Thoughts on Repentance

by Matthew J. Slick

The Bible tells us, "... God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent" (Acts 17:30). But what is repentance according to the Bible? Biblically, it can mean anything from sincere regret to altered behavior that results in a moral change. God desires that we repent. He desires that our behavior, deeds, and words be molded to the image of His Son. As Jesus said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). Okay, so we are supposed to repent. But repent from what? What is it we are supposed to stop doing? What are we to change?

Sin is breaking God's law. The law of God is best exemplified in the Ten Commandments which is a reflection of the perfect, holy, and pure nature of God's character. God cannot lie, or steal, or bear false witness because these things are against His nature. God is good. Therefore, the Law is good and it is the standard of moral perfection. But we on the other hand are fallen creatures who cannot keep the law perfectly. Those of use who are redeemed constantly fight with our fleshly desires (1 Peter 2:11) in an effort to obey God and be conformed to His holiness: "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16). That is, we continually fight against our natural tendency to do that which is often contrary to God's will. This is why Paul said in Romans 7:19, "For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want." So, we are to repent of any and all things contrary to God's revealed word, which means we need to study the Bible so we might be better conformed to what He desires. We also need to face the reality that even though we Christians are redeemed, we are still battling our sins and, unfortunately, we fail too often to live up to the standard of God's holy perfection. This is why we need Jesus.

Jesus is the One who stood in our place and fulfilled all of the Law of God perfectly. He never sinned (1 Peter 2:22). When we become Christians, the righteousness of Jesus is imputed to us; that is, it is reckoned to our account so that God sees us as being righteous because of the work of Christ. This means that our repentance from our sins is not without purpose or value. You see, we know too well that we repent of sins that we commit over and over again. But we must ask how can God forgive us if we have asked for forgiveness for a sin(s) and yet we continue to fall back into it? Does not our failure condemn us and prove that we have not repented? Not at all. Jesus bore all our sins in His body (1 Peter 2:24), not just some of them, not just the ones we are able to repent of, but also the ones that we struggle with and continually fight against. The important truth is that we are not redeemed by our efforts at holiness and we do not maintain salvation by repenting and not sinning. All our hope and security is in Jesus and He loves us and forgives us as often as we need it. Of course, this does not mean that it is okay to sin just so we can be forgiven (Romans 6:1-2). But it does mean that we are secure and free in Christ to not have to beat ourselves up in our efforts to please Him.

Beware of a pitfall. Sometimes penance is part of our problem. Penance is a repayment, a way of fixing a wrong. Sometimes we try to make things right with God through an effort or self-inflicted guilt. Of course, there is nothing wrong with making things right with someone you've sinned against, and guilt is the right response to a wrong deed. But there is absolutely no penance we can do that can ever please God in any way. If there were, then Jesus would not have needed to die for our sins (Galatians 2:21). The simple truth is that if we try to do something to suffer in order to make ourselves right with God, we are insulting God and the very work of Christ on the cross by attempting to please God by our works. This must be avoided at all costs. Let me restate this yet again. Penance is sinful when it is aimed at making ourselves right with God. The only way we can be right with God is by throwing ourselves at the cross and asking forgiveness from the Lord Himself.

Do you have sins you need to repent of? Are there some old habits, some new sins, some people you're not reconciled with, or something else that is contrary to God's word that you have not turned from? If so, then confess it to God and repent. Don't try and please God through your efforts to make up for a sin against Him. Please God by completely and totally relying on Jesus -- and turning from your sins. You need to know that God is there to forgive you and to love you. He is good and kind and patient with you. "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4).

Repentance is a holy command of God. It is something He can give to you (2 Timothy 2:5) through the grace of His Son Jesus. Seek God's holiness and turn from that which is unholy.

Taken from the CARM Newsletter, January 23, 2003, Short Bible Lesson -- Repentance.
Return | What Is the Gospel? | What Must I Do to Be Saved? | Home