Monday, July 23, 2018

The Biblical Definition Of Repentance

        There is confusion amongst professing Christians as to the definition of repentance, namely whether it consists of a change in mind or a change in ways. Scripture does provide a definitive answer to this question, but it does not appeal to many in our culture and to those who preach a watered-down version of the gospel. Nowadays, it is commonly assumed that people are good as they are. People are therefore offended when they are told that they need to change. The reception of the gospel is to be followed by a change of heart from sinful ways to godly living.  

        According to Scripture, the act of repentance is more than a change of mind. It involves turning from sinful ways. It involves entrusting oneself to God who forgives our sins. Repentance is not a work, but a change in heart. It is a change in purpose and perspective. Repentance is crying out to God, admitting the futility of remaining in sin. This theme was taught especially in the Book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 14:6; 18:20-31). The underlying theme of the gospel is repent or perish. Repentance can be accompanied with godly sorrow and grief, as was the case of the Apostle Peter who denied knowing Jesus Christ (Luke 22:62-64). Consider also how the men of Nineveh responded to the preaching of Jonah:

         "Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it." (Jonah 3:5-10, emphasis added)

         The response of the people who heard his message was not rejection, but covering themselves with sackcloth and ashes. This was an expression of sorrow for their sins of idolatry, sexual perversion, and godlessness. The Ninevites changed their ways and obtained for themselves mercy from God. Note how Jesus Christ used this event in calling the Pharisees to repentance:

         "The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here." (Matthew 12:41)

          It is clear that Christ Himself viewed repentance as turning from sinful ways. If we define that term to mean a change of mind, then we are at best giving an incomplete definition. Christians have a desire to serve God because their hearts have been changed by the Holy Spirit. They have been given a new nature. The lives of the apostles are evidence of this truth.

          If we truly wish to inherit eternal life, then we must turn to God and seek the forgiveness that He provides. True repentance will inevitably result in a changed lifestyle. An aspect of repentance is the conviction that sin should no longer persist in our lives. We must recognize that we are spiritually bankrupt sinners who are in need of His redemption. The word order of faith and repentance in the New Testament indicates that both are inseparable (Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21). If there is no repentance from sin, then there can be no forgiveness by God. If repentance is removed or redefined from its original meaning, then the gospel falls apart.

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