By Roland W. Keith
In Matthew 21:28-31 Jesus told this story of the vintner and his two sons: “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. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you”.
In the story one son either lied or had a change of heart that led to him breaking his promise and dishonoring his father’s command. The second son refused his father’s command outright, but then regretted his behavior, that is he felt contrition for his disobedience, which led to a positive change of heart. Due to this change of mind he amended his behavior and acted in obedience to his father’s wishes. This story is the Bible’s ‘textbook’ example of what it means to repent.
True repentance is a turning away from sin to embrace God’s will for our lives. It is this turning away from evil that leads to the forgiveness of sins and eternal life (Acts 2:38; 11:18). Moreover, Jesus taught that as we are forgiven we must also be willing to forgive those who have trespassed against us (Luke 17:3-4; Colossians 3:13). Mercy gained should ultimately become mercy given. We have all been transgressed against even as we have all been guilty of transgression in our lives.
When we confess our sins in repentance John tells us God is faithful and just in cleansing us of those sins (I John 1:9). God was willing to overlook the ignorance of man in times past and hold their sins in abeyance until that which was perfect had come (I Corinthians 13:10; Hebrews 5:9), but now that Christ has appeared and delivered God’s last covenant to man with the agency of the Holy Spirit, God requires all men to come to repentance before the coming day of judgment (Acts 17:30-31). Yet, even as God’s justice demands judgment of the transgressors He has no wish to condemn anyone. He devised a plan of salvation to satisfy His just nature and sent His Son to earth to implement that plan (John 3:16-18). God’s plan sets forth the opportunity for man to come to Him in faith in His Son. In addition, as Peter explained in II Peter 3:8-9, God has been patient with mankind, desiring that each person should reach repentance. However, God’s great love for man does not override His need for justice. As Jesus said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
God has done all He can for us. He sent His Son to die for us. And, He has given us a clear path to salvation with an ironclad promise, founded on His word and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whose gospel is proclaimed among all the nations (Luke 24:46-47).
If there are those out there who still ask, “Why should I repent?”, I ask you to consider the words of Paul: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We have all earned spiritual death as a result of our sinful actions, but God will take away the due punishment we face for our sins if we will repent and turn to Him for salvation through Christ Jesus. In addition, Luke recorded this exchange from 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 who refuse God’s invitation, rejecting the kindness of God’s offer, will feel the full effect of His wrath on the day of judgment (Romans 2:4-5). We should be grieved at our own sins, as Paul wrote the Corinthians, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (II Corinthians 7:10). The end result of unrepentant sin is spiritual death, which is eternal separation from God in the Lake of Fire (II Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 20:15). The sad thing is, there is no reason anyone should suffer such a fate. What are we holding on to in this lifetime that is worth eternal damnation? What do we have here on earth that is better than what we will gain in heaven?
In the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), we are given the example of a young man who thought that what the world had to offer was more desirable or greater than what he had in his father’s household, so he asked for and received his portion of the inheritance and set out in the world. After living it up and squandering his wealth he found himself destitute with nowhere to turn. It was then he determined to return to his father, admit his mistake, and ask for a job as a hired hand. Instead he was joyfully received by his father, who had thought he had lost his son forever, only to gain him back. Like the prodigal son we are all ‘lost’ in the world spiritually, and when we turn to God, admitting our sins, there is rejoicing in heaven (Matthew 18:13; Luke 15:10).
Repenting of our rebellion against God and accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ not only brings us into salvation, it enables us to serve the Lord in His work to redeem other lost souls. Most of you know the story of Jonah, who rebelled against God’s command to deliver His message to that great city. Because he tried to run away from his duty to God he found himself cast into the sea and swallowed by a great fish. It was in the belly of the fish from whence Jonah prayed to the Lord. He repented of his disobedience and was delivered from his plight. The second time God came to him he went to Nineveh and delivered the Lord’s word. In so doing he became a part of God’s work in saving the citizens of that city when they repented of their evil ways.
The Bible is full of stories of men who disobeyed God, including some who repented and many who didn’t. One such repentant soul was King David. After committing adultery with a married woman and then causing the death of her husband to hide his first sin, David repented, although his sins were not without consequences— they cost the life of David and Bathsheba’s infant son. Still, David sought the Lord, following after Him throughout his life, always seeking His guidance and forgiveness. In Psalm 51:5-7 he wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being, and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
Another man who repented of his rebellion was Saul of Tarsus. After being confronted by the vision of Christ on the road to Damascus Paul repented of his ways and became one of the great champions of God’s truth. As he reported to king Agrippa, “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:19-20). The man in need of repentance spent the rest of his life leading others to Christ.
King David and Paul the apostle are both great examples of men who struggled with sin, even open rebellion against God and yet found redemption in repentance and an humble heart. Moreover, after submitting themselves to God’s will both became examples of what we can achieve, what God can achieve through us, when we act in obedience to His commands. Success in life is measured in how we live it, not in what we achieve in the physical realm. If we have lived in accordance to God’s word, we have lived life well. If, instead we have lived according to the dictates of the world we will one day be found wanting (Revelation 20:12-13).
Paul wrote, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:5-10). For those who put off, that is repent of, what is earthly and put on the new self in Christ Jesus there is a great day coming. For all that walk in the light there is the assurance of forgiveness and a cleansing of all unrighteousness (I John 1:7-9).
Jesus once said, “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). Have you given the angels in heaven an occasion to rejoice over you?
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.