MISUNDERSTANDING: The Definition of Repentance

o-REPENTANCE-facebookREPENTANCE IS NECESSARY

In order for a person to become a Christian, they need to have both FAITH and REPENTANCE…

Luke 13:3
“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”.

Acts 2:38
And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.

Acts 17:30
“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent”.

HOWEVER MOST PEOPLE MISUNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF THE WORD ‘REPENT’.

Unfortunately, if you ask people to define the word ‘REPENT’, they will sometimes tell you that it means to ‘TURN MY LIFE AROUND’. And if by this they mean that the alcoholic has to stop being an alcoholic (or at least promise to stop being an alcoholic) before they can become a Christian, then there are all sorts of problems with this definition.

‘REPENT’ DOES NOT MEAN ‘TO TURN MY LIFE AROUND’…

There are at least 5 reasons why we can be sure that ‘repent’ does not mean ‘to turn my life around’…

1. If ‘repent’ means to ‘turn my life around’, how will I know if I’ve turned my life around enough?

Very few unbelievers would ever feel confident that they could turn their life around enough to become a Christian. And those who did feel confident would forever be questioning if they’ve done enough to maintain their new life.

2. The Bible teaches that repentance happens in our mind. Repentance will eventually lead to a ‘change of life’, but it does not mean a ‘change of life’.

Some things to consider…

A. THE GREEK WORD FOR ‘REPENT’ SIMPLY MEANS TO ‘CHANGE ONE’S MIND’.

> Some interpret ‘repent’ to mean that we need to ‘change one’s mind’ about Jesus.
That Jesus isn’t just a good teacher, a healer, a helper or a good person. But He is the Son of God, the Saviour who came to die for our sins and rise again. That He can be trusted to pay for our sin in full.

> Some interpret ‘repent’ to mean that we need to ‘change one’s mind’ about sin. 
To agree with God that my sin is evil. That it destroys my relationship with God and others. That it destroys me. That I deserve judgement because of my sin.

Regardless of which interpretation one holds, most people would agree that becoming a Christian involves ‘changing one’s mind’ about both Jesus and sin.

B. THE BIBLE DISTINGUISHES BETWEEN ‘REPENTANCE’ AND THE ‘FRUIT OF REPENTANCE’.

John the Baptist called people to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). The Apostle Paul said: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20).

Both these passages show that repentance is something that happens in the mind. It does not include actions. Actions will eventually flow as a result of repentance, but they are not part of repentance.

3. The Bible records several stories of people who were forgiven without having to turn their lives around.

Consider the following examples…

A. THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR (LUKE 18:9-14)
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

What we find…
> The tax collector did not ‘turn his life around’.
> He did not even promise to ‘turn his life around’.
> He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner under the judgement of God (repentance) and cried out for mercy (faith).
> As a result, Jesus said that the tax collector was justified (declared righteous) before God.

B. THE WOMAN CAUGHT IN ADULTERY (JOHN 8:3-11)
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

What we find…
> The woman caught in adultery did not ‘turn her life around’.
> She did not even promise to ‘turn her life around’. We can be sure of this because if she had already decided in her heart to turn her life around, Jesus would not have needed to say ‘go now and leave your life of sin’.
> She did not even publicly acknowledge her sin. The assumption is though that while standing naked and exposed, she was more than aware that she was a sinner who deserved judgement (repentance) and looked to Jesus for mercy (faith).
> As a result, Jesus declared ‘neither do I condemn you’.
> Jesus called the woman to leave her life of sin as a response to His forgiveness, not as a prerequisite to His forgiveness.

C. THE CRIMINAL ON THE CROSS (LUKE 23:39-43)
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What we find…
> The criminal did not ‘turn his life around’. He had no opportunity to do so before he died.
> He did not even promise to ‘turn his life around’. This would have been a ridiculous promise.
> He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner under the judgement of God (repentance) and cried out for mercy (faith).
> As a result, Jesus said that criminal would be with Him in paradise.

4. The purpose of the law is to drive us to Jesus by showing us that we are unable to turn our life around.

Before a person is willing to trust in Jesus to save them, they must first be convinced that they need saving. This is where the law comes in. As we try to obey God’s law, we become more and more aware of our inability to obey. The law exposes our sin and helplessness. It drives us to look for a saviour.

John Stott explains…
“The purpose of the law was, as it were, to lift the lid off man’s respectability and disclose what he is really like underneath – sinful, rebellious, guilty, under the judgement of God, and helpless to save himself”.

Martin Luther put it like this…
“What is this bruising and beating by the hand of the Law to accomplish? This, that we may find the way to grace. The Law is an usher to lead the way to grace. God is the God of the humble, the miserable, the afflicted. It is His nature to exalt the humble, to comfort the sorrowing, to heal the broken-hearted, to justify the sinners, and to save the condemned. The idea that a person can be holy by himself denies God the pleasure of saving sinners. God must therefore first take the sledge-hammer of the Law in His fists and smash the beast of self-righteousness and its brood of self-confidence, self-wisdom, self-righteousness, and self-help. When the conscience has been thoroughly frightened by the Law it welcomes the Gospel of grace with its message of a Saviour who came into the world, not to break the bruised reed, but to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, and to grant forgiveness of sins to all the captives”.

Now if the law’s purpose is to convince us that the one thing we can’t do is obey, how could God possibly expect us to obey his commands as a requirement to becoming a Christian?

Repentance can’t mean ‘to turn our life around’. It can’t even mean to ‘promise to turn our life around’, for the law convinces us that this is a promise we can’t keep.

Repentance is not about bringing something to the table. It’s about realizing that we have nothing to bring to the table. That we are utterly helpless and hopeless before a Holy God, unable to save ourselves. It convinces us that we desperately need a saviour from both the power of sin and the consequences of sin.

5. The Bible teaches that without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to turn our life around.

One of the most significant problems with thinking that repentance means ‘to turn our life around’ is that it contradicts what the Bible teaches about unbelievers being unable to please God.

Martin Luther explains…
“The following statements are therefore true: “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works; evil works do not make a wicked man, but a wicked man does evil works.” Consequently it is always necessary that the substance or person himself be good before there can be any good works, and that good works follow and proceed from the good person, as Christ also says, “A good tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” [Matt. 7:18]. It is clear that the fruits do not bear the tree and that the tree does not grow on the fruits, also that, on the contrary, the trees bear the fruits and the fruits grow on the trees. As it is necessary, therefore, that the trees exist before their fruits and the fruits do not make trees either good or bad, but rather as the trees are, so are the fruits they bear; so a man must first be good or wicked before he does a good or wicked work, and his works do not make him good or wicked, but he himself makes his works either good or wicked”.

What Luther is saying is that it’s impossible to produce good works until a person is first made a Christian.

Some would have concerns with Luther’s view. But the Bible makes it clear that “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Jesus said: I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Therefore it is impossible for a person to ‘turn their life around’ before becoming a Christian. In fact, it’s only when a person becomes a Christian and receives the Holy Spirit that they have any hope of seeing their life turned around. 

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F.A.Q: Why do I need to ask for forgiveness if God has already forgiven me?

confessionA CHRISTIAN CAN’T BE CONDEMNED FOR THEIR SIN

According to the Bible, once a person becomes a Christian,  because Jesus was condemned on their behalf, they can no longer be condemned for their sin:

Romans 8:1
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.

Romans 5:9
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”

2 Corinthians 5:18-19
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…not counting people’s sins against them”.

So if Jesus copped the punishment for a Christian’s past, present & future sin, deliberate & accidental sin, confessed & unconfessed sin, what is the point of confession?

A CHRISTIAN IS AFFECTED BY SIN

Just because a Christian can’t be condemned for their sin, doesn’t mean they can’t be affected by sin. There are several reasons for a Christian to continually confess their sin:

1. INTIMACY WITH GOD
Consider the relationship between a father and his child. When the child disobeys his father, he doesn’t get kicked out of the family. The relationship stays intact. The child still belongs to the father. But the quality of their intimacy will be affected. Until the child apologizes to the father for his wrongdoing, there will be tension in their relationship.

In the same way, the Bible teaches that when disobey our Father in Heaven, we don’t get kicked out of the God’s family. The eternal relationship stays intact. We still belong to our Heavenly Father. But the quality of our intimacy will be affected. Until we apologize to our Heavenly Father for our wrongdoing, there will be tension in our relationship.

2. ANSWERS TO PRAYER
The Bible seems to indicate that if we fail to confess sin, it will affect God’s decision to answer our prayers:
> “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” (Psalm 66:18).
> “Your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
> “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:3).

3. GOD’S POWER BEING UNLEASHED IN OUR LIVES
The Bible tells us to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). To be filled with the Holy Spirit means to be controlled or empowered or driven by the Holy Spirit. This happens when we confess our sin to God, acknowledging that we have been trying to control our own lives, and asking Him to take over.

4. PERSONAL WELL-BEING
After failing to confess for a prolonged period of time, David eventually comes to realize how personally destructive unconfessed sin can be. In Psalm 32:3-5 he says: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'”.

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ILLUSTRATION: ABC

simpleWE CAN BE SURE THAT WE’RE GOING TO HEAVEN BEFORE WE DIE

One of the best things about Christianity is that it teaches us that we can be sure we’re going to heaven before we die.

At the crucifixion, Jesus was placed on a cross between two criminals. One of these criminals became a Christian just before he died. Here’s what happened…

LUKE 23:39-43
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

HOW TO BE SURE THAT YOU’RE GOING TO HEAVEN

The criminal was assured a place in heaven because he placed his faith in Jesus to save him. Here are the three things he did…

(A) ACKNOWLEDGE: He acknowledged that he was a sinner who’d done the wrong thing and deserved punishment.
> He did not promise to make up for his past sin. He certainly would not have been able to.
> He did not promise to never sin again. It was irrelevant. He was about to die. He could offer God nothing.
> He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner who’d done the wrong thing and deserved judgement.

(B) BELIEVE: He believed that Jesus was able to save him.
> He did not believe the whole Bible. It hadn’t even been completed yet.
> He did not necessarily understand a lot of theology.
> He did not even understand how Jesus could save him. He just believed that he could.

(C) CAST: He cast his entire life & eternity into Jesus’ hands.
> He did not promise to live for Jesus. He was about to die.
> He did not promise to obey. Again, he was about to die.
> He simply bet his life and eternity on Jesus. He had no other option. Everything rested on Jesus.

So just like the criminal, we too can be sure that we’re going to heaven. All we need to do is ‘ACKNOWLEDGE that we are sinners who deserve judgement’, ‘BELIEVE that Jesus is able to save us’ & ‘CAST our entire life & eternity into Jesus’ hands’.

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ILLUSTRATION: Swimming Underwater

woman-swimming-underwaterSuppose you’re swimming with some friends, and one of them challenges you to a competition to see who can swim the longest distance underwater. You’re up for the challenge, and you decide that no matter what you’re going to win.

About 45 seconds into the race, you begin to find things extremely difficult. You’ve told yourself that you’re going to be committed. You’ve told yourself that you won’t fail. Out of all your friends, you’re easily the most determined to win. But now you’re finding that your commitment to win isn’t enough. And before you’ve even realized what you’re doing, you’ve come up for air.

Why did this happen? How can it be that your commitment failed you? Why did you give up so easily?

Well the fact is, it didn’t matter how determined you were. Eventually your commitment to win was overpowered by your desperate need for oxygen.

COMMITMENT VS DESPERATION

Unfortunately, many people see becoming a Christian in a similar way.

We often hear people describe their conversion experience as the moment they ‘made a commitment’. When church leaders explain how a person can have their sins forgiven and go to heaven, they often tell people that they need to ‘commit to living the Christian life’.

But there eventually comes a time when we’re unable to keep our commitment. No amount of determination and effort and self-discipline can keep us from failing at some point along the journey.

The good news is that we are not saved by our commitment.

Just as our desperate need for oxygen is far more powerful than our commitment to stay underwater, our desperate need for Jesus is far more powerful than any commitment we might make to live the Christian life.

Becoming a Christian is not about committing to live the Christian life. Rather it’s about realizing that we are unable to commit to anything, that we are completely helpless to save ourselves, and that we lie naked before God in desperate need of a Saviour.

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ILLUSTRATION: Buying a House vs Being Rescued from a Fire

DECIDING WHETHER OR NOT TO BUY A HOUSE

When a person is deciding whether or not they’d like to buy a house, they rarely sign on the dotted line until they’ve made a thorough assessment. They walk up and down the hallways. They map out where they would place their furniture. They try and picture how they might use their house for entertaining guests. They basically weigh up whether or not they want to do life in the house.

DECIDING WHETHER OR NOT TO LIVE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

In a similar way, when a person is deciding whether or not they’d like to become a Christian, they don’t just walk into a church a pray a prayer. Rather they often want to assess how their life would be different. They talk with other Christians. They try and determine if the benefits of following Jesus outweigh the costs. They basically weigh up whether or not they want to do life as a Christian.

As much as all this may sound right, and there may even be a hint of truth to it, there is one very significant problem with this whole approach…

WE’RE NOT WEIGHING UP WHETHER OR NOT WE WANT TO BUY A HOUSE. RATHER WE DESPERATELY NEED TO BE RESCUED FROM A FIRE!!!

firefighterWhen Jesus died on the cross, it wasn’t so that you and I could find meaning and purpose in life. When He was tortured, it wasn’t so that we could sort out our finances. When He was forsaken by His Father in Heaven, it wasn’t so that we could have a more intimate relationship with our spouse.

Although God does want us to have these things, they’re not the reason that Jesus was crucified. No, Jesus died on the cross so that we could escape the coming wrath…

ROMANS 5:9
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”

ISAIAH 53:4-5
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed”

Becoming a Christian isn’t about deciding if you’d like to live the Christian life, it’s about recognizing that we need someone to save us from eternal death. 

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A Baby Born with Two Names

Nativity-VectorWhen Joseph found out that his fiancé Mary was pregnant, he assumed that she had cheated on him. So an angel came to Joseph and explained that Mary had become pregnant through the Holy Spirit. The angel went on to tell Joseph that this child would have two names: ‘Jesus’, which means ‘God saves’, and ‘Immanuel’ which means ‘God with us’.

If we are to understand Christianity, then we need to understand Jesus. And if we want to understand Jesus, then we need to understand these two names…

1. ‘JESUS’ means ‘GOD SAVES’.

Many people wrongly assume that a Christian is someone who is trying to save themselves. But actually a Christian is someone who has simply allowed God to save them.

2. ‘IMMANUEL’ means ‘GOD WITH US’.

Not only does Jesus want to save us, He also wants to be with us. As a result, when a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit comes into their life and begins to transform them from the inside-out.

What is a Christian?

So a Christian is someone who let’s Jesus do what He came to do. He came to save us by dying on the cross to pay for our sin. And He came to be with us through His Spirit who wants to live in us and transform us.

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FAQ: What if I have doubts?

doubtMany people feel like they can’t become a Christian until they are 100% sure that Christianity is true. This is completely understandable. Becoming a Christian is the most significant, life-altering decision a person will ever make.

But does a person have to be 100% sure that Christianity is true in order to become a Christian?

FIRSTLY, WE DO NOT HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT THE ENTIRE BIBLE IS TRUE, WE JUST NEED TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS DIED & ROSE AGAIN

We do not have to believe in Adam & Eve, Noah & the Ark or Moses & the Burning Bush in order to become a Christian. Consider the following…

A) The Early Christians were not 100% sure of the entire Bible because the entire Bible wasn’t even written yet.
Andy Stanley makes the point that “there was no Bible as we know it for the first three hundred years of Christianity. People were becoming followers of Christ before the Gospels were even written” (Deep & Wide, p 246).

B) Most Christians alive today have not even read the entire Bible, so how can they be 100% sure that it’s true?

C) We are saved by our faith in Jesus, not the Bible.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Romans 10:9).

SECONDLY, ALTHOUGH WE HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS DIED & ROSE AGAIN, WE DO NOT HAVE TO BE 100% SURE THAT JESUS DIED & ROSE AGAIN.

Certainly the Bible is clear that we need to believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. The Apostle Paul said: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). But we do not have to be 100% sure that Jesus died and rose again. Consider the following…

A) We do not have the luxury of waiting until we are 100% sure
A lot of people think that becoming a Christian is like crossing a busy road. We look both ways and we don’t cross until we are 100% sure that it is safe to cross. Although this scenario seems correct, it assumes that we have an endless amount of time on our hands.

But unfortunately the decision to become a Christian is not without time constraints. All of us will die one day. We only have a limited amount of time to decided whether or not we will place our life and eternity into Jesus’ hands.

Perhaps a better analogy is to think of becoming a Christian like jumping out of the way of a big truck. Suppose we find ourselves in the middle of the road. We look up and see the truck coming straight towards us. We are forced to make a decision. Do we jump out of the way, assuming the truck will continue straight along its path? Or do we stay where we are, assuming the truck will swerve around us? We will never be 100% sure of either. In fact, we may be 51% sure of one, and 49% sure of the other. But we have to make a decision, so we make our decision based on probability.

In the same way, all of us have death coming straight towards us. Do we jump into the arms of Jesus, trusting Him to save us? Or do stay where we are and face death on our own? We may be 51% sure that Jesus rose from the dead, and 49% sure that He didn’t. But one way or the other, we need to make a decision.

B) We do not need to be 100% sure
Suppose a young child has never been on an elevator. One day, she walks into a very tall building. She notices people walking into the elevator, the steel doors close, and they never come out. As you can imagine, this could be quite frightening. After some time, the child decides to take a step of faith and jumps into the elevator. She hears the big steel doors close behind her. She notices that everyone has turned around, and is now facing the front. She then begins to feel this weird sensation in her stomach as the elevator begins to ascend. After some time, she starts to get freaked out by the fact that nobody is talking to each other, and there is some weird music playing in the background.

But no matter how anxious the child becomes. No matter how significant her doubts, no matter how much she may regret her decision, the fact is, she will get off on the 10th floor just like everyone else.

Her doubts are only significant if they stop her from getting on the elevator in the first place.

In the same way, a person can become a Christian and still have significant doubts. What matters is that they are willing to jump on board. Certainly, their experience as a Christian may be plagued with doubt. They may be much more likely to question whether or not they’ve made the right decision than a Christian who has less questions and doubts. But they will still be taken to heaven. Jesus will still be with them on the journey.

We don’t need to be 100% sure that Jesus died & rose again. We just need to be sure enough to place our life and eternity into Jesus’ hands.

THIRDLY, ONCE WE COME TO BELIEVE IN JESUS’ DEATH AND RESURRECTION, WE CAN THEN BELIEVE IN THE REST OF THE BIBLE.

Andy Stanley says: “I’ll tell you why I believe Adam and Eve were actual people. Jesus did. I’m a simple man. If somebody predicts his own death and resurrection and then pulls it off, I’m with him. I don’t really care what he says, I’m with the guy who rose from the dead. I would like to do that someday myself. And he said those who believe, even though they die, they will live. So I go with what Jesus said” (Deep & Wide, p255).

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