“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:32 (ESV)
Repentance is not a topic that most people desire to have a conversation over. Admitting that we have committed an offense that is needful of forgiveness or that would require a change in our behavior wars against our human nature. Yet, repentance and our need for it is foundational to Christianity and the message of the gospel. In fact, repentance is so foundational that the writer of Hebrews, encouraging his readers to go on to maturity, hints that repentance is an elementary doctrine of Christ (Hebrews 6:1).
Repentance and words associated with it, is mentioned between 50 and 60 times in the New Testament depending on which Bible version is being used. Repentance is not merely being remorseful for an action, but is also a reversal in behavior. It would be spiritual suicide to ignore serious consideration regarding repentance.
To understand our need of repentance we must understand the condition of the human heart in its natural state. We were all born into sin. We inherited our sin nature from our first parents, Adam and Eve. J.C. Ryle wrote that in general terms sin is “the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that is naturally engendered of the offspring of Adam. . . . therefore, in every person born into the world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.” We were in fact born children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).
Sin came into the world through one man, Adam. Death and condemnation came to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12,18). We did not become sinners because we sinned, we sinned because we were sinners. We loved to sin. No one had to convince us to sin, it just came naturally. It is because of God’s wrath toward our sin and the penalty of damnation that repentance is necessary. However, through repentance sin is forgiven, God’s wrath appeased and damnation avoided.
We mentioned that repentance is a foundational element to the message of the gospel. John the Baptist began his ministry with a call to repentance. Repentance was the core of his message. Luke records that John “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (3:3). After John was arrested and his ministry all but over the message of repentance continued. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus called sinners to repent. He not only preached repentance, he also commissioned his disciples, who “went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (Mark 6:12).
After Jesus’ ascension repentance continued to be a theme of the gospel. Peter’s sermons on the day of Pentecost were laced with calls for repentance (Acts 2:38; 3:19). And the apostle Paul, when speaking with King Agrippa, characterized his ministry as one that called people to “repent and turn to God performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:19-20).
Jesus told his disciples that the scriptures proclaim that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations in his name (Luke 24:47). That proclamation still applies to his disciples today and is necessary because God commands all people everywhere to repent. There is no forgiveness of sin without repentance. Be warned: God will one day judge the world by Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30-31).
Have you repented of your sins? If so, are you performing deeds in keeping with your repentance?
Scriptures for meditation: