Repentance: Confess, Turn, Persevere
James R. Aist
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
There is a belief within the Christian church that repentance from sins is not necessary for salvation. This belief is a heresy called “antinomianism” that can be traced back to the Pauline letters. Antinomianism holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace, moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation. What this heresy has right is that whatever the Bible calls “sin” is, in fact, sin. However, the denial of the need for repentance of that sin in order to go to heaven flies in the face of the biblical witness. John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter and Paul all taught that repentance is mandatory, not optional (Luke 13:1-5, Acts 13:24, Acts 26:20, 2 Peter 3:9). In fact, Jesus began his ministry preaching repentance leading to salvation: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-16). After His ascension, Jesus prophesied that, going forward, repentance would be a requirement for the forgiveness of sins: “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47). Jesus came preaching repentance from sin, not acceptance of sin (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 5:32), and He was still calling for repentance after his ascension into heaven (Revelation 2, 3). According to the Bible, repentance is for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4, Luke 24:27; Luke 24:46-47) and for salvation (Acts 11:8, Acts 20:21, 2 Peter 3:9). Because repentance is such an essential element in the salvation process, it is important to understand what genuine repentance really is and how it comes about.
The first step on the road to repentance is to agree with God that what you have done is wrong, i.e., that it is “sin” (1 John 1:9). This may be experienced as Godly sorrow and/or a change of heart regarding your sin (2 Corinthians 7:10, 1 Kings 8:46-47). As a result, you will feel compelled to confess in your mind and with your mouth that you have sinned (2 Samuel 12:12-13).
The second step on the road to repentance is to actually turn from your sin (2 Chronicles 7:14, Matthew 3:8, Acts 26:20). That means that you make a quality decision to stop doing the sinful thing you have been doing and then follow through on your decision and stop doing it. This is where the genuineness of your commitment to your decision is tested and proven; it’s the really hard part. We are all familiar with the phrase “Actions speak louder than words”, and Jesus said “By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:20). Without turning, your confession is, at best, questionable and to no avail.
The third and most rewarding step on the road to repentance is perseverance. It is common experience to be tempted to return to our old, sinful ways after we have turned from them. Unfortunately, it is also common experience to give in to such temptations by choosing to do so (James 1:13-14). But God will give us the strength to resist temptation when we submit ourselves to Him and resist the Devil (James 4:7). To really conquer sin means not only to confess and turn from it initially, but also to persevere in our repentance to the end.
Repentance Is a Process
When we become born-again, all of our past sins are instantly forgiven. We refer to that wholesale forgiveness event as “justification.” But, sadly, we remain vulnerable to various temptations that can lead us to sin again (1 John 1:10). Over time, the Holy Spirit, with our cooperation, cleanses us from more and more of our remaining sins in a process called “sanctification”, whereby we are convicted of a residual sin, confess it (1 John 1:9), turn away from it and, eventually, conquer it. This is why we born-again Christians often detect sin in both ourselves and in our fellow believers, even though we are already “saved”; these are simply sins that we have not yet allowed the Holy Spirit to cleanse us of. The presence of such sins in our lives does not mean, necessarily, that we are not really saved; it may just mean that we are still a “work in progress.” So, let’s be patient and forgiving toward one another as we travel the road to repentance. It’s a busy and crowded road indeed!
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.” (Acts 3:19-20)
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