In previous lessons, we have seen the wonderful provision that God has made for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have seen that this work of God for us was designed to reverse all the effects of man’s rebellion against God. All the bad things that we deserve were put on Jesus at the cross, while all the blessings of the Kingdom that belong to Jesus we share in through the cross and the resurrection.
We have also begun to consider the fact that salvation is by grace and what this means. It is by the grace of God that we can be fully accepted by Him as our Father, and live the kind of life that pleases Him. For more information on the multi-faceted Grace of God, see the corresponding lesson.
No amount of religious work or obedience to God’s commandments on our part can BUY God’s blessings. JESUS bought these blessings for us at the cross. We can never say that through our works we merit any part of God’s salvation. God’s salvation is freely available. We are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph 2:8-9).
However, no one can receive full peace with God who still wants to fight against God and rebel against His Will. God’s will is that we be reconciled to Him. The repentance that we need to have is that turning away from self to God where we want God to fill us, free us, change us and work in us.
Jesus told us that “repentance and the remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (Lk. 24:47). Although salvation is a gift, only those who repent and believe the gospel receive that gift. This is not to imply that only those fully blameless in heart have access to God. However, the Scripture is full of warnings against turning back to a lifestyle of sin and rebellion after receiving a knowledge of the truth. (Heb. 10:26-31; 2 Peter 2:20-21). Therefore our repentance from dead works does not make us deserve God’s forgiveness, but it is one of the two conditions for receiving that forgiveness. You cannot have Jesus as Savior but reject Him as Lord and Master. Jesus is a gracious and patient master but there are times when He makes it very clear that we cannot go on with Him unless we let go of certain things.
Also, know that is by God’s grace that we can be willing to repent. It is a dangerous thing to refuse God’s grace when it comes to us. It usually comes when, by one means or another, we have Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death on the cross painted before the eyes of our heart. God never wants us to forget Jesus, nor his sacrifice. Instead, we need to keep looking to Him. That is the key to overcoming sin.
We will look at this important doctrine of repentance more closely now.
What is Repentance?
What Repentance is not.
1. Repentance is not a way of dressing, or a way of speaking. It is not women putting a covering on their head. Nor is it going to an evangelical church. Nor is it using religious words like “brother, sister”. You can do all these things and still not repent.
2. Repentance is not merely feeling sorry that you sinned or did wrong. It is not an emotion. Emotion and sorrow for sin normally accompany repentance, but it is possible to feel sorry, remorseful and even weep without truly repenting.
What it is.
Repentance is a serious change of mind leading to a change of direction. The Greek word (metanoia) means “to change one’s mind” while the Hebrew word implies a change of direction and also a horror over sin. Dead works are any works which are not of faith, since whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23). In fact, unbelief is at the root of all sin. It is only through faith in Christ – knowing who He is and what He has promised us – that we can overcome sin.
Dead works are works contrary to the Word of God. They include the works of the flesh mentioned in Galatians 5:19-21.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
God says that those who practice such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. Anything not done in love is a “dead work” (1 Corinthians 16:14). Any religious work done in the power of man alone is a “dead work” because it has not the life of God in it. The heartless observances of religious tradition that men perform are all “dead works”. Even prayer, sacrifice and church attendance can be in the class of dead works when the heart turns away from God and His Word (Proverbs 28:9).
The fundamental repentance necessary to be right with God is the recognition that we need not only Jesus’ sacrifice to deal with our sin, but we also Jesus Christ in our lives every day. Everyone is either moving towards Jesus or away from Him. When we willfully move away from Him, for any reason, and do not reverse this trend through seeking Him, we cannot have true biblical assurance of salvation. “The Lord knows who are His, and let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19).
As we move on with the Lord we will come across further areas where we need to repent. God gives us time to repent. He said of Jezebel, “I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, but she did not repent.” (Revelation 2:21). If we fail to repent in time, there will come judgments in increasing severity. Ultimately, if sin is serious enough and persistent enough, it will take you to eternal hell, even if you once truly believed in Christ. Therefore take heed to yourself.
Repentance from dead works means to realize that works without the faith, life and love of God in them are wrong, and to turn away from them from the heart. It involves renouncing all religious pride, all independence from God and all unclean or dishonest practices. It involves a change of heart and a change of lifestyle. It is done by putting total faith in Christ – who He is and what His Word tells us. Repentance happens as we yield to the conviction of the Spirit of God.
John the Baptist and Paul both taught that men and women who repent must “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). This means not only to feel sorry or say that you have sinned but to change behavior and seek to make restitution where needed for past sins against others. Often it involves also humbling yourself before those you have wronged. It means living a new life according to the will of God. Paul taught everywhere that men should “repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.” (Acts 26:20).
For example, if you have hurt someone – contact them and apologize. If you have stolen from someone, confess it, return the goods or give back the money with interest. If you just don’t have anything to give back still confess it and recognize your debt to that person or institution. If you have any complaints about others, forgive them as Christ has forgiven you (Colossians 3:13; Mk 11:25). If you have been sinning, stop sinning. Stop being selfish. Give your life to God and seek to please Him.
“Truly these times of ignorance God has overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30)
Is Repentance Essential?
This is a very important issue which is not well explained even in many protestant churches. The kind of repentance we are talking about is not often presented as a condition of salvation. Much modern evangelism plays down the importance of repentance for fear that people will be unwilling to receive Jesus if it is presented like this. The result is that many people who have been “led to Christ” are not changed! The dominion of sin in their life is left substantially unchallenged. People become half-hearted, lukewarm, ungrateful “Christians” who are still bound to sin more than they are to Christ. Never being deeply convinced of sin, righteousness and judgment, they view the gospel as a kind of offer to be tried out. Most “converts”, becoming disappointed with the results they experience or, being tempted, never stay long enough in the church to find out what God’s Word says about repentance. Those converts who do stay many times settle down into the commonly accepted and practised idea that we don’t have to really go after God and get rid of sin. Yet the Bible tells us to lay aside not only the sin which most easily entangles us, but ALSO any weights, things in our life that reduce our effectiveness as Christians (Hebrews 12:1,2).
The word of God must be our authority on this question of the need for repentance. What did Jesus and the apostles say?
From the Teaching of Jesus:
“Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mk. 1:15)
“… Unless you repent you will perish.” (Luke 13:3) This clearly refers to more than physical death, since all the apostles died physically, yet we can be sure than all except Judas Iscariot were repentant men. Jesus here is saying, “Unless you turn from your sin you will go to hell.”
“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:30). Does this sound like Jesus is encouraging a casual attitude to any problems we might have with sin in our life? He is saying that we must get rid of anything that causes us to sin no matter how much it costs us, or we will go to hell.
Even God’s servants must repent or they may be condemned. “And that SERVANT who knew His master’s will and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be BEATEN with MANY STRIPES.” (Luke 12:47)
Christians are said to be branches in the vine of Jesus. Yet “Every branch IN ME (Jesus) that does not bear fruit He (the Father) takes away” (John 15:2). Jesus said, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:6)
“But HE WHO ENDURES TO THE END shall be saved.” (Mt. 24:13)
Repentance is not just a one-time event which guarantees our future relationship with God. Repentance is a lifestyle. While we have forgiveness in Christ even though we fall short of perfection, we walk on dangerously thin ice if we let ourselves grow lukewarm towards the Lord by letting “little” sins in that we think the Lord will tolerate. All such things need to be confessed, renounced and put away. We deceive ourselves if we justify these things by comparing ourselves with anyone else – even church leadership.
“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white, and I will not blot his name out of the Book of Life.” (Rev. 3:5). This promise is for those who overcome sin, not for those who are overcome by sin.
“But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 10:33)
It has been stated that either you are a missionary or a mission field.
“But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt. 6:15)
Don’t allow the poison of bitterness or resentment towards another to poison your heart. It could cost you not only your happiness now, but also even your eternal relationship with God.
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way which leads to destruction, and there are many who go by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13,14)
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but HE WHO DOES THE WILL OF MY FATHER IN HEAVEN.” (Mt 7.21). Jesus will say to many, “Depart from Me, you who practise lawlessness.”
Its wiser to base our practise on what Jesus said, not on what a preacher may say in his desire to please people and have a bigger budget.
From the Teaching of Paul …
“For if we keep on sinning wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:26,27)
Don’t think that Christ’s blood will save you while you harden yourself in WILFUL disobedience to God.
“in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8)
There is something to be obeyed in the gospel. True faith must lead to obedience (Romans 16:26; Romans 1:5).
“For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but towards you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.” (Romans 11:21, 22)
It is clear not only that we must repent, but also, we must remain repentant and keep turning from sin wherever we see it in our lives. Jesus said to the Christians at Ephesus, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5)
What do We Have to Repent From?
It is useless to tell people simply “repent from your sins” if they don’t know what repentance means and if they are not sure what could be their sins. Many times we are not fully aware of our sins. That is one reason God has given us the law – so that we could know our sins. All our life the Holy Spirit may show us things that displease God – attitudes, ways of talking, actions – and so it is not possible to make a complete list of all the things that God wants us to turn from. However, this list can help you to check your own heart and life and know what things really offend God. If any of these things exist in your life or have existed and remained unconfessed, write them down and confess them one by one before the Lord, in as much specific detail as your memory permits.
1. Any breaking of the essence of the ten commandments, especially the first one. Any idolatry (putting something or someone before God) must be renounced.
2. Unbelief and fear. (Rev. 21:8). Not believing or trusting God’s Word, or being afraid to put it into practise are root sins that lead to many other sins. Unbelief is a choice that God condemns. It is effectively calling God a liar.
3. Lack of love for God. How would you feel if your loved ones showed signs of being uninterested in you? How passionate are you for God? How much do you value His manifest presence in your life?
5. Anything that we defined above as “dead works“, especially the works of the flesh mentioned in Galatians 5:19-21, such as adultery, fornication, uncleanness, witchcraft, hatred and others.
6. Unthankfulness. We are to give thanks to God in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Colossians 3:17)
7. Prayerlessness. We are commanded to pray at all times in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18), without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). God gives His Holy Spirit to us to make this a possibility. If you despise or neglect the gift of the Holy Spirit, or refuse to walk in fellowship with God though you be baptised in the Spirit, you are committing sin and must repent.
8. Failure to give as God directs. If we don’t give to poor brethren as God directs, Jesus said we’ve not given to Him (Matthew 25:45). If we don’t give time and money to the church, and to God’s cause of world evangelism and discipleship, we have denied the Lordship of Christ over our lives.
9. Failure to be faithful to church and to fellowship. We should “exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today’, lest any of us be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). We are “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as we see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
10. Breaking promises (unfaithfulness). Many break their promises to God, and think nothing of breaking their promises to other people. The fruit of the Spirit includes faithfulness (reliability). Jesus said let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’, ‘No’. (James 5:12). We must do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
11. Failure to confess Christ before men. (Mt. 10:33). We are commanded to preach the gospel to all creation.
12. Failure to meditate on the Word. (Colossians 3:16; Proverbs 4:20-22). This in turn leads to a multitude of other occasions for sin. It leads to unbelief, foolishness and deception. Deception is the mother of failure.
13. Unwillingness to be discipled and to teach and disciple others. (Matthew 28:18-20)
14. Pride. Another root sin, by which we convince ourselves that we don’t need what God is saying or what God is promising. We consider ourselves good enough in ourselves when we are proud. Pride leads people to separate themselves from godly churches, to stop praying, to listen to other things before the Word, to love themselves more than God and not to listen to correction. Everyone that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 16:5)
15. Lying. All liars (those who don’t tell the truth) will burn in the lake of fire. (Revelation 21:8)
16. Cheating. Whenever you do to another what you don’t want done to yourself you are cheating.
17. Lack of love for the brethren. If you are unkind or thoughtless towards your brothers and sisters in Christ, you sin, and you must repent.
18. Gossip and other forms of evil speaking. This sin destroys more churches than sexual sins. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:15-18 exactly what to do if a Christian brother sins against us. He does not say to go to our friends and tell them first.
19. Gluttony. This is eating more food than is good for your prayer life or for your health. It also includes being focused on food. It is a major source of lack of spiritual power in the church and though it might be respectable in the eyes of some it is like smoking or drinking alcohol excessively in the eyes of God. (Proverbs 23:21; Luke 21:34; Philippians 3:18,19; Ezekiel 16:49; 1 Corinthians 6:19).
20. Unforgiveness. Any form of unforgiveness, including resentment and bitterness can cost us our relationship with God and must be repented of. (Mark 11:26; Matthew 6:14, 15)
21. Unwillingness to fulfill the calling of God on our lives, and to do the good works which God has prepared for us in advance. (Ephesians 2:10; Luke 12:47)
22. Love of the world (1 John 2:15-17). Related to this is the love of money, which is the root of all evils (1 Timothy 6:9-10). God wants us to use this world for His glory alone. When we use it for our selfish desires, we fall into these sins and become idolaters.
If God has convicted you of sin as you have been reading this teaching, the lack of knowledge of your sins is not your primary problem. God commands you to repent NOW (Acts 17:30) and if you truly look to Him He will enable you to do it. You need grace from God to repent but God will give this. Keys to overcoming sin are found in all these lessons, yet especially in the lessons on Sanctification, Deliverance, Faith and Grace. Be sure to study these lessons so that you will not struggle in a seemingly hopeless cycle of resolutions, self-effort, failure and re-dedication with regard to your walk with the Lord.
However, the question does arise, ‘What about those who don’t know their sin? Can they be saved? What about me if I somehow fail to confess and repent of some sin I am ignorance of? Does God judge everyone according to the same high standard of His Word?’
We can be saved if we are trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice and we have a heart for God. God does judge us though according to our knowledge and our opportunities. The thief on the cross was promised a place in heaven though he did nothing except cry out to Jesus for help. The more we know the more God expects. “To Him whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:47,48). We can’t play with known sin. Yet God loves us and has no pleasure in the condemnation of a sinner. A person who is trusting Jesus for salvation (not himself) and loving God according to the light he has will not be condemned because of sins of ignorance.
It is by grace (God’s loving work in our lives that we don’t deserve) that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8,9). It is through a living faith that we are saved, not by perfect obedience to the commandments of God’s moral law. If we have a living faith, we will seek God and by the Spirit do His will according to the knowledge God gives us. We are then justified even though we still fall short of the glory of God. Final judgment belongs to God alone. If we put the emphasis on our obedience and not Christ’s work on the cross then we fall into the error of legalism and struggling to earn God’s salvation through our efforts to keep the law and obey the letter of God’s Word.
We must therefore realise that God alone is the judge of others. We are not called to do this and we must be careful of falling into the trap of setting ourselves up as little judges. You don’t know for sure about some professing Christian ignorant of his mistakes if he is justified before God or not. Don’t judge that person. We should judge ourselves in the first place, with God’s help, so that we be not judged (1 Corinthians 11:31).
If we have the knowledge from God’s Spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16) then we should not doubt our salvation every time we sin or every time we suspect that there may be unknown sin in our lives. In this situation we can be confident of God’s acceptance of us – an acceptance that was purchased by Jesus and not by us.
The Blessing of Repentance
Repentance is not a negative thing, since it represents renouncing what is negative and turning to the Lord and His goodness. Repentance is a good gift for us – a blessing – that comes by the grace of God. We should ask God for more of this grace – without doubting for a moment that He gives us that grace and we can apply it immediately.
Although we can say that repentance is something for us to do, since God commands us to do it (Acts 17:30), yet we should also realise that fact that repentance is a gift. God is the giver of this gift. Acts 11:18 talks of God granting repentance unto life. Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him.” (John 6:44). Therefore you cannot come to God in repentance simply when it pleases you. You can only come when God calls you. Sin is so destructive of everything good and can take us to hell if we don’t repent. It follows therefore that this gift of repentance is a great blessing. It brings with it times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19). Jesus was sent to bless us, in turning every one of us from our iniquities (inner sins). (Acts 3:26)
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: “TODAY, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3: 7,8). Today is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2). Hell is full of people who said to the Lord, “Not today” just one time too many. Repentance is a blessing we should seek, both for ourselves and for others. It leads to the joy of salvation – righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Let us therefore ask God for a move of repentance and begin immediately to respond to everything the Spirit of God is nudging us to do.