At first when considering what to write, I thought that I would write on the subject “Repent and Believe,” which is the demand of God to all that hear the preaching of the gospel. But I have decided to limit the scope of this article and the following to the subject of repentance, even though I am well aware of the fact that in a sense repentance and faith stand in an inseparable relationship. It is hoped that in the future the opportunity will be given in which we can discuss the matter of the demand of God that all that hear the gospel believe that which is declared. But let us now consider the concept of repentance in the light of God’s Word.
A few questions come to mind concerning the matter of repentance. First, is repentance obligatory upon all men? Secondly, does God through the gospel confront every man who ever lived with the demand to repent? In the third place, is the demand of God that the sinner repent just, when the demand confronts one who is dead in sin and under the power of the prince of the air? We ask this last question, of course, in faith acknowledging that God is just in all His works and righteous in all His ways. We may not in pride set ourselves up as the judges of God applying our standards of conduct. But we ask this question re the justice of this demand in order that we may lead ourselves into the givens of Scripture on this point. In the fourth place we ask, is the demand of God that all men everywhere repent expressive of His will? And finally, how is it to be explained that some repent and others do not?
We have set for ourselves, young reader, an interesting though admittedly a difficult task. Especially the third and fourth questions we have raised can prove to be a bit troublesome. We must, therefore, labor in faith looking into the givens of Scripture for answers to the questions we have raised. Scripture alone can rightly be authoritative.
Repentance, what is it? What is its content? Scripture uses more than one term to express the idea of repentance. Repentance means, “to turn about.” Repentance is to turn from following after heathen gods to the keeping of the law of the one true God. In Zachariah 1:3-4 we read of the word of God to the prophet, “Therefore say unto them, thus saith the Lord of hosts: Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of hosts. Be not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets have cried, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts: Turn ye now from your evil ways and from your evil doings: but they did not hear, nor hearken unto me, saith the Lord.” In Matthew 18:3 we find the word “convert” which means also “to turn about,” Christ is speaking, “. . . Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted and become as little children ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The term “convert” or “conversion” must be understood as denoting a complete turning about. Also in the New Testament we have the terms “repent” and “repentance.” We find the verb “repent” in Mark 1:14-15. “And after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye and believe the gospel.” The noun “repentance” is found in Acts 11:18: “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”
In the light of Scripture we can now answer the preliminary question, what is repentance? Repentance is a complete about face, a radical and complete change of mind and heart. This turning about or changing of the mind must be understood in the spiritual sense of the word. Repentance is not to be equated with a mere change of outward conduct or morality. As if a man of the world has repented who has given up his beer bottle and life of drunkenness to live soberly. Many persons will give up excessive drinking because they know what damage liquor or beer can do to the mind and body, and the consequences it will have in their relationship to members of their family in particular and society in general. Repentance does not describe one who under the threat of imprisonment turns from a life of theft to labor with his hands. You understand, don’t you, that many unrepentant persons live a life of outward conformity to the laws of the land and even of Scripture merely for the sake of social respectability and to avoid the unpleasant consequences of violating the law of the land. Repentance is a matter of the heart. Outward conduct that does not proceed, though it be in harmony with the law of God externally, from a repentant heart and mind is not pleasing unto God. That which is not done in faith is sin. God searches the inward parts and demands truth within!
But true repentance is to turn from sin as sin. Repentance is to turn from sin not merely the consequences of sin. Sin is the trampling under foot of the law of the Holy and Majestic God. Sin is to deny God, who is the fountain of all good and who must be loved and served. Sin is the lifting up of the creature in pride over against the demands of God. Now, one who repents is truly sorrowful of heart for his sin against the majesty and holiness of God. Repentance is heartfelt sorrow for sin and sorrow which manifests itself in a complete and radical turning about from sin to God. Repentance is to turn from the hatred of God and His law to the love of God and the day and night meditating in His law; from the desire to revel in sin to the desire to promote the cause of the kingdom of God in the midst of the world. To repent is to flee from the works of darkness to walk in the marvelous light of God. It consists of putting off the old man and his deeds and the putting on of the new man which is made after the image of God.
We should note briefly that repentance can be viewed as “initial” repentance and daily or continual repentance. Repentance is not a once in a life time thing. Rather it is a once decisive turning from sin to God and a continual repentance of the sins committed after our initial conversion or repentance. Matthew 18:3 is speaking of continual, daily repentance. Rev. 2:5 is also speaking of daily repentance, “Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen and repent and do the first works or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” In both of these passages the Word of God is directed to those who had been converted and who had repented and believed, but who now had made themselves, as we do every day, guilty of other sins, of which they must again repent. Repentance is therefore both original and daily repentance.
We now address ourselves to the first question which I raised at the beginning of this article: Is it obligatory upon every man that he repent of his sin and walk in the way of repentance? We answer, of course! Every man must repent for his sin. Every man is born dead in sin. Every man by nature is the wilful servant of sin and has made himself guilty before God. If we look to Scripture we see that John the Baptist, who while preaching in the wilderness of Judea, cried out to all: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). As we saw earlier Christ, The Preacher, came into Galilee early in His ministry preaching and saying: “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand repent ye and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). In Acts 17 we read the words of Paul as he declared the will of God to the heathen of the city of human wisdom, Athens. Paul had made known to these Athenians the will of Him who was unknown in Athens. Paul declared God’s will to be, “but now God commanded all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30b).
We see then, in the first place, that repentance, a turning from sin as sin unto God in love, is demanded by God. Secondly, we note that Acts 17 teaches us that all men everywhere are called to repentance. It is true then that none who hear the demand of God in the gospel to repent can ignore that demand with impunity. They that do ignore the demand of God that they repent will be cast into Hell. God does not beg, plead, wish or hope that the sinner repent — He is God, who demands it of all.
To be continued