Written Word

The Need to Repent

“This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47)

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, 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.” (Acts 2:38)

“I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:21)

Repentance figured prominently in the ministries of our Lord Jesus Christ, John the baptist, and the apostles. And today we must be faithful in calling people to repentance.

Repentance is a word that has strayed far from its original meaning. Being sorry for sin and promising never to do it again is the standard understanding most people have about repentance, but that meaning is quite different from how the Bible defines it.

For example, a person can spend an evening consuming alcohol. The next morning, with head throbbing and nerves jumping, he stumbles toward the medicine cabinet vowing, “Never again. I’ll never touch another drop as long as I live.” What he has expressed is remorse, regret, but is not godly repentance. Scripture says this about repentance:

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Having Godly sorrow means that we see our sins as having offended God and for that we are genuinely sorrowful. By repenting we make a conscious decision to turn away from sin and to turn our life to God.

An Example of Repentance

Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector who heard about Jesus. Anxious to see Jesus, but prevented because of his small size, Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus as he passed by. When Jesus saw him he called out, “‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.”

Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus moved his heart to repentance. “Here and now,” he said, “I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything I will pay back four times the amount.” That is godly repentance. Because of his penitent heart and faith in Jesus, the Lord said to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19:1-10)

The call to repentance is a recurring theme in the Scriptures. John the Baptist insisted that his disciples “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8) John wanted the people not only to believe in Jesus the Messiah, but to demonstrate that they had turned their lives away from sin by displaying the evidence of true repentance. Jesus commanded that “repentance and forgiveness of sins.. . be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47) Peter told his audience that they were to “repent and be baptised…” Later he told others, “Repent, then, and turn to God.” (Acts 2:38; 3:19)

Repentance must not be thought of only in negative terms: we stop committing sins. It is much more than that. The positive side of repentance is that we decide to change the direction of our spiritual lives and to follow God. That is true godly repentance!