"Repent!"—a word long shouted by hellfire-and-brimstone preachers—is tailored to "scare the hell" out of people and put the fear of God in people. In God's church, we might half-jokingly use it to inform others of a bad attitude and the need to change. It can become a catch-all phrase that loses its God-emphasized meaning in our lives, yet the Bible frequently uses "repent" and similar words. On that basis, true godly repentance is of primary importance.
We often ask people, "When were you baptized?" but it is quite rare to ask, "When did you repent?" Yet repentance and baptism are linked biblically and inseparable. How does one repent?
1. What does "repentance" mean? Exodus 13:17; Jeremiah 4:28; Matthew 21:29.
Comment: In these three instances, the KJV uses "repent" to show the changing of the mind about a matter, its simplest meaning apart from spiritual implications. The NKJV uses "change their minds," "relent" and "regretted" in place of the more archaic "repent."
2. What is initial repentance and why is it tied so closely to baptism? Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38-47; Acts 8:27-40.
Comment: Christ links repentance with the Kingdom of God and believing the gospel. Once one hears the true gospel and believes it, he begins to change the way he thinks. Peter ties repentance with forgiveness of past sins and God's giving of His Spirit. Once the Ethiopian eunuch heard Philip's explanation of the Bible, he changed his thinking (repented) and was baptized. Initial repentance includes recognition, acceptance and belief of the true gospel and making changes in one's life to conform to the new way.
3. What part does emotion play in repentance? Psalm 51; Jude 23; II Corinthians 7:10.
Comment: When David saw the enormity of his sin, he realized he had hurt God and His purpose. His sorrow, chagrin and remorse reached deeply into his heart, mind and entire being. Our opposition to God should create a similar deep emotional response in us, for we have all played major roles in our Savior's death. He died for our sins. Emotional sorrow alone is not the answer, however. Paul says godly sorrow produces repentance (change) toward salvation, while worldly sorrow is like saying, "I'm sorry I got caught. I'll be more careful next time I sin."
4. Of what does one repent? Job 42:6; Romans 7:14-18; Ezekiel 14:6.
Comment: Job finally recognizes that he had met the enemy—himself! He does not say, "I abhor my sins" but "I abhor myself," recognizing that the problem was not just specific sins—what he was caused him to fall short of God's righteousness. As explained in Romans 7, we repent not only of what we have done but what we are that caused us to do what we did!
5. Is repentance a one-time accomplishment or a continuing process? Matthew 3:8; Galatians 5:16-25.
Comment: "Bear[ing] fruits worthy of repentance" implies a process. Just as a tree does not produce fruit overnight, a Christian does not fully repent overnight. It is a lifelong process of making changes, and over time we will produce the fruit of the Spirit more consistently than the works of the flesh.
6. Do other words mean essentially the same as repentance? Isaiah 6:10; Psalm 51:13; Matthew 13:15; 18:3; Acts 3:19; Romans 12:1-3.
Comment: In simple terms, convert also means "to change," as in ice to water or dollars to pesos. Theologically, it means changing from sinner to saint, filthy to holy, worldly to godly. In Acts 3:19, Peter uses "repent" and "convert" together. Both entail a recognition of self and sin and beating a hasty path to righteousness. Paul explains the repentance, conversion and salvation process by contrasting two terms. We must not be conformed to the world ("similar to, identical to, in agreement with or compliant"), but transformed ("changed in composition or structure, character or condition, converted"). Repentance means changing one's whole life!
7. How deep is this change to be? II Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 2:5.
Comment: We are to come to have the very mind of Jesus Christ, bringing absolutely every thought into captivity or control. This is the highest form of mind control—where God expects us to control our own minds.
8. Are there penalties if we fail to repent? Luke 9:62; 13:5; 14:25-33; Revelation 2:5, 16, 22; 3:3, 19.
Comment: Our salvation hinges on a lifetime of repentance from dead works and overcoming in faith. Thus, we are counseled before baptism to be sure we have counted the cost before we take on the awesome opportunity of eternal life. Once we take hold of the plow, we cannot turn back.
9. Are there rewards for repentance? II Corinthians 7:10; Acts 3:19; 2:38; James 5:19; Psalm 51:13.
Comment: Through repentance we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sin, and the grace and acceptance of God as joint-heirs with Christ. With it comes faith and hope that we will one day rule with Christ for eternity. We not only benefit, but we can also help others turn from their way. Repentance is arduous, but the rewards are beyond human experience and comprehension! Perhaps it is as formidable as the hellfire-and-brimstone preachers contend, but through Jesus Christ, it is positive and quite possible. "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!"