place his trust in Christ.
Repentance is no more than a divinely enabled choice to do a mental U-turn. Repentance is to change one’s mind and thus the direction of one’s lifestyle. It is impossible to turn to Christ and not turn away from sin. And it is impossible to turn from sin without turning toward Christ.
How can you tell if a person has repented? This is the way the Bible describes it. Jesus spoke to Paul saying in part “I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
(Acts 26:17, 18) The same truth is stated again “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (1Thessalonians 1:9) People who have truly repented will not only have a change of mind but a change of life.
The message has not changed. “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30, 31)
Jesus Christ will be the measure God uses to judge sinful men. You will both be justified, and finally saved at the resurrection because you have repented and turned to Christ, or you will be lost. Those who depend on their good deeds as a substitute or a supplement to what Christ has accomplished are living dangerously. “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (2 Corinthians 10:12) If you judge yourself to be right with God because of what you do, I ask you, to whom are you comparing yourself? Only when you compare yourself to Jesus’ holy life will you see your need of him. Perhaps it is time to repent.