The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Matthew 11:20-22 & 12:41
He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes… Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”
Well, according to scripture, saving faith will always express itself in works; otherwise, as James says—James, Chapter 2—it’s just a dead faith; because “Faith without works is dead, being by itself.” Furthermore, according to Jesus, saving love will always express itself in obedience. Jesus said, “if you love Me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
The words of Jesus, noted above, must have surprised the Jewish religious leaders of His day because He used examples from the Gentiles—who they considered spiritual reprobates—to convict the Jews; God’s own chosen people. Furthermore, because of their education and high rank among their fellow citizens, the Pharisees—the Jewish religious leaders—assumed great status; thinking of themselves as spiritually elite and favored by God. However, Jesus taught that all people are sinful and need to repent of their sins. While many of the common people recognized this fact, the pride of the religious leaders became an obstacle for them and kept them from admitting their mistakes. Jesus taught that, while such self-righteous people, who think themselves holy, often reject the call to repentance, those with humble hearts will openly admit the error of their ways and will strive to do better; resulting in them becoming the recipients of God’s grace and mercy. In His teaching, Jesus gives us some very graphic pictures of repentance. Let’s continue with some of Jesus’ statements:
Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
(Luke 13:1-5, NASB)
And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’”
(Luke 13:6-9, NASB)
“These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
(Luke 24:44-47, NASB)
These passages of scripture, all recorded in the book of Luke, emphasize the importance of repentance and the consequent judgment awaiting those who refuse to repent. But I want us to focus Jesus’ final words recorded for us here in Luke, Chapter 24, where Jesus says that: “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (verse 47). Well, so much for just believing in God and accepting Jesus as your personal savior. While belief is crucial, and forms the foundation of our faith, and accepting Jesus into our hearts as Lord and Savior is an essential validation of authentic faith, still, saving faith and saving love require that our belief be expressed in action, in our works, and in our deeds. And, here, Jesus states that repentance is “for forgiveness of sins”—in order that our sins may be forgiven—and that the great message of the church down through the ages would be a call for all humanity to repent “for forgiveness of sins.” That message, my friend, is as relevant for us today as it was for the people to whom Jesus was speaking. Let’s look a little further at some more New Testament perspectives on repentance, the Bible says:
Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
(Acts 3:19, NASB)
Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.
(Acts 17:30-31, NASB)
I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Acts 20:20-21, NASB)
When appearing before King Agrippa, who was reigned over portions of Israel by the permission of the Roman Emperor, Nero, Paul said:
“So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”
(Acts 26:19-20, NASB)
Do you see from Paul’s statements here that true repentance is more than a change of mind; it is a change of heart that results in a change of life.
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds.
(Romans 2:4-6, NASB)
Note the result of an unrepentant heart… the wrath of God. Do you see the heart/deeds connection here. Yes, God knows our hearts, and He will “render to each person according to his deeds.”
For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.
(2 Corinthians 7:10, NASB)
A lot of people are sorry about what they’ve done, or the consequences of their actions; both for themselves and others. But it is one thing to be sorry, and another to have that Godly sorrow that comes from love for God and that produces “repentance without regret.” I believe the “without regret” refers to our state of mind following repentance. We do not “regret” having repented or wonder about what we may be missing out on because of our repentance. We do not long to return to our the sin in which we were indulging prior to repentance. Our repentance is not simply an outward show, or some kind of a performance, or a feeble attempt at trying to please God with our works. Rather, it is a true expression of our heart and rather than regretting our decision to repent, we rejoice over our repentance.
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
(2 Peter 3:9, NASB)
Why does the earth keep spinning, the sun keep rising, and life on earth continue to unfold from day to day? Because God is patient. It is not His will, that anyone should perish. And what He’s waiting for is not just for more people to believe in Him but, according to this passage, for each one of us to “come to repentance.” God, out of His love and desire for us to be saved, has chosen to postpone His final judgment, for a while, so that every good and honest and open heart will have an opportunity to experience a change of heart; and enter into a life-giving relationship with Him that results in a change of life.
Now, let’s consider some powerful words of Jesus, recorded for us by the Apostle John, as our Lord confronts some of the early Christian churches in the book of Revelation. First, to the church at Pergamum, Jesus says:
“But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality… Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.”
(Revelation 2:14-16, NASB)
Then to the church at Thyatira, Jesus says:
“But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”
(Revelation 2:20-23, NASB)
To the church at Sardis, Jesus says:
“So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.”
(Revelation 3:3, NASB)
And then finally, to the church at Laodicea, Jesus says:
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.”
(Revelation 3:19, NASB
In these verses, we see Jesus giving the early church stern warnings concerning judgment if they do not repent of their misdeeds. These verses remind us that repentance is not a one-time act—it’s not something that we do once, just before baptism, and that’s it, and then we’re perfect from then on… hardly! It would be nice if it worked that way, but we all know better. Repentance is a perpetual mindset and a continual process that should characterize our everyday Christian experience. We know that, even after entering a saving relationship with God, we are not going to be perfect people. We will continue to struggle with spiritual and moral weakness, and with sin and temptation, all our lives. Oh, there will be days when we’re feeling valiant and strong. Other days, not so much… we’re going to fail miserably, and stumble and fall all along the way. But, regardless, we must never give up or simply give in to our enemy; and make excuses, like, “well, that’s just the way I am; I can’t help it; I’m just part of the human condition”… so that we can continue to embrace and practice our sinful lifestyle. No! That’s not going to work with God. Rather, we must humbly come to the Lord, wanting to do better, confessing our sins and weaknesses, and allowing Him to pick us up again, and set us back on the paths of righteousness, so that we can continue to “walk in the light, as He is in the light” (I John 1:7).
Ultimately, it is a matter of the heart; whether we choose to make excuses and justify our sins so that we can continue to practice them; or whether we will choose to confess our sins before God and repent of them. He knows we’re not perfect. Authentic Christianity has never been about how perfect or righteous we can manage to be. Rather, it is about surrendering our hearts and lives to a perfect God, who loves us with a perfect love, and who gave His only begotten Son to be our perfect sacrifice at the cross; so that He can see us as perfect, even though we’re not. But, God also knows our hearts. God knows we’re not perfect, that we all sin and fall short of His glory. He knows the temptations, the issues, and the struggles that we wrestle with everyday; some of which we’ll struggle with until the day we die. But He also knows where our loyalties and commitments lie. He knows whether we’re full of pride and rebellion, and more desirous of embracing a sinful lifestyle than we are loving and serving Him; or whether we really do love Him to the point of struggling against the sin and temptation that confronts us daily. God doesn’t’ want any of us to perish, but for all of us to “come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). It is His expressed will that we allow His Spirit to strengthen us and enable us take charge of our lives. The Bible says:
“Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
(Galatians 5:24, NASB)
God wants us to recognize that we’re not righteous, and we will never be righteous, in and of ourselves. But He requires that we acknowledge where we fall short of God’s holy standards, and that we make the conscious decision to continually. as often as we need to, turn away from sin and back towards God. That’s repentance. Where is your heart? Oh, it will be seen by how you choose to live your life!
Copyright © 2022 Philip R. Stroud
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