by Roland W. Keith
God had a plan. From the very beginning. Once Adam and Eve fell from grace God began to work through selected men (and women) to redeem mankind. From our perspective it seems like a long arduous effort fraught with failure (on man’s part) and disappointment. God’s initial covenant led us from Abraham to the Law of Moses to the Messiah and the Law of Grace. The plan was based on the foundation of God’s love for man and His grace which He extended to us. We hear a lot about the free gift of God, without appreciating the fact that it is only free to the recipient (man). Like all things of value, it cost somebody something. For humanity salvation is free, but only because God paid the price for us.
The Old and New Testaments are a combined history of God’s plan of salvation enacted across the history of mankind. It is a history of success and disappointments, of joy and wrath, of love and unmerited opportunity and patience. It is a story of a Creator and His love for one special creation. Yes, we are special, but only because God has deemed us so. So special that God sent His Only Son to deliver the final, perfect covenant to us personally and to die to put it into effect. Today God no longer works through selected individuals but through the body of Christ, His church, to reach man with the gospel and the final testament founded on the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is a plan that calls upon man to turn back to God, to repent of his sinful ways and to accept the gift of salvation.
The call to repentance echoes down through time and God’s word as delivered to His prophets: “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin” (Ezekiel 18:30; also, Jeremiah 26:13). To repent is to avoid ruin. When one turns back to God His wrath is averted, but to turn away from God is to bring His judgment upon us (Jeremiah 18:7-10).
When John the Baptist began preaching in the wilderness of Judea he did so with the admonition to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). His message had an added immediacy to it. What had been hoped for and looked to in the future was at hand. The long-awaited kingdom was about to be established, but those who hoped to be its citizens needed to repent. John’s work was to prepare Israel for the arrival of their King and His domain. When Jesus did arrive, He brought with Him the word His Father had given Him to deliver, as Paul explained, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
Jesus picked up where John was at and carried the word forward, revealing God’s will through His own work and ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, through the apostles. The apex of God’s plan of salvation? According to Jesus: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48). Salvation was offered by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), but the gateposts of entry into the kingdom are repentance and the forgiveness of sins. How important is repentance? Jesus said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). There is no salvation without repentance. To be saved our prior sins must be wiped away; yet, there can be no forgiveness of sins unless we are willing to turn away from our sinful life and follow Jesus (Matthew 10:38).
In both Heaven and Hades there are those interested in the repentance of men; according to Jesus, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7; 16:30). There was a time when God allowed for the ignorance of man and held their sins in abeyance until the blood of Christ set them free, but those days are over, as Luke wrote, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
Considering the importance of repentance, it is important to understand what it means to repent— and what doesn’t constitute repentance. According to John there were many who believed in Jesus who refused to confess Him (John 12:42-43). It is clear by John’s words that while faith may lead to repentance that is not always the case. So, repenting is not synonymous with faith alone. In Luke’s account of Paul’s appearance before Felix the governor was alarmed at what Paul told him, but his fear of the truth did not lead him to repentance (Acts 24:25). Calling on the Lord, without obedience, does not qualify as turning back to God, either (Matthew 7:21). Sorrow or grief at what we have done may bring feelings of guilt, but that guilt without a decision to change is not repentance (II Corinthians 7:10). What then is repentance?
Repentance is a change of behavior that results when one chooses to turn from a life of sin to a life of obedience to God. We literally replace one way of life with a different, better, way of life— the godly way of life. An example of this change was given by Jesus when He taught: “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go” (Matthew 21:28-30). According to this lesson a repentant person is one who has previously refused to do what he ought to do, but has a change of heart and ultimately does what is right. Luke recorded this response to Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38). Those listening were so taken with the guilt of their sins and the realization of who Christ was they actually interrupted Peter’s sermon to ask what they needed to do. Luke recorded that about three thousand people were saved that day. The question is how many whose consciences were pricked on that day never came forward?
It is not always easy to get people to come forward, because it is not always easy for people to accept responsibility for their own actions, or because they don’t want to believe what they know is true, or they feel unworthy, or any number of other reasons. How, then do we lead others to repentance?
One way is to help them understand that no matter who they are, or what they have done, God wants them to seek salvation ((II Peter 3:9; I Timothy 2:3-4; Acts 11:18). Even the most impenitent heart can escape the wrath of God if we can some how convince them to give God’s kindness a chance to change their lives. In some cases, it may be that the best way to reach someone is to explain what the judgement holds for those who don’t change their lives (Romans 2: 4-7; Matthew 11:20-24), and then contrast that with these words of Jesus: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28-30).
Each of us will receive what is due to us when we appear before the judgement seat of Christ. The question is what will our due be? Before that day comes many of us may need to take the advice Peter gave Simon the magician, when he scathingly told him, “Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). For others, who have repented and confessed Christ and obeyed His commands that day will be one of confident expectation that they are covered by His blood and promises.
Have you let go of your past? As Peter said, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (II Peter 3:9). God is patient, but our lives are finite, and eventually His patience will end. Don’t let opportunity pass you by. Especially the opportunity to know God and become a part of His Kingdom. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). That call to repentance has been made millions of times since Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Will you be one of those who heeds it?
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.