Shelby G. Floyd
“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord“(Acts 3:19). This statement was made by the apostle Peter in a sermon delivered before the Jews in Solomon’s porch, a part of the temple of God at Jerusalem. This passage emphasizes the prominent place that repentance held in the preaching of the apostles. The preaching of repentance was also a prominent topic in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-2); of Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:17; 11:20-22); of the twelve who were sent out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mark 6:12); and likewise to the seventy who were sent out to preach to the people (Luke 10:1-16).
THE FIRST AND LAST WORDS OF CHRIST WAS THE PREACHING OF REPENTANCE
The first words of Jesus when he began his earthly ministry were words pleading for the people to repent of their sins: “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The last words of Christ before he ascended back into heaven were,
“Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). Thus the first and last words of Christ were the preaching of repentance.
THE PREACHING OF REPENTANCE WAS IMPORTANT TO THE APOSTLES
When the apostles were sent out under the second or the great commission of Jesus Christ, they preached repentance. On the day of Pentecost, when the great crowd of people asked Peter what they should do, he recognized that they already believed the word that he had preached; and therefore, his answer was, “repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). When Paul stood before the great high court of Athens, near the end of his sermon, he said, “and the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Therefore from this summary one can see that repentance held a very important place in the preaching of the apostles, and those who went before them.
WHAT IS REPENTANCE?
Repentance then is necessary for the remission of sins, and eternal life. But what is repentance? Many people have a very obscure idea of what they are to do when they are commanded to repent. With many people repentance is a sorrow for sin. Matthew says that, “when Judas saw that he was condemned, he repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood” (Matthew 27:3-4). Judas was sorry that he was condemned, but he was not sorry that he had betrayed Christ. He was not sorry to the point that he would change his life; for he went out and hanged himself, which indicated that his sorrow was of this world, and not a godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Godly sorrow then, precedes repentance, and is that which works repentance; therefore, it should not be confounded with repentance itself. Neither is repentance to be confounded with a change of life or reformation of life.
JOHN THE BAPTIST AND JESUS PREACHED REPENTANCE
John the Baptist told those who came out to his baptism, to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:7-8). The fruits of repentance refer to a change of life, and therefore, it is something that follows repentance. Therefore, repentance is something that is distinct from godly sorrow, and from a change of life. But what is it? On one occasion Jesus said, “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, a greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41). The men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah: but Christ was greater than Jonah, and yet, the people to whom he spoke refused to repent of their sins. But what did the people do in repenting at the preaching of Jonah? When Jonah finally decided to go into that great city of Nineveh, a population of a hundred and twenty thousand who did not know their left hand from their right hand; he preached unto the people saying, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” The people believed what Jonah preached to them and from the King on down to the lowliest person in the kingdom, they humbled themselves in sackcloth and ashes. “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (Jonah 3:10). The repentance of the Ninevehites then, consisted in their turning from their evil way, which began in a change of will, and issued forth in a change of life.
HAVE A CHANGE OF MIND BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!
In the Old Testament we read of Jacob and Esau. Esau was the first born which meant that he had right to the larger portion of his father’s inheritance. On one occasion Esau returned from hunting, and was very tired and hungry. Jacob offered him pottage to eat on the condition that he would sell his birthright, which he did. When he later realized what he had done; he could find no place for a change of mind. “For you know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Hebrews 12:16-17).
Therefore, repentance is simply a change of mind, produced by godly sorrow, and leading to a change of life. God is not willing that any person should perish, but he gives all men the privilege to come to repentance. Life is the boundary line of repentance.*
Copyright © 2018 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
*The Informer, October 25, 1972, by Shelby G Floyd.
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142