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by Richard Nichols

Published in
The Christian Informer
December  2004

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According to the New Testament, when sinners heard the gospel preached stimulating faith in them they were also instructed to repent.  It is as necessary today that believers repent as it was in the New Testament, since repentance is “unto salvation” and “for the remission of sins.”  It then becomes necessary for us to know what repentance is in order for us to accomplish it.  An honest seeker of the Truth, who is not trying to justify his own questionable circumstances or those of others, will find the meaning of repentance is easily found in the Bible.
Repentance is not a deep, dark and hard to be understood subject.  There are preachers who have stated that they didn’t know what constituted repentance.  A person who knows enough of God’s Will to be called a preacher ought to know what repentance is!  If not then such a person is an embarrassment and is inexcusable for calling on others to do something he, himself does not comprehend.  Imagine preaching to others the necessity of their being baptized, all the while, really not knowing what constitutes Scriptural baptism.  Isn’t it a shame what men will stoop to in order to justify wrong doing.

In the Scriptures regret is referred to as “godly sorrow.” Paul writes, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Cor 7:10).  The original word, “metamelomai” means literally, “after care.”  Men may have regret for a misdeed but “godly sorrow” brought on by hearing and believing the message of Jesus Christ brings about the other elements of true repentance.  Being sorry for one’s past sins is an effect brought about by belief in the testimony of God and is one element of true repentance.

Repentance is sorrow for sins committed, but it is more.  It involves a change of mind.  A person cannot have “repentance toward God” who has not resolved in his heart to cease to commit sin..  As the Prodigal changed his mind about his sinful and degenerate life and returned to his father’s house, the one who truly repents will form in his heart an entirely different attitude about sin.  He will resolve that sin should no longer have dominion in his life.

Repentance involves a resolution to forsake sin, but it is more.  Campbell writes in his Christian System that repentance is actually “ceasing to do evil, and learning to do well.”  This thought is proved by Ephesians 4:28 saying, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”  Thayer defines “metanoeo” as, “to change one’s mind for the better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.”  One said of repentance, “It is not merely to be sorry for what you have done wrong, or a resolve to do better..... It is not to amend your ways but always is consummated in actual reformation of life.”
Baptism does not make sin righteousness.  Through baptism is offered forgiveness of sins, but it certainly does not justify for the baptized believer that which was sinful for the alien.  In order to obtain the forgiveness of sin as a result of baptism, repentance must precede the act, and repentance involves reformation.  Repentance requires forsaking, and as far as is possible, the amending of any sin.

True repentance, which involves reformation, carries in its very essence, the idea of restitution.  It would be ridiculous to infer that at the conversion of the thief of Ephesians 4, if he should have in his possession stolen money or goods, that he would be free to keep that which belonged to others.  But are we not guilty when we place on the thief more responsibility than the Lord did?  We are quite aware that the law of Moses taught a rule of restitution (Leviticus 6:1-7), and that Zaccheus must have tried to live by that rule (Matthew 5:23,24), however, this Old Testament rule is never bound on Christians by Jesus or His apostles.  Consider the poor farmer who fed his children stolen milk and meat who may never be in a position to repay the same amount much less “fourfold” those things.   However, as the Lord instructs, he may be able to “labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”
Most of us in the past have told lies which we now cannot retrieve.  Most of us also feel the desperation of considering all the sins and misdeeds of the past which cannot be corrected.  You might remember a lie that you told in the Third Grade to keep from being left out or made fun of.  You know you can’t change that but what does God tell you to do now?   He tells us, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:9).  Or maybe it was some filthy joke that you told.  What can you do about that now?  Nothing!  But from now on, “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips”  (Colossians 3:8 NIV).

Jesus said to the woman taken in the very act of adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more”  (John 8:11).  We fear that there are those among us who are not satisfied with what Jesus said and would like for him to have added more.  Remember Jesus did not excuse her to commit more sin, but He forgave her of the sin that she had committed and told her to “go and sin no more.”  The sinful people that the brothers and sisters of the church in Corinth had been, being — “Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers” (NRSV), if continued to be or even returned to would have damned their souls.
The apostle was not trying to soften the Christians of Corinth toward sin or those who were sinning but he was showing them the wonderful, glorious position that they had obtained as children of God now that they had “repented and converted.”  The Apostle says, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?  Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)..  So don’t go back into those lives.

What should our message be as we go about teaching sinners of all sorts?  It matters not what sins you have been guilty of God will forgive you.  Should it not tell them “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25)?  Should we not tell them that God loves sinners and wants them saved?  “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”   (2 Peter 3:9).  We need to impress on the lost still out in sin that “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned”  (Mark 16:16)..  And that they should “Repent, and be baptized everyone ... in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).
We need to show honest sinners the story of the Ethiopian who was returning home after worshiping by a form not now acceptable to God.  He was then taught about Jesus by Phillip and when they came to “a certain water” he asked Phillip, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?  And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.  And ... he went on his way rejoicing”  (Acts 8:36-39).  This honest man wanted to be baptized, but to show he was fit for baptism took only a confession of his faith in Christ.  For Jesus Christ had said, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).
We are certain that all the converts in the book of Acts were taught to repent (Acts 2:38 and 3:19) because the Lord demands that everyone repent.  He said, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

Years ago we ran into a brother who took the denominational position that the Lord’s church should wait until we can determine and recognize repentance in people before we fellowship them.  Our position was that there was “no period of probation” for the church to determine repentance in people ever taught in the Scriptures.  We pointed out that those sinners on Pentecost day who asked, “what shall we do?” were told, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost....   Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”  Three thousand baptized people were added that day without hesitation or probation.
May we ever show to the world a people who appreciate the Lord’s loving kindness toward us, and never bind on others more than the Lord binds nor love so little that we care not for a sinning soul.  “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (James 2:13).