The Grace of God

That Brings Salvation Has Appeared to All Men (Titus 2:11)

Repentance Toward God

The gospel for all men, according to the Apostle Paul, includes both repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).  The writer of Hebrews included “repentance from dead works” in his list of foundational, elementary Christian teachings (6:1).  Jesus said He came to call sinners to repentance (Matt. 9:13), and He taught, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3,5)  Thus repentance is foundational and necessary for all who want to be saved. Without repentance there is no salvation.

So what is repentance and what does it look like?

Example 1–The Repentance of Nineveh

Jesus said the following to the Scribes and Pharisees:

The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. (Matt. 12:41)

According to Jesus, the men of Nineveh repented. What did their repentance look like? Read the account of their repentance in Jonah 3.  Jonah walked through the city proclaiming that judgment was coming from God for their sin, and the people believed the warning (vs. 5) and  began fasting. Even the king humbled himself by removing his royal robes and dressing in sackcloth and ashes, and he published a command to the whole city that the people should turn from their evil ways and from the violence that was in their hands (vs. 8).  He had a hope that God might be merciful to them after all (vs. 9).

Look at God’s response to their repentance:

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; andGod relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. (Jonah 3:10)

This can only mean that the people stopped doing the evil and violence they were accustomed to doing, and God forgave them and withheld from them their deserved punishment.  When Jesus rebuked His own generation for not repenting, He was saying that the people needed to stop doing the evil they were doing, just as the Ninevites had done.

Example 2–The Prodigal Son

Most people know the story of the prodigal son, which you can read in Luke 15:11-32.  This son squandered the privilege of his inheritance on sinful living far from home, being an example of people created by God who waste their blessings living in sin outside of His influence. As will always happen when a sinner follows his flesh long enough, this young man began to be in want. None of his experiences satisfied him at all, he lost everything he had that was good, and the world to which he had joined himself cared nothing for him (vss. 14-16). Then hecame to his senses (vs. 17).  Realizing that even his father’s servants had a better life than he had, he determined to leave the filthy pig pen he was employed in, go back to his father, humbly confess that he had sinned and was unworthy of being a son any longer (vss. 18-19), and beg to be a servant to his father (vs. 19).

Most people know the outcome of this choice, how the father saw him coming and with mercy and compassion received him back into the family with great celebration. Clearly this is written to show us that God is merciful and compassionate to the repentant sinner. Indeed Jesus said there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents (Luke 15:7).  But I remind you, before this son received the mercy of his father, he left his pig pen, traveled home, confessed his sin, and was willing to be a servant (obedient). This is a great example of repentance. There are many today trying to bring the pig pen (life of sin) home with them, and refusing to serve the Lord when they get there. It doesn’t work. Unless you repent you will perish, as Jesus taught.

The Goodness of God

The goodness of God leads you to repentance (Rom. 2:4).  God shows His goodness to man in many ways every day–through nature, through His patience while men ignore and rebel against Him; and ultimately He has shown His goodness on the cross–while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  God showed His goodness to the Ninevites when He sent the prophet Jonah to warn them that destruction was coming. Had they not been warned, they would have surely been destroyed as they deserved. But the warning showed that God didn’t really want to destroy them, and gave them a chance to be saved from His wrath. It was necessary that they heed the warning and change their ways if they were to receive mercy.

Please note that the Ninevites still deserved wrath for all the sins they had already done. Stopping their evil did not give them a clean record with God. But God was willing to forgive them (wipe the slate clean) when they repented. Repentance was a condition for them, and it is a condition for us. Only the blood of Jesus can wash away sin. Obedience to God can not wash away past disobedience. But we must turn from disobedience to obedience if we wish to be forgiven, and then have faith in Jesus Christ our Savior, believing that His blood is efficient to cleanse us from all the unrighteous things we have done, and following His teachings.

Fruit Worthy of Repentance

When speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees, John the Baptist commanded them to bear fruits worthy of repentance, and warned them that every tree that did not bear good fruit would be cut down and destroyed by fire (Matt. 3:8-10).  Repentance then is more than a mental process. It begins in the mind with believing God’s warnings of judgment, it progresses in the mind to a decision to leave the life of sin behind and offer to be a servant of God from this point on, and it continues on until good behavior is produced like fruit is produced on a tree. The Ninevites produced the fruit of repentance when their works changed and their violence ceased. The prodigal produced the fruit of repentance when he left his wicked life, confessed his sin to the father, and submitted himself to humble servitude.  The Pharisees and Sadducees of John the Baptist’s time were professing to be righteous men, but according to Jesus they were wicked men (Matt. 23) who refused to repent & be baptized to signify that repentance (Matt. 21:31-32; Luke 7:30).

The Folly of a Repentance-Free “Christianity”

There are teachers today who water down the gospel so much that it becomes ineffective and worthless. They either leave out repentance altogether, or they portray repentance as being only a mental acknowledgement that you are a sinner. They add insult to injury when they teach that you must sin continually for the rest of your life, and will never be able to obey God until after you are dead. Satan has been busy polluting the church with false teachings so that men will remain in bondage to sin and perish in the end. Most people will acknowledge they have sinned, and unfortunately most professing “Christians” will unashamedly confess they still remain in a life of sin (they have not repented).  Dear friend, do not believe the watered-down message on most “gospel tracts” and preached in most pulpits today. Do not listen to your friends, who soothe your conscience with words like this:  We all sin…nobody is perfect…God understands.   Times of ignorance God may overlook, but He now commands all men to repent (Acts 17:30).   You must be born again, and this will not happen unless you repent.

Repentance Leading to Salvation

After the church at Corinth repented at the preaching of Paul the apostle, he wrote the following to them:

Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.  (2 Cor. 7:9-11)

From this passage, observe the following:

  • The message Paul had written to them made them feel sorrowful over their actions.
  • Their sorrow was godly sorrow, a sorrow that produced repentance. They were not merely sorry they got caught, they were sorry they had sinned.
  • The repentance that is produced by godly sorrow leads to salvation.
  • Their repentance was described in the following terms:  diligence (to change), clearing of themselves, indignation (against sin), fear (of God, and of displeasing Him), vehement desire (to do right), zeal (for doing good), and vindication (of wrongdoing).
  • They proved themselves “clear in this matter,” meaning they have been forgiven and the matter was now settled between them and God. They had produced fruit worthy of repentance, and were no longer in danger of being cut down and burned in the fire.

The Purpose of This Post

My purpose for writing this paper is to show people their need for true, Biblical repentance. Knowing that many are not sharing the whole counsel of God, but only bits and pieces that misrepresent God and His Salvation, I want to fill in the gaps for some people.   I have talked to people who profess faith in Jesus, but they are still slaves of sin and “waiting for God” to come and change them while they continue to do all the wickedness they did prior to confessing faith in Jesus!  Such people have need of repentance, and without it, they will perish.

If you have never sorrowed over your life of sin to the point of real repentance, if you have never believed the warnings of His prophets about the destruction that is coming on all the disobedient, if you have never humbled yourself and turned from your wicked works, if you have never come to your senses and gone to God in full surrender ready to serve Him alone, please do it today.  Do not receive the grace of God in vain. His warnings and His teaching come to turn you from darkness to light, but if you harden your heart, you may yet be lost. If you hear His voice, do not harden your heart, but lay aside all filthiness and wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word of God which is able to save your soul (James 1:21).

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