by Melvin Elliott
REPENTANCE is one of the great themes of the Bible. Inasmuch as all have sinned, no one
shall see God in peace who has not genuinely repented. "And the times of this ignorance God
winked at: but now commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30). Observe, please,
"all men" and "every where." This does not leave out one single responsible person wherever he
may be. If men and women live in space or on Mars, all of them will have to repent. There is not
one exception. It is a command of God that is universal!
Not only is this fact sustained by many scriptures, the converse, that unrepentant men will
perish, is also taught by many passages such as II Peter 3:9. Since such is so emphatically set
forth in the scriptures, it is certainly essential that we know what is involved in repentance and
how we may comply with it.
It is fortunate indeed for man that those things which pertain to salvation are so clearly set forth
that it does not take special intelligence nor education to understand them. We are not given the
details of Paul's thorn in the flesh or about Lot's wife, but specific understanding of such things
are not essential to salvation. However, those things essential to salvation are so clearly and
completely taught that little more than a casual reading of scripture makes abundantly clear what
God requires. Such is the case with repentance.
THE MEANING OF REPENTANCE
What is meant by the word repentance? If one desires to take a moment to consider the original
language, he easily learns that the word means to change one's mind or attitude toward sin. The
results or proof of repentance is a reformed life. This is dearly set forth in the scriptures. For
example, a man asked his son to go work but he said he would not do so, "...but afterward he
repented and went" (Matthew 21:28-29). He "repented" and "went." The repenting was not the
going nor was the going the repenting. The son repented, changed his mind toward his father's
request, and went, or reformed his conduct Paul, "...thought with myself that I ought to do many
things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9). Paul had to change his mind and
reform his life to be right with God (Acts 26:1-20).
John the Baptist demanded of certain people that they, "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for
repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Evidently, John observed nothing in these people to suggest they had
repented. As reformation of life or "fruits" follows a genuine change of mind, John had proof that
these had not repented and therefore refused to baptize these people. As Paul demanded the
same, such applies to us today (Acts 26:20). In view of these things, that repentance is a change
of mind followed by a reformed life and it is demanded, how in the name of common sense can
we have those who teach that one in an admitted adulterous marriage can be baptized and then
this same relationship becomes pure? Baptism does not make a liar truthful, a horse thief
honest nor adultery moral!
This is what repentance is designed to do. One must change his mind about lying, stealing and
adultery, which leads to reformation of conduct and then and only then does he become truthful,
honest and pure in morals. Although repentance results in this changed conduct, it does not
remit the sins of one's former life nor will it put one in Christ. This is the role of baptism upon
one's repentance. As repentance demands a reformed life, an unreformed life proves that
repentance had not occurred. If one does not truly repent, although he may be sorry for sin, he
will perish either dry or wet by a so-called baptism. Paul tells us, "...godly sorrow worketh
repentance..." (II Corinthians 7:10). But it is not repentance.
Some will probably charge that we are requiring "penance." To charge a thing does not make it
so. Where is the proof? The etymology of the word is far different than the word used by
inspiration. Man (Catholicism) requires penance but God requires a changed mind, a turning
from sin and returning to God. Another has said, "Sackcloth for the body and remorse for the soul
are not to be confused with a determined abandonment of sin and return to God. Not material
sacrifice but a spiritual change, is the inexorable demand of God in both dispensations" (Psalm
51:17; Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 6:20; Hosea 6:6). (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,
Vol. IV, p. 2559)
MOTIVES FOR REPENTANCE
What are some motives for repentance? We continue in Acts 17. "Because he hath appointed a
day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness..." (v. 30). I believe righteousness here
to be the sum total of his will. God hates sin — we must hate sin. God will condemn
unrighteousness — we must condemn unrighteousness. Also, God loves good — we must love
good. God loves truth and right — we must love truth and right. Man must see the horrors of sin
and the beauty of holiness. David said, "Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things
to be right; and I hate every false way" (Psalm 119:128). With this insight we understand why, "...
the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance" (Romans 2:4).
John held out the kingdom of God as a motive for repentance (Matthew 3:2). We learn that, "...a
sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom" (Hebrews 1:8). The sceptre was a
symbol of authority. That which would rule in the kingdom would be righteousness. Christ's
administration was to be carried out in justice and right judgment. The kingdom is the manifold
wisdom of God from the ages by which God had planned to redeem all those who hated sin and
turned to God because they loved righteousness (Ephesians 3:8-12). The reign of
righteousness necessitated repentance. Therefore, seeing the nature of the kingdom, man must
repent, change his mind, that he may, like Christ, hate iniquity and love righteousness (Hebrews
RETURN TO THE OLD WAY OF LIFE
As one grows in "grace and knowledge," his resolve to shun evil and pursue righteousness is
strengthened. Thus, as one understands more and it becomes clear that some belief or practice
is improper, he immediately reforms himself. In this fashion one is continually "fine tuning" his
life in turning away even from the appearance of evil to doing all that God requires. For your good,
please read Colossians 3:1-17.
This in no way is to be understood to mean that man cannot revert to corruption both in mind and
practice. Wrxen Simon desired to buy the ability to impart the Spirit, it suggests to me that his
mind had turned to his old way of pretending greatness. Peter confirms this in that he said the
thought of his heart was not right. Simon had to "repent...and pray." Obviously, he had to change
his mind, ask for forgiveness and live accordingly. If he had never been really converted,
inspiration would not have been ignorant of it, and he would have been instructed to sincerely
repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38; 8:9-25).
GOD'S SECOND LAW OF PARDON
Here we have what we may call God's second law of pardon. It is for one who is already in the
church. When a child of God turns away and loves unrighteousness again, he obviously has
turned away — fallen — from God's grace because such is appropriated by repentance (Jonah 3:
8-10). Therefore, he must be restored to his former mind of faith and love for that which is good
(Revelation 2:5); and upon his return to God, he will hear his prayer for forgiveness.
The religious world fails to recognize this vital matter because of their holding to a relic of Calvin:
the perseverance of the saints. Of more immediate concern is the failure of brethren to comply
with this requirement. The New Testament establishes that a brother who sins is to repent,
confess his sins and ask forgiveness of both the church and God (Luke 16:8; 17:3-4; Acts 8:22).
Today, when doctrine is violated and/or people abused, we often see the guilty in effect asking
what it will take to satisfy the offended and especially what it will take to silence those who point
out his error. In this way, many only want settlement and appeasement.
Further, we often see and hear of those who say they didn't do what they should or have been
involved in error but do nothing further about it. Do not we know that recognition and even
admittance of error is not repentance? How many times have you seen elders, promoters of
harmful projects and programs, our college administrators and professors, false teachers and
those who supported them, say they were wrong? When have they said: We have sinned and
repent — we ask your forgiveness? What we have seen is reorganization, change of policy,
firings, threats, resignations, slander, politics, pressure, compromise and cover-ups. So sin in
compounded, the effects broadened, and fertile soil is cultivated wherein further conniption
Christ said if one comes saying ".../ repent: thou shalt forgive him" (Luke 17:4). When one conies
on the basis of the above and we decide to "sweep it under the rug," we have bidden the sinful
"God speed" and have become "partakers of his evil deeds," because we have followed the
rebellious and not God's law (II John 10-11). All such is rebellious and presumptuous sin. If I
remember correctly, a preacher of years gone by said the following. "I found some old goats that
had wandered on the mountain of sin so long and fed on the devil's commons until they didn't
know sneezeweed from clover!"
Some brethren (unfaithful) must think highly of themselves to so fly in the face of truth. Surely the
Lord could also say of this generation, "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" (Matthew 12:41).
"And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men everywhere to
repent" (Acts 17:30)