‘“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:30, 31).”’
My dictionary defines repentance as, ‘deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition for a past sin, wrongdoing, or the like’ – also – ‘regret for any past action.’
From a biblical perspective this is a very shallow definition. The significance and importance of evangelical [saving] repentance cannot be understated. Without repentance there can be no salvation. Jesus came to save sinners (cf. Matthew 1:21; 9:12, 13; 1 Timothy 1:15), and at the start of His ministry He commanded everyone to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17).”’
This repentance is absolutely essential; for He came to save sinners – not the righteous: ‘When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance (Matthew 9:12, 13).”’
This means that everyone is in need of salvation; for absolutely everyone enters life as a sinner (Romans 3:23). The snag is we don’t realise our need of forgiveness – at least, that’s before God reveals to us our pitiful state before Him. He convicts (John 16:8) us of our sin and of His righteousness, and of the judgment to come. As rebellious creatures in the image of Adam we offend Him, and yet in His mercy He loves us to the extent that He sent His Son on a rescue mission to take away our sin by dying on a cross. We are washed clean by the blood of Jesus (Colossians 1:19, 20).
A key factor in the process of salvation is our repentance. So what exactly is involved in repentance?
Well, for a starters it’s not like the regret, or even remorse (Matthew 27:3) that Judas was struck with after his betrayal of Jesus for the gain of thirty pieces of silver. Judas had no change of heart, which is an essential factor of genuine repentance. Judas felt sorry for himself, and he couldn’t live with that burden of guilt; so he hung himself, and in some mysterious way he fell headlong into the Field of Blood (Matthew 27:3-10; Acts 1:13-20).
A person who genuinely repents, confesses his sins to God, and God refashions his mind so that he has a desire to live in obedience to Him. He has a determination to live for Him, and to His glory. He becomes a child of God (John 1:12), and a willing servant of Him (12:26).
The transformed ‘sinner’ to ‘saint’ first recognises and feels his guilt for his rebellion against God (cf. Psalm 51:4-6), but at the same time he trusts Him to forgive him (v. 9). He is abundantly grateful for the mercy of God, in that He sent His Son to die on a cross to give him eternal life (John 3:16).
In response to that great act of mercy his desire is not to sin (Psalm 51:10). By the enabling of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8; 14:26) he turns from sinning to God and consecrates himself to living a holy life – a life of walking with God in obedience to His commandments. In Paul’s words the sinner’s sorrow brings about a changed disposition: ‘For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10).’
Dear reader, if you have as yet not repented of your sins, please take note, that ‘now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).’ Leave it no longer; for you know not when the Lord will come again to judge in righteousness (Acts 17:31).
Peter reminds us: ‘The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).’
And John assures us: ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’