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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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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FAQ: Does the Bible teach that homosexuals will go to hell?

Regardless of whether or not you believe the Bible is true, it is worth investigating what it actually says about homosexuality. There are many issues that could be addressed, but for the sake of simplicity we will focus on just two questions:

QUESTION #1
DOES THE BIBLE TEACH THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS SINFUL?

ANSWER #1
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS SINFUL…

The Old Testament, which is predominantly about God’s plan for the Israelites, describes homosexuality as sinful. Leviticus 18:22 says: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable”. A similar command is repeated in Leviticus 20:13, which says, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable”.

Now the question is, do these commands still apply today?

The New Testament, which was written to Christians, also describes homosexuality as sinful. Romans 1:26-27 says: “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error”.

So both the Old Testament and New Testament teach that Homosexuality is sinful.

BUT IT ALSO TEACHES THAT MANY OTHER ACTIONS ARE JUST AS SINFUL…

The Romans passage continues by saying: “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (Romans 1:28-30).

Here we find that homosexuality is listed alongside many other sins, including several which would be considered quite socially acceptable within Christian communities.

This occurs again in 1 Timothy 1:9-11 which says: “The law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers”.

So although homosexuality is clearly being described as sinful, it is not described as being more sinful than any other particular sin.

QUESTION #2
DOES THE BIBLE TEACH THAT ALL HOMOSEXUALS GO TO HELL?

ANSWER #2
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT HOMOSEXUALS, ALONG WITH MANY OTHER SINNERS, WILL NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD…churchkisssign

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says: “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”. This is obviously disturbing for homosexuals. But it is just as disturbing for everyone else.

We are all guilty of adultery. Jesus said that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery” (Matthew 5:28). We are guilty of greed. It’s almost impossible to live in the west and not struggle with materialism. We are all guilty of slander. We engage in it every time we turn on the news and hear gossip or some kind of slanderous remark about a celebrity or a politician.

So based on this passage, no one will inherit the kingdom of God.

UNLESS THEY PLACE THEIR FAITH IN JESUS…

The First Corinthians passage goes onto say: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Here we discover that this passage is not about condemning us all to hell. Rather it is explaining that anyone who places their faith in Jesus to save them will no longer be judged according to their sin.

When a person becomes a Christian, they are ‘washed’. They are ‘sanctified’, which simply means that they are ‘set apart as God’s people’. They are ‘justified’, which means that they are ‘declared righteous’, even though they are not righteous.

So the Bible doesn’t teach that all homosexuals go to hell, any more than it teaches that all sinners go to hell. Rather it teaches that anyone who places their faith in Jesus to save them will be washed, sanctified, justified, and inherit the kingdom of God.

THE SIN OF HOMOSEXUALITY DOESN’T PROHIBIT PEOPLE FROM COMING TO JESUS. SIN IS THE REASON THAT PEOPLE COME TO JESUS

“You don’t go to Hell for being a homosexual… heterosexuality doesn’t get you to heaven. So, how in the world could homosexuality send you to Hell?… What sends you to Hell is self-righteousness – thinking that you can be your own savior and lord. What sends you to heaven is getting a connection with Christ because you realize you’re a sinner and you need intervention from outside” – Timothy Keller

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ILLUSTRATION: Adam vs Jesus

Adam vs JesusMany of us believe that where we spend eternity will be determined by how we live our lives. But the Bible teaches that where we spend eternity is actually determined by how someone else lived their life.

One way to think about this is to picture two lines of people. The first line – the line we are born into – has Adam at the front. The second line – the line that we move into when we become a Christian – has Jesus at the front. Now suppose both these lines are standing before God. How does he determine who gets into heaven?

The Bible teaches that God will judge us based on who is at the front of our line. If we stay in Adam’s line, God will judge us by Adam’s one act of disobedience (eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil). If we stay in Jesus’ line, God will judge us by Jesus’ one act of obedience (dying on the cross to pay for our sin).

Neither our good works nor our sin matter at all. All that gets looked at is Adam’s one act of disobedience, and Jesus’ one act of obedience. We either stay in Adam’s line, and get judged according to what Adam has done. Or we place our life and eternity into Jesus’ hands and move into His line, and get judged according to what Jesus has done.

“Just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19).

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