What Is Real Repentance?
You have made your share of mistakes. There are deeds you wish you hadn’t done, things you wish you hadn’t said. You have made decisions that got you into trouble, and you have paid the steep price.
You’re not alone. In fact, beginning with Adam and Eve, every human being has walked contrary to God’s way of life—except for Jesus Christ. We have all contributed to this world’s sins (Romans 5:12, last part).
We have all done “the works of the flesh.” We have all capitulated to the wrong desires of our minds and bodies. We have all walked along with this world, following “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2-3).
Since all human beings have sinned, we have all therefore earned the penalty for sin, which is eternal death—cessation of life forever! (Romans 6:23).
But God, in His great mercy, has provided a way for us to avoid paying that ultimate penalty: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
There is only one way to have our sins blotted out—only one way to enter the Kingdom of God—and it requires repentance!
Acts 2:38 summarizes the salvation process in just one verse, and the very first word of that crucial passage is “Repent”! Jesus also said explicitly: “[E]xcept ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).
But what does it mean to repent? We have to know: It means the difference between eternal life and eternal death!
The ‘Natural’ State of Man
Real repentance means real change. But why do we need to change? And what do we need to change? To answer these questions, we must first understand the “natural” state of every human being.
1. God inspired the Prophet Jeremiah to describe the core motivation of the human mind. How did he characterize the mind, or “heart,” of man? Jeremiah 17:9. Is the unconverted mind of every human being naturally inclined to obey God, or to disobey? Romans 8:7-8.
2. What are the tendencies of the “carnal” (physically oriented) mind? Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 1:28-32; James 4:1-3.
3. What is the definition of sin? 1 John 3:4.
Stop a moment and contrast the “natural” mind of a human being with the mind of God. God is not preoccupied with Himself. He is filled with outflowing love. He loves all people. He does not want to take from them; He wants to give blessings out of His great love and concern. He is not hostile, defiant, rebellious, resentful or selfish. He is love!
God wants all of us to eventually become like Him. Therefore, He wants us to turn from and strive to overcome the devil’s evil influence on our thinking and our actions. This is the essence of repentance. It is a doorway out of entrapment in sin and misery—and into living the happy, abundant life that God Himself leads! It is changing our very minds, our very selves—who and what we are!
The original words in the Hebrew and Greek from which repent and repentance are translated mean to turn, to change direction. True repentance is a complete about-face from disobedience toward God to obedience, love and cooperation with Him.
True repentance is fully realizing that we have rebelled against our Maker, that we have broken His righteous law. Repentance means abhorring our past sins and self-willed, rebellious natures. We must truly be broken up and ready, with God’s help, to quit sinning and rebelling, and to submit to God with all our hearts.
The time of repentance is the turning point in our lives!
True Repentance Is of the Heart
1. Is true repentance a deep, moving, heartfelt experience? Joel 2:12-13.
2. Does a heartfelt, repentant attitude open the way to a close, saving relationship with God? Psalm 34:18.
3. Is spiritual repentance toward God? Acts 20:21.
Sin is against God—He is the Lawgiver whose perfect law we have broken. To repent means to be so humbled and broken up about our rebellion against the living, holy God that we turn to Him in real sorrow and plead for His mercy and forgiveness. It means abhorring our deceitfulness, our vanity, our selfishness, and crying out for His help to overcome our evil natures and to develop His righteous character.
Maybe you do see the need to repent toward God. But how do you do it?
First, understand that you cannot work up a deep feeling of abhorrence for your sins and sinful nature on your own. Real repentance is not just “beating yourself up” emotionally. It is impossible for a carnal mind to stir up the proper godly attitude toward sin on its own.
So how is it possible for a human being to come to real repentance? How can a carnal, flawed human being start to change from being self-centered to loving God more than himself and loving his neighbor as himself? This desire must come from God!
4. What actually leads you to repentance? Romans 2:4.
5. Is it God who also grants repentance? 2 Timothy 2:25. Also see Acts 11:18.
Repentance means giving up your way and turning to God’s way. It means surrender—unconditional surrender—to live by every word of God. Since the Bible is the Word of God, it means to live by the Bible. It means voluntary submission to the authority of God, expressed in His Word!
6. Does surrendering to God also mean that we are to put Him ahead of and above all else? Matthew 10:37. Does this also include our own lives? Luke 14:26.
“Hate” in Luke 14:26 means to love less by comparison, as the parallel account in Matthew 10:37 shows.
We Must Turn to God’s Law
1. How may we become cleansed of sin—made acceptable to God? Is it through Christ’s sacrifice and His shed blood? Does that blood blot out our sins and reconcile us to God? Romans 5:8-10. What must we do to have Christ’s sacrifice applied to us? Acts 3:19.
2. How did God inspire the psalmist to define “righteousness”? Psalm 119:172. It is clearly the keeping of God’s commandments!
3. Who did Paul say are justified before God—the hearers or the doers of God’s law? Romans 2:13. Did Paul make plain that although the unmerited pardon of our sins is by God’s grace through faith in Christ’s sacrifice, a Christian is nevertheless obligated to God to keep His law? Romans 3:31. Also read all of Romans 6.
4. Is the law of God good? Romans 7:12. Is it just and holy? Same verse.
God’s law is the way to peace, happiness and joy. It is God’s great gift to mankind—given to make man happy, to lead him into the full, abundant life, both in this life and for eternity. The evils mankind suffers from today are not caused by the law, but by the breaking of it!
5. How did Jesus sum up God’s law? Matthew 22:36-40. What one word sums up God’s law? John 14:15; 15:10; 2 John 5-6; Romans 13:8-10.
The whole intent and purpose of the Ten Commandments is love because “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Jesus showed that God’s law has two basic aspects. The first shows us how to love God, which is the intent of the first four commandments. The second aspect shows us how to love our neighbor—fellow human beings. The last six commandments teach us how to do this.
God’s Call to Repentance
1. What was Jesus’s message from the beginning of His ministry? Mark 1:14-15; Matthew 4:17; Luke 13:1-5. Were Christ’s disciples to preach the same message? Did Jesus say, in fact, that repentance should be preached among all nations? Luke 24:46-47.
2. On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon Christ’s disciples (Acts 2:1-4), what message did God inspire Peter to preach to the multitudes gathered in Jerusalem? Acts 2:37-38. Did Peter continue to preach repentance? Acts 3:19.
The same proclamation to repent is central to the message of God’s Church today.
3. Does the Bible show there are no exceptions—that all have sins they must repent of? 1 John 1:8-10; Romans 3:23; 5:12; Ecclesiastes 7:20.
There are many who feel they are “good, humble people” who have never personally done anything really wrong and so have little, if anything, to repent of. But your Bible says ALL have sinned! Those who think they have not sinned are actually guilty of the sin of self-righteousness!
Have You Really Repented?
Have you come to the point in your life where you want to give up walking contrary to God and surrender yourself completely to Him? Have you come to the place where you see yourself as you really are—as God sees you?
Have you “sized yourself up” against the Ten Commandments and God’s Word, and admitted where you fall short? Are you willing to keep all of God’s commandments?
Notice what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves ….” The Prophet John told the Pharisees and Sadducees to “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for [or befitting] repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
How can you examine—prove—your own self? By comparing your life, thoughts, words and actions with the Word of God.
True repentance requires a permanent change of direction. It is a total commitment to a course from which there is no turning back. It is not a temporary, spontaneous emotional response so prevalent today in religious “revival” meetings. You have learned that it is something much deeper and vastly more profound!
Have you really repented?