Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Commanded to
Repent

Repentance

by Dennis Pollock

Repentance is a huge concept in the New Testament, yet strangely we hear little of it in many churches. The idea of repentance is considered harsh, fanatical, and old school by many Christians and pastors. When they think of repentance they imagine an uneducated, poorly dressed granny with a scowl on her face, holding a sign which says, "Repent, the end of the world is at hand!"

If we were ever to recognize the Bible's emphasis upon repentance we might repent of our neglect of repentance. There is a thread of repentance that runs throughout the New Testament. It begins with the herald of our Lord Jesus, John the Baptist. In Mark's gospel we read, "John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Mark 1:4). Matthew tells us, "In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:1,2). John announced God's kingdom was near, and the primary prerequisite for becoming a part of it was repentance.

Breaking up the hardened ground

There is something about repentance that makes the heart receptive to God. In the Old Testament, the prophet Hosea told Israel to "break up your fallow ground." Fallow ground is land that has become hard. It is unused, and the elements have flattened it, baked it, and made it entirely worthless in its present state. Ever since men have farmed the earth, they have developed plows of various kinds – instruments with which to break up hardened ground and prepare it for the seeds they want to plant. Plowing and farming go hand in hand. Where there is no plowing there will be no harvesting. So it is the spiritual realm. Repentance is the breaking up of the ground of our hearts and minds. It is the overturning of ungodly attitudes and thinking that keep us from being receptive to God's kingdom work in our lives.

When Jesus launched His own ministry, His message was identical to John's: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." To repent means to change your mind, but it strongly implies a change of behavior as well. Years ago I decided to replace the vinyl flooring at the entrance to our house with ceramic tile. I had never done this before, but felt sure it wouldn't be too difficult. It was great entertainment for my children as they watched Dad take on this challenge. I got in trouble when I wasn't careful in mixing the grout with the prescribed amount of water. As I added a little more grout then a little more water things got messier and messier. I tried laying the tile but it didn't look or feel at all right. My kids started asking questions about what I was doing, which put all the more pressure on me. My frustration mounted. The longer I worked the more depressed I got. I realized this had the makings of a major disaster. Finally I gave up. I took up the tile I had laid, scraped the floor clean from the pathetic grout mixture, and decided to start all over another night.

You might say I repented. I changed my mind about the course I was taking, undid what I had done, and planned to start over. This is precisely what Jesus commands us if we are to follow Him. We must repent; we must change our minds about the course of our lives, and follow Him in newness of life. The next time I worked with the tile, I was more careful in mixing the grout, and everything went well. Had I stubbornly gone on with my original efforts, I would have solidified and established my mistakes, and created a much more permanent mess. Repentance has its rewards.

"People Should Repent"

When Jesus sent His twelve disciples out to preach His message throughout Israel, we read, "they went out and preached that people should repent" (Mark 6:12). What a simple thought, and yet one that is still entirely relevant today – "people should repent." After Jesus' resurrection, He told the disciples, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 23:46,47). Not only was repentance a message for John and Jesus to preach, and for those first disciples to proclaim; the church has been commanded to continue with this same theme. We who would win souls have been given our sermon material: repentance and the remission of sins in Jesus' name. We may use many different subjects and teach from many different texts in the Bible, but at some point, if we are faithful to Jesus' command, we will get around to the heart of the matter: repentance and the remission of sins through faith in Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Son of God.

When the Holy Spirit fell on the Day of Pentecost, and the people were convicted and asked Peter, "What shall we do?" he told them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The first word out of Peter's mouth was repent. There must be a thorough uprooting and transformation of the way we think if we are to receive the grace of God in our lives. Are you starting to see a pattern here?

Paul preachingAllow me to give you one further example of this thread of repentance. As Paul was defending his life and ministry before King Agrippa, he summed up his preaching with these words: "(I) declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance." Paul's message was no different from John's and Jesus' and the disciples' and Peter's. He too preached that people should repent. Wherever Paul went, these were his themes. He insisted on more than merely saying the sinners' prayer. He wanted to see a deep and thorough overturning of the thinking of men and women as they turned away from their selfish sinful lifestyle toward the living God. And he insisted that there should be "works befitting repentance." A changed mind must result in a changed lifestyle.

All men (and all ladies too)

There are a number of implications for us as we consider the prominent place of repentance in the Bible. One of the most obvious insights we gain from this is that repentance is commanded to all, which means that all men everywhere must be thinking the wrong way and going the wrong direction. This is not merely a message for gang leaders and serial killers. This is a message for kindly little old ladies and philosophers and social workers and policemen and every other sort of human that inhabits our planet. The apostle Paul told the people of Athens, "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). We have a saying that it is a woman's prerogative to change her mind, but God considers a change of mind an absolute necessity for all, men and women, boys and girls. We must change our mind about the selfish, me-first, grab all the gusto you can, look out for number one mentality that has dominated our life since birth, and begin to live and do all for the glory of God and the good of others.

A second insight we gain from our study of repentance is that genuine repentance always leads to changed behavior. The Bible says of John the Baptist, " But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:7,8). The kind of repentance God insists upon is a deep, heart-wrenching, life-transforming change of mind. Where there is such repentance, behavior and lifestyle will be sure to change as well. If a man sells you an apple tree you will expect to see some apples on that tree at some point. Maybe not the first few years, but if eight or ten years have passed and still you have not seen a solitary apple on the tree, you have a right to question whether you have a real apple tree. Biblical repentance comes complete with fruit.

Turn Around

When my youngest son was starting to drive he got brave one day, got on the highway, and drove several miles to a shopping mall. He was proud to have made it safely, but when he wanted to return home he made a major mistake. Having traveled south on Highway 75 to get to the mall, he decided he should look for a sign that said, "75 South" in order to get back home. He found such a sign and started driving south. Of course in truth he was getting further and further from home with each mile he drove. After a while he began to see all sort of sights that didn't look familiar to him. As he got close to downtown Dallas he began to realize he was going the exact opposite way he needed to go to get home. He began to change his mind about the course he was taking. Finally his repentance was complete, and he got off the highway, turned around and proceeded north. His change of mind had led to a change of direction. He had repented.

Finally we must realize that Jesus is the author of our faith, and this means He is the source of true repentance. Christianity is not the only religion in the world that insists upon a changed life. Every major religion and most minor religions insist upon certain codes of conduct. The difference found in Christianity is that repentance is always preached in the context of believing on Jesus Christ. In fact we go even further – the Bible tells us that only through faith in Christ can we truly repent. It is not even possible for men and women to permanently change from their selfish attitudes and lifestyles without the power of the Holy Spirit.

Repentance through faith in Jesus

Repentance never comes by preaching repentance alone. It is produced when Jesus is lifted up and proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit. Repentance is in fact part and parcel of faith in Jesus. If I live in Dallas and decide to move to Los Angeles, you could speak of my move in two stages: leaving Dallas and driving to Los Angeles. As I pull out of my driveway in my Ryder truck I could think of myself as leaving Dallas. As I drive through New Mexico I might see myself as driving to Los Angeles. But in reality both steps are merely part of a single trip. From the moment I begin my journey I am in the process of leaving and simultaneously in the process of going. Repentance is the part of our faith experience that says goodbye to the old ways and the old attitudes, and believing in Jesus is the part which looks steadfastly to the Savior for forgiveness and acceptance with God. Both are two sides of what Jesus refers to as the new birth.

Real repentance can only be effected by the Holy Spirit. Our world has all kinds of methods and programs to try to produce behavior change. Whenever a celebrity does something notorious, stupid, or illegal, they invariably will hold a press conference and tell how they plan to go to therapy to deal with their problems. Therapy has become America's new religion. But therapy alone can never produce the needed change. It does little good to go about trying to kill the little baby rats when the huge mama rat is alive and healthy and producing more babies every day. To try and deal with outlandish behavior simply by talking to a secular counselor is not the answer. We must have the power that lifts us above the greedy, avaricious, selfish, lustful, domineering sin nature that lives and pulses within every one of us. We need the Holy Spirit!

And when we trust in Jesus, the blessed Spirit comes to give power and efficacy to our repentance. This is no mere New Year's resolution; this is God's irresistible, dynamic power working within us through Jesus Christ to will and to do for His good pleasure.

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