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Repentance

March 2015 | by Peter Anderson

Albert Einstein 1921We live in a world of many voices. Politicians, sociologists, scientists and educationalists are all clamouring for our attention. But who do we listen to? Who is reliable? Who can give us what they say they can? 

Einstein was a famous scientist who wrote a number of books. But, shortly before he died, he wrote to a friend and said that he felt the paramount need of the world was to listen to God. But, then the question is, does God have anything to say to us in this 21st century?

When Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John, God spoke from heaven and said, ‘This is my beloved Son, hear him’. In other words, what God was saying was, ‘Jesus Christ is my last word to this world’.

Among the many things Jesus said, there is one that I want us now to look at. It is the word ‘repent’. In Luke 13 the evangelist records very blunt words from Jesus, when he said to the people, ‘Except you repent, you will perish’. But what did Jesus mean?

Spiritual law

If you could speak with my wife, she would tell you I do not like gardening. But I have discovered one important truth about gardening: it is that ‘what you sow, you reap’. 

If the famer sows wheat, then it produces wheat. If he plants corn, then corn is produced; and another important thing to notice is that, in the natural world, you produce a whole lot more than you sow.

But this is also a moral and spiritual law. Paul says, ‘Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction, but the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life’ (Galatians 6:7-8).

David testifies, ‘I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord. And you forgave the guilt of my sin’ (Psalm 32:5). There is no other way of pardon and forgiveness apart from repentance. This is a fundamental spiritual law.

John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus. We read that, ‘In those days, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3:1-2).

When Jesus came out of the wilderness, after being tempted by the devil, we are told, ‘From that time on, Jesus began to preach, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 4:7).

The message of the twelve disciples was ‘repent’; and when Peter preached that first great gospel message on the day of Pentecost he urged his hearers to, ‘Repent and be baptised everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 2:38). 

The New Testament calls for men and women to repent. It uses the word ‘repent’ more than 50 times, so we dare not leave it out of our gospel preaching.

Ingredients

But what actually happens when a person repents? There are three things we should notice. First of all, you change your mind. 

In Matthew 21:28-30, Jesus told a story to illustrate this important principle. He said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, Son, go and work today in the vineyard. I will not, he answered. But, later, he changed his mind and went’. 

And this is what Peter called the Jews to do on the day of Pentecost – to change their minds and admit that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah. This is what God calls you to do if you would really become a Christian, to change your mind about sin and about Christ. You need to cry, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner’.

But, second, there must be a change of feeling. We must not decry emotion in the right place. We can get emotional reading a book, and thousands of people get really emotional watching a football match. So why not in the greatest upheaval in a man or woman’s life?

It is with passion and emotion that men and women go into sin, so why not have the emotions stirred when a person turns from their sin to the living God?

But, thirdly, there is also a change of action. There has to be a strong desire to be different and go God’s way. David, after he had repented, said, ‘Create in me a pure heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me’ (Psalm 51:1). 

This truth is brought home vividly in the story of the prodigal Son (Luke 15). Down in the far country, having wasted his inheritance in bad living, we are told three things about the prodigal son: he thought upon his ways; he felt sorry for them; and then he returned home. 

And this is what God calls you to do. He calls you to confess your sin, to forsake your own sinful way and to go God’s way. Remember that Jesus said, ‘Except you repent you will perish’. There is no forgiveness without repentance.

A. W. Tozer

God’s command

In Acts 3:19 Peter said to the listening multitude, ‘Repent and be converted’. This was not a request from God, it was a command. Paul concluded his ministry in Athens by saying, ‘In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent’ (Acts 17:30). 

This is no hard message, for Peter says, ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance? And hasn’t God been good to you in so many ways?

Heaven will rejoice, for the Bible says that there is ‘joy in heaven over one sinner that repents’. There is pardon and forgiveness for you, and there will be a change in your heart and life. 

You cannot repent too soon, because you do not know how soon may be too late! It was Charles Colson who said that, ‘When we truly comprehend our own nature, repentance is no dry doctrine, no frightening message; it is a gift God grants, which leads to life eternal’. If God’s time is too soon for your repentance, beware lest your time is too late for his acceptance.

Solemn message

God’s Word for a sin-sick world is ‘repent’. A.W. Tozer said, ‘God will take nine steps towards us, but will not take the tenth. He will incline us to repent, but he cannot do our repenting for us’, for, as Jesus said, ‘Except you repent, you will perish’.

If, as repentant sinners, we have been called to be believers in and preachers of this glorious gospel, yes, we must sound out the message of salvation alone in Christ, and the forgiveness of sins for those who believe. But I believe preachers too need to rediscover the solemn message of ‘repentance towards God’ and then faith in our Lord Jesus Christ — as the only Saviour of sinners who do repent.

Peter Anderson

The author worked for many years as an evangelist with Christian Ministries