The Missing Response!
If scientific research discovered the cure for a tragic and fatal disease, would you be interested? If this research further indicated that every single person would contract the disease and die from it if untreated, would you be even more interested in the remedy? Every person has been infected with the “disease” of sin–a dreadful illness that harms us now and will condemn us forever in the future. Yet our loving God has graciously provided the remedy for our sin through the sacrificial death of His Son. Simply put, we need only accept the remedy of Christ with a repentant and obedient faith.
But here we confront a most amazing fact about God’s solution to the human predicament of sin: So few are willing to humble themselves and repent. And why do the vast majority refuse to repent or even make a half-hearted effort to repent? They love their sin too much. They find repentance too hard and demanding. They do not realize the horrible results of unrepentance.
As you can see, we must consider carefully the response of repentance since it is so vital for our spiritual welfare now as well as our happiness in eternity. Let us look with keen interest at this vitally important subject.
DOES GOD REALLY REQUIRE REPENTANCE?
Many people have read the Bible for years yet somehow they have overlooked the importance of repentance. They see the command to love God and to love their neighbors (Mark 12:28-34). They see the command to do to others what you wish them to do for you (Luke 6:31). They also have read the command to believe the gospel and to be baptized (Mark 16:16). But they somehow have failed to recognize the importance of repentance and the fact that this command is given to them personally.
As we open the Scriptures, however, we can clearly see that repentance is a basic requirement of everyone, in every land, and in every age. When Jonah went to the cruel and evil city of Ninevah, he called for repentance (Jonah 3). Later, Jesus said, “They repented at the preaching of Jonah” (Matt. 12:41). Israel also needed to repent. The Lord God declared, “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you” (Ezek. 18:30).
Repentance was emphasized even more in the New Testament scriptures. John the baptizer declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). The Lord Jesus said the same: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). When Jesus sent the apostles out to proclaim the kingdom, “they went out and preached that men should repent” (Mark 6:12). Later, when our Lord gave the “great commission” to His apostles, He said that “repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:47). Then, when Paul stood before the learned philosophers in Athens, he uttered these solemn words: “God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30). The basic response of those who would come to God for forgiveness is “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). No one should be able to say that God’s requirement of repentance is unimportant or unnecessary for our salvation from sin.
WHY DO SOME DENY REPENTANCE TODAY?
Just as sinful men deny every other requirement of God, many also deny the need of repentance in our day. What are some of the reasons why people either neglect to repent or even fight against the necessity of repentance?
(1) A Superficial View of Sin. Some people fail to repent because they simply have a shallow understanding of sin. They may know that sin is wrong–but not very wrong. They just view it as a “mistake,” and “error,” and as a trifling thing. God, however, views sin as an extremely serious matter. He sees it as treason against Him, as an offense against His holiness, and as rebellion against His will. He wants us to search His law so that “sin might become utterly sinful” (Rom. 7:13b). As we shall soon observe, sin has dreadful and eternal consequences (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8), thus we must never take sin lightly or assume that we need not repent of it.
(2) Not Recognizing Our Need. While some may say that repentance is needed “for the other person,” they may think that they personally do not need to repent. Somehow when they come to the command to repent, they acknowledge that it pertained to certain Biblical characters–but surely it does not pertain to them today. Maybe they mistakenly believe that it is for those who learn of the gospel as adults but it does not apply to those who have been taught from the Scriptures since childhood. Some, of course, may assume that it is for those who have committed particularly serious sins and for especially bad people or criminals but it has no relevance for them and for the “little” sins of life. All of these assumptions are false. Each of us must repent if we would be forgiven (Luke 24:47).
(3) Repentance Has Not Been Preached. Since we are living in the midst of such religious apostasy in our age, many people have seldom heard the command to repent in their churches. So many pastors, preachers, ministers, teachers and priests have departed from Scriptural truth that they no longer emphasize the seriousness of sin or the absolute requirement of repentance. More and more we hear “self-esteem” and “self-acceptance” emphasized, while sin, righteousness, and judgment neglected–the very elements that the Holy Spirit seeks to use in the sinner’s conviction (John 16:8-11). One well-known and popular “televangelist” asserts, “Christ never puts down a human being. . . . The most serious sin is the one that causes me to say, ‘I am unworthy’” (John MacArthur, Jr., “Questions for Robert Schuller,” Moody, May 1983, pp. 6,7). Members who have been exposed to this type of “watered down” theology and soft “self acceptance” preaching have failed to learn of their need to repent of their sins.
(4) Infant Baptism and Lack of Conversion. As we briefly noted earlier, some theology emphasizes the responsibility of the parents to “baptize” their newborn babies as soon as possible. Some of these proponents of infant baptism say that this ceremony brings the child into “the covenant community.” Others assert that this ritual actually remits the Adamic sin of the infant and gives the baby eternal life. Still others simply look upon the rite as a “dedication ceremony” that requires the parents to raise the child in the ways of the Lord. Most churches that practice infant baptism require a later instruction class and a “confirmation service” about the age of twelve. In a context such as this, it is easy for members to receive the impression that the child just naturally is a Christian from infancy–thus there is no need to repent later on at the age of discretion. If the child has been regenerated (born again) and saved, then it is superfluous for the young person to repent and personally choose Christ to be forgiven and become a Christian. In contrast to this, Scripture says that each person must personally choose to follow Christ and come to Him in repentance for salvation. It is not something that comes automatically or comes to a passive child through the medium of parents.
(5) It is the Hardest Command in Scripture. Others effectively nullify the command to repent of sin because they rightfully view it as one of the hardest commands in the Bible. Depending upon the extent of sin and the nature of sin, repentance can be a very, very painful and traumatic event in life. Some sins have very deep roots and they are surrounded by many emotions. God wants us to pull those sins out of our life, difficult and painful though it be, and the emotional struggle involved in such a decision and process may be nearly overwhelming. Because people love their sins, it is painful to give them up. Because repentance issues in forsaking of sin, it is difficult to make a decision that will sometimes bring extreme and lifelong suffering to ourselves and others involved. This is what makes repentance so hard.
(6) Some Think that God will Overlook Unrepentance. There is a natural tendency in man that makes him want to minimize his pain and increase his pleasure. Since repentance can be painful, some people think or hope that God will somehow set aside His holiness and His requirements, allowing them to be forgiven and enter heaven apart from deep and genuine repentance. They conceive of God as an indulgent and compromising Deity who will accept their half-hearted response and yet offer His forgiveness and eternal inheritance. They have been warned about “taking religion too far” and becoming a “religious fanatic,” so they think that something less than full repentance will be acceptable to a forgiving God. Scripture, however, gives no impression that a partial repentance will do. Peter simply commands, “Repent . . . and return, that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19). No qualifications. No compromises. No equivocations. No half-hearted response.
(7) An Emphasis on “Easy-Believism.” In our day many preachers emphasize that one must only “believe” in order to be saved from their sins. They cite an array of passages that use only such terms as “believe” (Gk., p i s t e u w , pisteuo) and “belief” or “faith” (Gk., p i s t i s, pistis). Such passages abound: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31); “To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justified the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:5); “He who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47). Such verses as these emphasize that our basic response to God through Christ Jesus is that of faith. This is precisely what Ephesians 2:8-9 states: “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” However, in this passage as well as others dealing with salvation, we can see that the basic response of the sinner is the principle of faith. Through a comprehensive faith (including a belief of truths about Christ and His cross, a trust in His ability to save through His sacrificial death, and a surrender to His Lordship) one is saved from sin and is given eternal life (cf. John 3:36; 4:24; 20:30-31). This third element of saving faith–that of surrender, submission, and commitment–is intimately bound up with the meaning of repentance. Therefore, those who simply tell the sinner to “believe in Jesus” or “trust in His shed blood” and who say nothing about repenting of one’s sins and living a new life for the Lord, have failed to grasp the meaning of Biblical faith–the faith that is essential for salvation.
(8) An Emphasis on “Easy Repentism.” Most of us have heard of the term employed in the previous (7) discussion, but maybe we should coin another term–easy repentism. While some may mention the need to repent and may cite passages that use the word, they may pass over the requirement as a act that is obvious to all. Instead, repentance may be the most difficult issue that the sinner must wrestle with as he considers coming to Jesus. In reality, repentance may not be an “easy” thing but the most sacrificial act with far-reaching implications to one’s everyday life. As Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Repentance will totally revolutionize one’s daily living.
(9) A Dispensational Theology. Perhaps a more accurate identification here would be ultradispensationalism–at least this is the term preferred by the regular dispensational theologians. This is a system of interpretation that claims that the period from the cross to the second coming of Christ is to be divided in two. In the first half, the gospel was still being offered to the Jews, whereas in the second half (beginning at either Acts 13:46; 18:6; or 28:28) it is offered to the Gentiles. People of this persuasion would affirm that repentance was a requirement for the Jews (cf. Acts 2:38; 3:19), whereas simple belief or faith is the sole requirement for the Gentiles.
There are several fallacies in this view. First, Paul said that he preached both repentance and faith to Jews and Gentiles without distinction: “Solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Second, Peter preached the same gospel to the Jews as Paul preached to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7-8; cf. 1:6-9). Third, faith was also required of the Jews (Acts 2:44; 5:14; 13:39; 21:20) and repentance was likewise required of the Gentiles (Acts 11:18; 26:20). Fourth, both faith (Acts 10:43; 14:1; 15:9; 21:20 with v. 25; Mark 16:15-16) and repentance (Acts 17:30; 2:38-39; 26:17-18) were required of all people (Jews and Gentiles) if they were to be saved. Fifth, Peter specifically says that Jews and Gentiles are saved in exactly the same manner: “We believe that we [Jews] are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they [Gentiles] also are” (Acts 15:11; cf. vv. 8-9). Therefore, we must reject this theology and firmly assert that anyone today who wishes to be saved must repent of their sins as well as believe in Christ.
(10) A Failure to Deal with Specifics. There is another way that men effectively deny repentance and that is the reluctance to deal with specific applications of repentance. It is one thing to say, “You must repent of your sins,” and it is another thing to say, “You must repent and turn from your drunkenness, your filthy speech, your fornication, and your wild parties.” Just here we must take great care, for some have erred on both sides of the matter. Some have been too general and simply demanded repentance, while failing to even consider very obvious sins in the sinner’s life. Later, they may wonder why the “convert” continues to get drunk, go to parties, use profanity, and engage in fornication. On the other hand, some have become so specific that the sinner is almost given a list of two hundred sins that he must repudiate before coming to Christ! Surely this is an extreme and deviates from apostolic preaching. Generally speaking, there should be the general emphasis upon repentance, per se, as was done in the proclamation in Acts, but if there are obvious sins or outstanding sins in the person’s life, these should be mentioned and discussed. The person should have some idea what he should repent of personally at the time he comes to Christ for salvation.
HOW IMPORTANCE IS REPENTANCE?
There is no doubt that God calls upon us to repent of our sins and turn to Him. But just how vital is this response? Is it really that important? Indeed it is! It is absolutely essential if you wish to be blessed of God and avoid His judgment. It is here that the motivation and incentives are given for a person to repent. These are not unworthy motives. Rather, God Himself reveals these positive and negative inducements and in light of them He calls upon the sinner to repent of sin and turn to Him. Let us examine first a number of salvation blessings that are granted to the one who repents, then we shall notice some of the results of refusing to repent.
THE BLESSINGS OF REPENTANCE
(1) Forgiveness of sins. If sin is the very reason why people are condemned and under God’s righteous wrath (Rom. 1:18; 6:23), it is a blessing indeed to be completely forgiven of every single sin! Peter declares, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38; cf. 5:31). This is a promise of God that we can believe. It is sure and dependable. The Lord Jesus Christ said the same: “Repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name” (Luke 24:47; NASB). This is good news to the one who is willing to humble himself and repent of his sins! Every one of his sins will be forgiven–if he is willing to repent of them.
(2) Sins Wiped Away. Similar to the previous blessing, the sinner may have his sins “wiped away.” Peter said, “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). If the record of your sins concerns you, if the guilt of your sins weighs you down, if the memory of your sins worries you, those sins may be entirely wiped away from God’s divine record and you need not face them again in judgment!
(3) Salvation. We may think of salvation through faith (Eph. 2:8; Acts 16:31), but salvation also comes through repentance. Paul wrote, “The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Further, on the day of Pentecost, when Peter called upon his inquirers to repent for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), he then declared, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (v. 40; NIV; cf. v. 47). Those who repented of their sins would be saved from the condemnation awaiting all who remained in their sins!
(4) Eternal Life. Not only is the repentance person forgiven of his sins, but he is raised from spiritual death to spiritual life–an eternal life with God! When Cornelius turned to Christ and Peter reported to his fellow-Jews the results of this work of grace, the people “praised God” and said, “So then, God has even granted the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18; NIV). Whereas a certain prominent theology asserts that the sinner is first given spiritual life to enable him to repent, we see here that the sinner first repents and is then granted life–a life that will never end as he continues with a repentant heart.
(5) The Holy Spirit. Peter also said on the day of Pentecost: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized . . . and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise [of the Spirit] is for you and your children, and or all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself” (Acts 2:38-39). We know, of course, that the Spirit comes through faith (cf. Eph. 1:13; Gal. 3:2,5,14), but here we learn that it is a repentant faith that is embodied in baptism (v. 38). How wonderful to be given the Spirit of God and receive the innumerable blessings that come through His indwelling (cf. Rom. 5:5; 8:9,13-14,26-27; Gal, 5:16-25).
(6) Membership in the Body of Believers. When the people on the day of Pentecost responded in repentance and baptism, they not only received forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, but they were joined to each other: “Those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41; cf. v. 47). Luke adds, “All those who had believed were together” (v. 44a). These repentant and believing saints were of “one mind”–a believing, repentant, loving, and joyful mind, united with each other because they were united to Christ Jesus.
THE CONSEQUENCE OF UNREPENTANCE
Just as there are numerous blessings granted to one who repents, so there are many consequences to unrepentance. One who fails to repent or refuses to repent of his sins will face a horrible future.
(1) Unforgiven of God. We have noticed above that in order to be forgiven, one must “repent . . . for the forgiveness of [his] sins” (Acts 2:38). If one refuses to repent, he will remain in his sins! Since one must repent that his “sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19), we must conclude that sins are not wiped away until and unless one repents of his sins. Why is this so crucial? Because to die in one’s sins (John 8:24) automatically seals one’s eternal destiny! Paul warns that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23; cf. v. 21). Unless those sins are removed through God’s gracious forgiveness, we must face those sins in judgment and be punished for them forever and ever (Rev. 21:8,27). Therefore, to remain unforgiven is a tragedy of tragedies!
(2) The Wrath of God. When John the baptizer was preaching at the Jordan, Pharisees and Sadducees came to him for baptism. John could perceive their heart and said, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance” (Matt. 3:7-8). John knew that that only way to “flee from the wrath to come” was through repentance–genuine, sincere repentance that did not excuse sin against God. Paul also saw how crucial repentance was. In one of his most solemn warnings, the apostle wrote, “Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5). Just as God “stores up” His goodness for those who fear Him (Psa. 31:19), so He “stores up” His WRATH for those who refuse to humble themselves before Him in repentance. God’s warning is clear and His righteous anger will fall on those who are content to remain in their sin!
(3) The Judgment of God. Paul was well aware of the consequence of spurning God’s mercy. He explained the future of those yet in their sins: “Having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). Remember also that Paul wrote of “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5b). Peter also wrote of “the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” as he warned of the fiery cataclysm that would engulf the “present heavens and earth” (2 Peter 3:7; cf. vv. 8-13). Indeed, an awesome future awaits one who will not repent of sin!
(4) One will Perish. Our Lord knew better than anyone the future fate of one who would not repent. This is why He could warn His hearers, “Unless you repent, you will all . . . perish” (Luke 13:3,5). The corollary to this is that “whoever believes in Him [the Son] should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The true believer will not perish, but the unrepentant will perish. This again shows that what Jesus refers to is a believing repentance or a repentant belief. But notice another passage that shows the result of unrepentance: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Again we see that those who refuse to repent of their sins will perish. As we discover from John 3:16 above, the opposite of perishing is experiencing eternal life. In other words, one who will not believe and repent will not have everlasting life!
This is sufficient for us to see the utter importance of the subject we are discussing in this little booklet. It is utterly vital that you discover whether you personally have truly repented. If you have repented (with all that this entails), then you have been forgiven of your sins, have been saved, have received eternal life, and have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, if you refuse to repent in this life, you face the wrath of God, the judgment of God, and will perish apart from eternal life. Let these thoughts motivate you to continue reading and learning of the meaning of this missing response.