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. 

SHARE THIS ON FACEBOOK

GUILT-FREE CHRISTIANITY: Why good people don’t go to heaven and bad people don’t go to hell

THE LADDERGuilt Free

Many people view practicing Christianity a little like trying to climb a ladder to get to God. They believe that it offers them a way to earn God’s forgiveness and earn their way to heaven.

Some try and climb by living a good life. They figure that as long as they treat people well and genuinely try and do the right thing throughout their life, then God will forgive them and let them into heaven.

Others try and climb by being committed to God. They’ve made a promise to obey Jesus and live for Him. They believe that as long as they stay close to God and always try to obey Him, then God will forgive them and let them into heaven.

Many people believe that they can climb the ladder by having the right heart. They know that they fail to obey God, but as long as they never deliberately sin, and are always repentant when they do, then they believe that God will forgive them and let them into heaven.

Some climb their way through religious rituals. Some do it by making radical sacrifices. Some even climb by trying to accumulate a number of spiritual experiences. Regardless, the one thing that all these approaches have in common is that they are never able to get us to the top of the ladder.

The problem with the ladder

Trying to climb the ladder is a nightmare. It will either turn you off Christianity, or it will create people who will turn you off Christianity.

It will turn you off Christianity by making you feel like you can never do enough. No matter how hard you try, no matter how committed, how consistent, how good your intentions, you always feel guilt and shame. The reason that so many people walk away from God and the church is because they are tired of climbing a ladder that can’t be climbed.

It will create people who will turn you off Christianity by producing self-righteous, judgemental people who feel like they’ve got a right to look down on others because they’ve made their way up a few rungs. According to the Barna Group, there’s an alarming number of church attenders who are still trying to climb the ladder. They work hard, they live good lives, they pray, they read the bible, they give generously. But they aren’t humble. They don’t have peace. They aren’t driven by joy. They don’t live the kind of lives that make you want to be a Christian.

Diagram 1

All this leads us to ask if there is some other way…

The real purpose of the ladder

It’s often been said that God would never ask us to do something we’re not able to do. But actually, the complete opposite is true. All throughout the Bible we find God calling people to do things that aren’t humanly possible. The same is true with God’s commands. We naturally assume that because God has given us a command, that He expects us to be able to obey. But what if there is something else going on? What if God knew from the beginning that we wouldn’t be able to climb high enough? What if God gave us commands for an entirely different reason?

The  Apostle Paul explains why God gave us the law… “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death” (Romans 7:7-11).

God never expected us to be able to climb the ladder. The law was never given to make us holy. Rather the law was given so that we would realize that we are unholy. The law was given to condemn us, not to save us. The more we try and climb the ladder, the more we slip and we fall, the more we realize that we are sinful, the more we realize that we need a saviour.

So when we look at the ladder, there are really three responses. The first is to keep climbing. The second is to walk away from God altogether. But the third is to go running to Jesus.

Diagram 2

What Jesus wants to do for you

Once a person stops trying to climb the ladder and runs to Jesus as their saviour, God is faced with two very significant problems…

PROBLEM #1: THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN

God has to punish our sin, but does not want to punish us.

SOLUTION #1: THE CROSS

In order to solve the first problem, God had to figure out a way to punish our sin without punishing us. So 2,000 years ago, He sent His Son Jesus to die on a cross.

A lot of people believe that Jesus’ death serves as an example of sacrifice for us to follow. Others see the cross and a great demonstration of God’s love for people. Although both these perspectives are true, the reason Jesus died on the cross was to cop the punishment for our sin.

The Bible says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Corinthians 5:21).

All our past sin, present sin, future sin, accidental sin, and deliberate sin was cast upon Jesus while He was on the cross. God poured out His wrath upon Jesus. Jesus was condemned so that we can become uncondemnable.

At the same time, all of Jesus’ righteousness was cast upon us. So that every good thing that Jesus ever did is credited into our account. So although we are still sinful, God now treats us as if we live the perfect, holy, and pure lives.

Cross Diagram

For this reason, we can be 100% sure that we are forgiven. We can be 100% sure that we are going to heaven. Not because we are good, or committed or have good intentions, but because Jesus paid for all our sin in full.

Diagram 3

So the obvious question is this: Can we go on sinning and still go to heaven? This brings us to God’s second problem…

PROBLEM #2: THE POWER OF SIN

God wants us to do good works, but telling us to be good doesn’t work

SOLUTION #2: THE HOLY SPIRIT

In order to solve the second problem, God had to figure out a way to transform us from the inside out. So when a person runs to Jesus to save them, they don’t just get all their sin paid for, they also receive the Holy Spirit.

Bill Bright said: “The Christian life is not difficult – it is impossible… Only one person has ever lived the Christian life, and that was Jesus Christ. Today He desires to go on living His life through Christians whom He indwells”.

In other words, the Spirit of Jesus, also known as the Holy Spirit, comes and lives in us and through us.

So, spiritually speaking, there are really three kinds of people in the world…

1. Unbeliever

Here we find a person who has not placed their faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit (H.S.) is not in their life, and the person sits on the throne (or driver’s seat) of their life.
Holy Spirit Diagram 3

2. Spirit-Controlled Christian

Here we find a person who has placed their faith in Jesus. Their life is no longer their own. They now belong to God. The Holy Spirit (H.S.) has come into their life and is on the throne (or driver’s seat). He is giving them the motivation and power to live like Jesus. They still stuggle with sin, but they are no longer dominated by it.

Holy Spirit Diagram 4

3. Self-Controlled Christian

Here we find a person who has placed their faith in Jesus. Their life is no longer their own. They now belong to God. But they are not experiencing all that God wants to do in their life. Although the Holy Spirit (H.S.) has come into their life, they have placed themselves back on the throne (or driver’s seat). God is definitely at work in their life, but their life is still dominated by sin.

Holy Spirit Diagram 5

SUMMARY

So for those of us who have STOPPED TRYING TO CLIMB THE LADDER and have RUN TO JESUS to save them, we can be confident of two things…

1. Because Jesus died on THE CROSS to PAY FOR OUR SINS, we have ETERNAL LIFE

2. Because the HOLY SPIRIT gives us the POWER TO OVERCOME SIN, we have a NEW LIFE

Diagram 4

SHARE THIS ON FACEBOOK

ILLUSTRATION: The Broom vs The Bucket

Straw Broom 46537Parable
Suppose there’s a certain room in a house that is completely covered in dust. A man walks into the room and begins to sweep using an old straw broom. Although it looks like the broom will remove the dust, it actually makes things worse.  As the man sweeps, the dust begins to lift off the ground and fill the air. So the man sweeps even harder. But the more he sweeps, the worst things get. Eventually the dust begins to choke the man so he gives up and walks out of the room.

A few hours later, a lady walks into the room and sees that it’s completely covered in dust. Instead of reaching for the old straw broom, she fills a bucket with water and washes the dust away.

Explanation
Here we find that the room represents a person’s heart. The dust represents their sin. And the old straw broom represents the law.

What looks like it will remove sin actually makes things worse.

The law does not eradicate sin. It simply just reveals what sin is. The Bible says: “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet'” (Romans 7:7)

In fact, the law doesn’t just reveal sin. The Bible teaches that it actually provokes it: “Sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting… When the commandment came, sin sprang to life…the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death” (Romans 7:8-10).

Trying to obey the law in an attempt to remove sin is just as futile as trying to sweep away the dust with an old straw broom. The more we try and obey, the more we realize how utterly sinful we truly are. The law doesn’t make us good. It just reveals that we are not good and that we are unable to become good. It reveals our need for a savior.

But then enters the lady with the bucket of water. The bucket represents the gospel.

What could not be done through obedience to the law, is accomplished through the death of Jesus. When a person places their faith in Jesus, all their sin is washed away. They are made clean before a Holy God.

The law is the diagnosis. The gospel is the cure. The purpose of the law is to show us our sin. The purpose of the gospel is to show us our Savior.

(Adapted from an illustration by John Bunyam in his excellent book ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’)

SHARE THIS ON FACEBOOK