What About Repentance?
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 15. We will read the paragraph beginning with verse 1:

Luke 15:

1Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
2And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
3And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
4What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
5And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
6And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
7I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

Notice particularly verse 7:

Luke 15:

7I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

We have this passage of Scripture because it is one of many that discuss the theme of our meditation. We have begun a series of messages on the theme Simple Questions Often Asked . We are dealing with some very simple questions which may be old to you, but they are vital questions; they are often asked, and oftentimes folk don't have the answer for them.

For example, we have dealt with the question, “What does it mean to be saved? You talk about being saved, and what do you mean by that?” Then we have dealt with the question, “What does it mean to believe?” The two questions go together, of course. We had in mind what the Philippian jailer asked when he said to the Apostle Paul, “What must I do to be saved?”, and we had in mind the answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). We asked the question and answered it from the Word of God.

In your experience, after answering the question, “What does it mean to believe?”, you may have found it necessary to answer a number of other questions which begin with the words, “What about?”. No doubt you have said to someone, “All you need to do is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and he has said, “Well, what about repentance? What about baptism? What about works? What about…?” You cannot dismiss all of that with a wave of your hand and say, “Forget it.” You have to answer the question. So we are going to deal with the question, “What about repentance?”

Misconceptions About Repentance

You say it is all right to believe, sufficient to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but what about repentance? Doesn't a man have to repent? This question arises from a number of things; first, it arises from misinterpretation as to the meaning of repentance. If I were to ask you to give me a definition of repentance, I wonder what kind of answer I would get.

I daresay that instead of a definition, I would get a description because when most folk think about repentance, they think of tears, they think of agony of soul, they think of some kind of self reproach, they think of some kind of tortuous experience where they spend a great deal of time moaning and bemoaning and begging and imploring God to have mercy on them, shedding tears, lying awake at night, etc.

Because people describe repentance in this fashion, most of the time they measure the validity of their Christian experience, or the experience of others, on the basis of the kind of repentance which is manifested when the individual believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. I have through the years even heard comments such as, “You know, I don't believe he was very sincere when he trusted Christ. He didn't even cry one tear.” I have heard individuals say, “You know, I doubt very much the reality of his experience; he didn't seem to be particularly sorry that he was a sinner; he didn't seem to be particularly sorry that he was the kind of man he was.” The validity of Christian experience was measured on the basis of the description, or the degree, of repentance.

No Repentance in Salvation

Some of the things I am saying to you, and some of the things I will be saying, you will tend to reject unless you think very carefully because people are accustomed to the line of thinking which I have suggested. Before you tune me out and refuse to hear anything else that I have to say, let me suggest to you that sorrow produces repentance, but sorrow is not repentance. There may be tears when an individual repents, but the tears are not themselves repentance.

The Scriptures are very plain about that, and I offer you some consideration along the line that I have suggested. There are approximately 150 verses which reveal your responsibility in relation to salvation. We are not talking about God's responsibility now; we are talking about your responsibility. There are approximately 150 verses which reveal that responsibility, and if you examine them very carefully, you will not find the word repentance mentioned in one of them; repentance is not a human responsibility in relation to salvation as is so often suggested by individuals who say that in order to be saved, you must believe and repent. That is not true. There is not one passage of Scripture that will bear that out.

Repentance as a Change of Mind

Repentance as a need in the life of individuals is very plainly stated in the Word of God, but it must be put in its proper place, and in answer to the question, “What about repentance?”, we will endeavor to put repentance where the Bible puts it.

Let us begin by noticing the literal meaning of the word repentance . The word repentance is the translation of the Greek word metanoieo , which actually is a combination of two words. One of them is meta , which means “afterwards.” The other is noieo , which means “to think differently.” The idea, very literally rendered, is to think afterwards, to think differently, or to have a change of mind. That is all that the word repentance means. It means to have a change of mind—nothing more than that.

That change of mind may be produced because of some great sorrow in your life, or because of the realization of the horribleness of sin, or because of some particular act for which you are sorry, and that change of mind may be accompanied by tears, by sobbing, by groaning—depending upon the individual personality or the individual situation—but the word repentance means nothing more than a change of mind.

You will further understand repentance in its proper place if you will accept what I say when I suggest that there are at least 61 places in the Scripture where the words repentance or repent are used. Those 61 places in the Scripture can be divided into six categories; that is, there are six categories under which the subject of repentance is discussed. Three of them have no particular bearing on our present discussion.

Repentance in Matthew 21

The first of those three is revealed in chapter 21 of the Gospel of Matthew, where the word is used without any particular spiritual emphasis, simply to describe a change of mind. You are familiar with the story; the Lord Jesus Christ said:

Matthew 21:

28But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.
29He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.
30And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.
31Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.

Notice that the first man said, “I am not going to work in the vineyard,” and he went out for whatever pursuit he had in mind, but when he got away, he got to thinking about it. He said, in so many words, “It isn't right; I ought to be in the vineyard working,” so he turned around and went back into the vineyard. That is the simplest basic meaning of the word repent , and as you can tell from the text and from the discussion, it is nothing more than a change of mind.

Repentance in Romans 11

Turn with me, please, to the book of Romans, chapter 11, and notice verse 29, as I suggest to you the second of the three categories which have no particular bearing on the discussion of the moment:

Romans 11:

29For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

Here is one of two places where repentance is used in connection with God. We are told that God never repents once He gives a gift, or once He presents a calling; using the literal meaning of the word, we could say that God never changes His mind once He gives a gift, God never changes His mind once He calls an individual, a nation, or a group.

Repentance in Matthew 3

Turn with me please, to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 3, as I give you the last of the three categories which have no particular bearing on our present discussion. Repentance is used simply as a change of mind, as we have suggested to you. It is used in relation to the fact that God does not change His mind. Now I say, for want of a better term, that it is used in a dispensational sense, applicable only to the nation of Israel in the instance which we present. Keep in mind that there are many more than these:

Matthew 3:

1In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
2And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

This is another indication of how repentance is used in the Scripture. It is a message which was preached to the nation of Israel relative to the proffered kingdom at the hands of their Messiah. There is a clearer passage of Scripture along the same line, dealing with yet another thing about which we might say, “What about…?”, but which we will not discuss in detail at this time. I refer to chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles, verse 37:

Acts 2:

37Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
38Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Here repentance is associated with baptism, but only from a dispensational standpoint, referring to the nation of Israel and to no one else.

Repentance as Believing

May I suggest that the categories into which the word repentance falls which are applicable to our need as individuals in this age of grace are three in number. Turn with me to II Peter, chapter 3, and notice especially verse 9:

II Peter 3:

9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Notice the word repentance . Here the word is used as a synonym for believing . Believing and repentance in passages of Scripture such as this are used interchangeably, suggesting to us that there can be no believing without repentance, but not suggesting to us that the believing is one step, repentance is another step, and the sincerity of the believing is determined by the degree of effective repentance. You could just as well read the verse:

II Peter 3:

9…it is not God's will that any should perish, but that all should come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We emphasize again that repentance represents a change of mind. In relation to sinners the Scripture is very explicit as to the object of that change of mind.

A Change of Mind about God

Turn with me, please, to chapter 17 of the Acts of the Apostles, as I suggest to you the second of the last three categories into which the Scriptures related to repentance fall. The Spirit of God emphasizes that repentance should always be directed on the part of sinners to God, never to the Lord Jesus Christ:

Acts 17:

29Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.
30And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
31Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

Notice, God commands all men everywhere to repent. What does that mean? That God commands all men to spend a great deal of time in shedding tears, in fasting, in begging, in mutilating themselves as though they were expected to perform some meritorious work to gain the approval of God? No. This passage of Scripture says that you have been thinking that God is some sort of individual that you can compress into an image of gold, or silver, or stone, and that that is not true; you have got to change your mind toward God.

“There is no way,” Paul said, “for you to receive the truth that I have for you unless you realize that God is different from what you think; that God does not dwell in temples made with hands; that God has appointed a day in which He will judge the entire world. You have got to recognize something different from what you do now if you are to believe.”

A Change of Mind Concerning Sin

Not only is repentance on the part of sinners commanded in relation to the Person of God, but repentance is commanded in relation to sinful man on the part of sinners. If men do not change their minds and feel as God feels about sinful acts, their hearts will never be turned to Him.

Turn with me, please, to the book of Revelation for a perfect illustration of what is going to occur at a future time upon the earth when sinners will be made conscious of their sin, but will refuse to do anything about it. God speaks in this chapter of the judgment that is going to be poured out upon the earth during the time of tribulation, and he describes the reaction of men to that judgment in verse 20:

Revelation 9:

20And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:
21Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.

They did not change their minds, and consequently they did not change their course of action and repent in the sense we have just described. Repentance, then, is used in relation to sinners as something that they must do toward God. The Scriptures remind us that repentance must be preached throughout all the world, in the sense that it is repentance toward God, (listen carefully now) and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. It is possible for men to repent and never be saved. It is possible for men to change their minds and never trust the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. The repentance is toward God, the faith is toward the Lord Jesus Christ.

Repentance for Believers

The third and last category that I will leave with you, the last of six, is related to the subject of repentance in relation to believers and God, and to believers and one another. It is necessary for believers to repent. Turn with me, please, to Paul's second Corinthian letter and notice chapter 7 as I suggest to you that sinners are never commanded to believe and repent, but Christians are expected to repent because they have believed, when there is any reason for their repentance.

You will recall the incident. The Corinthian believers had been tolerating in their midst a man who was living in fornication, in open sin. They were not at all concerned about it. They did not deal with it in the way that God had prescribed. They did not even pray about it. The Apostle Paul wrote them a letter and said, “I am greatly concerned about what I hear. Something ought to be done about it. Your attitude is not right.” In the second letter he discussed with them the fact that they had dealt with the problem:

II Corinthians 7:

9Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance:…

Sorrow and Repentance

You see, when the Apostle Paul wrote the first letter, he said some rather harsh things, and folks said, “You have made those people feel bad.” He said, “I hope I have made them feel bad enough to do something about what they are doing.” You know, it is amazing how bad you can feel and not feel bad enough to do what you ought to do. Paul said, “I hope I have made them feel bad enough to do what they ought to do.” He said in verse 9, “I rejoice that ye were made sorry, but the thing that I am most thankful for is that you sorrowed to repentance:

II Corinthians 7:

9…for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.

The purpose of our making you sorry was not to hurt you, but to make you realize the need for a change of mind.” Notice verse 10:

II Corinthians 7:

10For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

Because of the close relationship of sorrow to repentance in this passage of Scripture, sorrow, as I suggested earlier in our remarks, oftentimes is confused with repentance. But sorrow only brings forth repentance; it brings forth the desired change of mind. That this was a change of mind on their part is indicated in verse 11. Remember, I said that here was a man living in their midst in open sin, and they were absolutely unconcerned about it, but when the truth was brought to their attention, their attitude changed. They changed their minds, as is indicated in verse 11:

II Corinthians 7:

11For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you…

The Change in the Corinthians

What a sense of anxiety this sin created, what a desire to clear themselves. Before, they had shrugged their shoulders and said, “What difference does it make?” Now they got concerned. Now they had a deep desire to clear themselves, and then, as so often happens when we are concerned about some thing that isn't right, they became indignant. Paul said:

II Corinthians 7:

11…what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge!…

You can sense how thoroughly their minds were changed. I would suggest to you that, as there was a need for repentance on the part of these believers in the Corinthian church, there is a need for repentance on the part of believers today.

Confessing Sin

Here you will find repentance in conjunction with confession. The only reason that you and I as Christians confess sin is that we agree with God about it. God says, “This is sin in the believer's life; this is breaking fellowship.” If you ignore what God says about it, and say, “I don't think it is sin,” you are not going to confess it, and you are going to go right on walking in darkness, erroneously assuming that you are in fellowship with the Lord. If, when through the Word of God the Holy Spirit ministers conviction to your heart, you recognize it as sin, you are going to change your mind about it. You are going to say it is sin. When you realize it is sin, you are going to confess it, and when you have confessed it, it will be forgiven, and you will be cleansed.

Repentance Among Believers

I said that repentance is necessary on the part of believers in relation to God, and on the part of believers in relation to one another. Read, when you can, Luke, chapter 17, verses 3-4, where we are told that if an individual brother does something against us and repents and comes to us and asks our forgiveness, we should forgive him; and if when the words are hardly dry on paper, because they have been written in ink, or before the words have cleared the immediate vicinity, because they have been spoken, the brother does the same thing again, or even another thing, and repents, we are to forgive.

I would suggest to you that one of the greatest deterrents to fellowship with God on the part of believers is the lack of repentance, and I would suggest to you that one of the greatest deterrents to a good relationship, which we might call fellowship , among believers is the lack of repentance. It is so hard to say, “I am sorry,” isn't it? It is so hard to say, “I am wrong about this.” It is so hard to go to a fellow believer and say, “Yes, I did say that, and at the time I thought it, but I have repented, I have changed my mind, and I want you to forgive me.”

I would suggest that, instead of being overly concerned about the evidences of repentance on the part of sinners by which to judge the validity of their experience, we should be more concerned about the lack of repentance among ourselves as believers toward one another and toward God. May I suggest to you that the individual who comes to the Lord Jesus Christ will need that repentance, that change of mind, that will cause him to believe in Jesus Christ; but the unbeliever will not need to spend long hours of agonizing prayer and bucketfuls of tears to propitiate God. He has already been propitiated by the blood of Christ.

A Child's Conversion

May I say a word to some of you who wonder how you can be sure that little children are saved when they make a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Many folk are concerned about that. One way that you can eliminate your fear is to recognize that the emotionalism which some people expect to accompany repentance is not a measure of the validity of any experience.

Somehow or other, if a little child with beaming face accepts the simple truth of the Gospel which you present, you may say, “Well, I wonder if he really believes,” and then some of you go to needless lengths and spend endless time confusing the child, to make sure that he does understand. You just cannot believe that he could be sincere, if he doesn't cry a bucketful of tears. Somehow you cannot believe that he could find the Lord Jesus Christ unless he spends the amount of time which in your imagination is necessary to propitiate God as he prays and begs God to be saved.

Conclusion

Remember this: God saves men on the basis of the finished work of His Son. The good news of the Gospel was meant to be received at its face value, and men who receive it are saved. If they cry, they may; if they laugh, they may; but it has absolutely nothing to do with their faith in Jesus Christ.

Prayer

We thank Thee, our Father, that the Word of God is plain and clearly understandable. Give us that insight granted by the Holy Spirit to every believer, that we may see the plain teaching of God's Word. Grant that those whose hearts have been confused by the misinterpretations of men will be opened to the clear presentation of salvation by simple faith in Christ. This we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.


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