Mark 1:14-15, “Now 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.”
From what we read here in Mark’s account of the Gospel, the first command of the Lord’s public ministry was to REPENT! By the very Word of the Lord Jesus Christ we see that repentance is a Bible principle – it’s a Bible doctrine.
Repentance has been confused and misunderstood today, but that doesn’t change the role this doctrine plays in the way to salvation AND in a believer’s daily living. What is repentance? I believe it is made clear in the Bible, and before we can know what repentance IS, we first should look at what repentance IS NOT.
WHAT REPENTANCE IS NOT
#1: Repentance IS NOT the world’s regret and remorse!
2 Cor 7:9-10, “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”
“Sorry I got caught” is not Biblical repentance. “Sorry I got caught…but I’ll do it again if I can get away with it” is sorrow of the world! Also, just being sorrowful over something done does not mean Biblical repentance. Remember Judas Iscariot? He regretted his actions [Matt 27:3-5], but he didn’t turn to God!
#2: Repentance IS NOT reformation!
Cleaning up your outside IS NOT a ‘suitable substitute’ for having God clean up your inside! When I think on reformation, I think back to the Pharisees…those ones who were the Jewish religious rulers. On the outside, they had the appearance of being clean and holy; but on the inside, there was a fact of being “dead in trespasses and sins” [see Matt 23:27]
You see, drunkards may stop drinking; wife-beaters may cease from their violence; thieves may become honest citizens; harlots may turn from a life of disgrace; but this in itself IS NOT Biblical repentance. Why not? Because if the change is just an outward cleanup brought about by man via religious exercises, “stepped programs”, or by “discovering the champion within”, that’s reformation; BUT, if the change happens from the inside-out and it’s brought about by God and His Word, that’s repentance. Great example = The Pharisees.
#3: Repentance IS NOT religion!
Just because a person says they believe in God, they’ve been baptized, or they repeated ‘the sinner’s prayer’, DOESN’T MEAN they’ve repented of sin!
This is what repentance IS NOT. So…what IS repentance? How can the term be defined? We will answer the question and define the term by the Bible.
WHAT REPENTANCE IS
Exodus 13:17, “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt”
Why didn’t God lead Israel through the way of the land of the Philistines? They would have turned back to Egypt at the threat of war! It would have changed their mind which would have changed their action! We can say from what we read here [so far] that repentance is defined as a change of heart that results in a turning.
Jeremiah 8:6, “I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle.”
From this verse in Jeremiah, we can say that repentance is an acknowledging and a turning from sin.
Ezekiel 14:6, “Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.”
God is defining repentance as turning from sinful idolatry and abomination. Do you think God would have been satisfied if they had just changed their minds without changing their action?
Ezekiel 18:30, “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.”
Again, God is defining repentance as turning from sin and idols.
Jonah 3:5-8, “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. (vs6) For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. (vs7) And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: [vs8] But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.”
Now the word repentance is not used here in this passage [but turn is]…and in Matt 12:41, Jesus said they repented! Here are the Words of Christ: “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” [vs14 – emphasis added]. Here’s the point: The people’s repentance was witnessed in their actions! This is very important: True repentance is always observable by a change in a person’s manner of living!
Matt 3:1,8, “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea…Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance”
The Baptist demanded ‘fruits meet for repentance’…he wanted to see some evidence of repentance before he’d baptize them! And BTW: Is it wrong to have some sort of “probation time” for ones wanting to join a church? Should there be fruits, or evidences, that show forth a repented and reconciled life? In the era and fervor of success-driven attendance-building, this principle has been forgotten.
Matt 11:20-21, “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: (vs21) Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”
Jesus was saying that repentance was a dramatic change in one’s attitude and action due to the witness of God’s Work and Word. It is the conviction of being wrong before God that God works in man that can bring man to a conversion of right. Chorazin and Bethsaida rejected that conviction of being wrong before God, and therefore, they did not repent.
Matt 21:28-29, “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. (vs29) He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.”
Did you notice that the son’s repentance was witnessed by his change of mind AND by his obedience? Just a change of mind without a change of action wouldn’t have satisfied the father’s command.
Luke 19:1-2, 8-9, “And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. (vs2) And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. [vs8] And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. (vs9) And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.”
Zacchaeus’ repentance was a change of mind that resulted in a dramatic change of life! Now let’s follow this definition for a moment:
1 Thess 1:9-10, “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; (vs10) And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”
Repentance resulted in a dramatic change of life in the Thessalonians…they turned to God from idols!
Revelation 2:5, “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.”
We see that repentance involves turning from actions that are wrong to doing actions that are right! There’s a dramatic change in a person’s life!
Rev 2:21, “And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.” Rev 16:9-11, “And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory. (vs10) And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, (vs11) And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.”
In both instances, in both passages of Scripture, they will not repent of their deeds. They will not repent because they refuse to turn from their evil doings.
So from all that we’ve gone through in our survey of Scripture, we can Biblically define repentance as 1) a turning to God from sin, 2) having a change of mind about sin, 3) that always results in a change of action!