Repentance - Is it Relevant?
God commands it, (Acts 17: 30), and the Lord preached it, (Matt. 4: 17). It was one of John’s characteristic words, (Matt. 3: 2; Mark 1: 4; Luke 3: 3), the disciples preached it on the mission to Israel, (Mark 6: 12), it formed a vital part of the great commission, (Luke 24: 47), and it occupied a very prominent place in the preachings of the Acts, (2: 38; 3: 19; 26: 20). I speak of course of the word “repentance”—and it is an indisputable fact that it held a very key place in early Christian testimony. Now let us leave those bright days of long ago, and traverse the many centuries to the present moment. What do we find? We find that in many so–called preachings of the Gospel the word is rarely mentioned, if at all. Repentance is an irrelevance. What is clearly vital and fundamental in Scripture is virtually considered redundant by a significant section of the professing Church.
Let us not be guided by man’s vain wisdom however—even though it be religious wisdom—but by the Word of God which endureth forever, (1 Peter 1: 25). In fact, let us go to the very words of the Son of God Himself: “No, I say to you, but if ye repent not, ye shall all perish in the same manner. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, think ye that they were debtors beyond all men who dwell in Jerusalem? No, I say to you, but if ye repent not, ye shall all perish in like manner”, (Luke 13: 3–5; my emphasis). Repetition in the Lord’s words indicates emphasis, and we cannot escape the force of what He says here—there is no hope apart from repentance. Salvation is an impossibility without it. Repentance precedes forgiveness, (Acts 2: 38), and is essential for the blotting out of sins, (Acts 3: 19). Hence the seriousness of the error where repentance is not preached!
I may preach the love of God loud and clear, far and wide, but unless people repent they will not be saved. One would not disparage the love of God—it is the source of the Glad Tidings—but to preach love and leave out repentance is not the Gospel. Some may accuse me of being pedantic but it is far from being simply an argument about words. I repeat, a repentance–less Gospel is not God’s Glad Tidings. It may masquerade as such, but it is nothing but a lie of Satan, another Gospel (Compare Gal. 1: 6–7). Perhaps the idea of repentance seems too negative in today’s “love–gospel”—but we are not here to construct a gospel to suit our opinions, but to accept the one God has given. Christianity is not about choice, but obedience. Much better preach a Gospel that saves souls than one that appeals to our emotions and sentimentality.
In fact, to preach the love of God without speaking of the need for repentance is to not preach the love of God at all. It is because He loves us that God “commandeth all men every where to repent”, (Acts 17: 30; AV). “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long–suffering to us–ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3: 9; AV, my emphasis).
So what is repentance? “Repent” is the translation of the Greek verb, metanoeo, and means to have another mind, to change the mind—particularly in respect of sin, self and God. It must immediately be distinguished from metamellomai, to regret, which simply desires that what is done may be undone, (the remorse of Judas, (Matt. 27: 3), is an example of this). True repentance implies a change of heart, remorse is simply a selfish dread of consequences. We see an example of genuine repentance in the publican that went up into the temple to pray, (Luke 18: 9–14):”And the tax–gatherer, standing afar off, would not lift up even his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, O God, have compassion on me, the sinner”. He took a right attitude with respect to sin, self and God and as a consequence went down to his house justified, (v14). With repentance, I acknowledge that God is right, and that I am wrong.
Scripture elsewhere speaks of works meet for repentance, (Acts 26: 20), indicating that the change of mind, if genuine, has practical effects. Baptism was the sign of repentance in John’s day, (Mark 1: 4), but he also spoke of the vital necessity of it being proved as real: “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance”, (Matt. 3: 8; AV). I may even appear to have repented in the eyes of men, but what really counts is repentance towards God, (Acts 20: 21).
So what kind of gospel have I believed? Was it God’s Glad Tidings? (1 Thess. 2: 9). Was it a Gospel of “repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20: 21)? A solemn statement of the Lord is recorded for our sober consideration, (and He uses the word which indicates genuine repentance): “Ninevites shall stand up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and behold, more than Jonas [is here]”, (Matt. 12: 41, my emphasis). Be not amongst the “generation” that is religious, will later be remorseful, but found no place for repentance, (Compare Heb. 12: 17).