The Urgent Necessity Of Repentance
By Richard Owen Roberts
What urgent note characterized apostolic preaching, but is scarcely heard in the church today? Why, of course, repentance! Time after time throughout the New Testament, the call to repentance was sounded. The preaching of John the Baptist was dominated by this theme. With it he opened and closed his ministry. For the cause of repentance he lived and died. The mandatory nature of repentance was woven throughout the entire fabric of the life and ministry of Jesus Himself and its urgent necessity repeatedly proclaimed.
The church began, according to the book of Acts, with earnest calls to repentance and with severe warnings against those who refused to heed the call. At no time throughout the entire New Testament does this dominant theme disappear. Even the Revelation of John focused on the urgent necessity of repentance in five of the seven letters sent to the churches of Asia. From beginning to end, the plain demand of the New Testament is “repent or perish!”
Why is so little heard on this subject in our day? How can we explain the existence of so many professing Christians in our churches who are not repentant? How can so many ministers justify their failure to make earnest calls to repentance a constant theme in their preaching when both the New Testament requires it and the lives of their people demonstrate its need?
With spiritual declension on every hand, with moral corruption rolling over the nation like a tidal wave, can there be any biblical doctrine more needed now than repentance?
What is repentance? Is it a passing feeling or remorse of guilt which causes a person to say, “I’m sorry”? Certainly many professing Christians have felt this. Can tears and the feeling of sorrow over sins committed answer to the biblical call for repentance? Can an apology to the Almighty be equated with New Testament repentance?
Is repentance a change of mind toward sin? Untold numbers of professing Christians have experienced a change of mind. At one time they were indifferent toward their conduct and unaware of the gulf that separated them from God. But then they realized sin was a problem to them personally and came face to face with the fact that the end result of sin was eternal separation from God. The prospect of hell was frightening, and rather than face it for eternity, they changed their mind about sin.
No longer could they feel indifferent toward their lifelong build-up of accumulated evil. They needed a Savior and called upon Jesus. The guilt of their sins seemed lifted and they happily acknowledged themselves Christians. Is this repentance?
Can penance or any act of self-abasement or mortification of the flesh be described as repentance? Did John the Baptist call the people of his day to contrition? Is punishment of self in keeping with the call of Jesus Christ to repentance? Is it not possible to do penance and never repent? Cannot one clothe himself in sackcloth and ashes without ever meeting the New Testament requirement of repentance?
If repentance is more than remorse, more than a change of mind, more than penance, what then is it?
Repentance – An Ongoing Process
First, and foremost, repentance is not any single thought or act. Repentance is not something done once and forever accomplished. Repentance is an ongoing process. One must be forever repentant. It is not enough to once feel sorrow over sin. No single change of mind will suffice. No individual act of self-abasement will meet the biblical requirement. True repentance affects the whole man and alters the entire lifestyle.
In genuine biblical repentance one does not merely seek to escape the wrath of God or the guilt of conscience. The repentant person turns from all that displeases God toward that which pleases Him. The repentant individual turns his back upon his sin and himself and in faith turns to Jesus Christ.
This turning from sin and self toward Christ is and must be a continuing process. It is not enough to have once turned from sin toward Christ. This turning is a day-by-day, year-after-year process of refusing to follow sin and self and of deliberately following Christ.
Repentance – An About-Face
Biblical repentance is a permanent change of direction. Think of it as a person walking in one direction. He realizes he is going where he does not wish to be, turns around completely, and goes in the opposite direction. Everyone starts out life going the wrong way. By his very nature, man is a sinner on his way to destruction. Every sin and selfish act places the sinner closer to his eternal destination.
In repentance he experiences a complete about-face. Turning toward heaven, Christ, and righteousness, the repentant individual begins to move with new purpose and resolve in the right direction.
How far can a person go who walks a mile east, turns about and walks a mile west, turns again and goes two miles east, and then turns once more and goes two miles west? Not very far!
So, too, if a person abandons sin and self one day but runs back to it the next, there is no convincing evidence of repentance being present. True biblical repentance is known to exist when a person sets his face like a flint toward the City of God and no temptations toward sin and self are sufficient to cause him to abandon a steady march toward God.
When revival comes, this genuine biblical doctrine of repentance will be restored to its rightful place in our churches and in the lives of professing Christians.
True repentance is a gift of God. Peter spoke of “a Savior… to give repentance to Israel” and “then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance to life” (Acts 5:31, 11:18). Paul was very aware that true repentance is a gift of God (2 Tim. 2:25). Do you pray that the gift of repentance will accompany all acts and labors, all ministries and services?
– Used by permission from REVIVAL, by Richard Owen Roberts.