All Should Come to Repentance (Part Two)
In part one of this article, we addressed three emotions that do not equate to repentance. These emotions are guilt, fear and sorrow. Though these attributes play their role in our lives, they alone are not repentance. We also defined repentance as a changing, a turning, a returning and a conversion of mind and life away from sin and directed toward God.
Another question that is often raised in connection with repentance is, how do we know if someone has truly repented? Since none of us possesses the power of God to look into a person’s heart and judge them, is there a way we can know if someone has repented? Are there signs that ought to accompany repentance? Absolutely, yes! The evidences for repentance are threefold.
First, when someone repents, we should see godly sorrow. Wait a minute (you might be thinking), I thought you said that sorrow is not repentance? Though it is absolutely true that sorrow alone is not repentance, the Bible does teach us that godly sorrow should and must accompany repentance. Remember that 2 Corinthians is a follow-up letter Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. He addresses the first letter in the second when he wrote:
“For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while” (2 Corinthians 7:8).
There is some confusing language used here, but the message is simple. The book of 1 Corinthians is a letter of scathing rebuke. The congregation had not just drifted from the truth on many issues; it seems that they ran from it. Among their members was harsh division, gross immorality, the abuse of spiritual gifts, total chaos in worship, especially when it came to the most sacred act of communing, doctrinal error and more. When the church at Corinth came together to read the first epistle from the apostle Paul, they must have felt terrible as they realized the magnitude of their digression.
To this point, Paul simply wrote that he was sorry that his letter made them sorry. He felt bad for making them feel bad. For a short time, he even regretted writing it. However, this sorrow and regret were short lived.
“Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing” (2 Corinthians 7:9).
Paul had declared that his sorrow turned to joy. Not because the Corinthians felt bad, but because they did something with their sorrow. They were sorry in a godly manner, which led to repentance!
“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
What is the difference between godly and worldly sorrow? It is this simple: godly sorrow leads to making a change, while worldly sorrow leads to feeling bad for what you’ve done, but doing nothing about it. This is crucial in understanding how sorrow is tied to repentance.
Every human being shows emotions differently. There are those who can begin crying with little or no cause. Those who walk into a room and without saying a word, you know exactly what kind of mood they are in. Others are more stoic. They hide their emotions. So how can we know if someone, in response to their sin, is truly sorry in a godly manner? We simply see this by the changes portrayed in their lives. Paul wrote that this was the case for the Corinthians.
“For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (2 Corinthians 7:11).
They proved their godly sorrow with actions – visible changes that demonstrated to Paul and every other observer that they had truly changed.
This concept brings us to the second evidence of repentance, a reformation of life. The idea of life reformation is powerfully illustrated and explained in the preaching of John the Baptizer.
“Then he (John) said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’” (Luke 3:7-9).
John gives a call for Israel to “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” No longer would they be able to lean on their heritage for salvation. The transition from a national calling from God to an individual calling was in full force. John also emphasizes the seriousness of the situation by explaining that the “ax is laid to the root of the trees,” and “every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Judgement is in view and if fruit is not produced, there is no hope. Well what does it mean to “bear fruits worthy of repentance?” Thankfully for us, John’s audience wanted an answer to this as well.
“So the people asked him, saying, ‘What shall we do then?’ He answered and said to them, ‘He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.’ Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what is appointed for you.’ Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, ‘And what shall we do?’ So he said to them, ‘Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages’” (Luke 3:10-14).
To “bear fruits worthy of repentance” means to reform your life. If you have become rich by living a life dedicated to greed and gain, become benevolent. If you have cheated others, act fairly and rightly in your business dealings. If you have bullied others, show kindness and be content in life.
If John was facing an audience of drunkards, he would call them away from the bar. To gamblers, he would beckon them away from the casinos. To fornicators, he would demand purity and chastity. John teaches that wherever we find sin in our lives, there must be a complete transformation. It is not enough to feel guilty, to fear judgment, or even to be sorry. John, along with many other passages of Scripture, implores us to give up every sin which so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1).
Thirdly, in addition to godly sorrow and a reformation of life, we see that restitution is a final evidence of repentance. Restitution, according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, is a making good of or giving an equivalent for some injury. There are times when we sin, and wrong another. In this case, we must make restitution for our crime.
In Luke 19:1-10 the Bible introduces us to a wealthy tax collector named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus became rich by cheating the people. Luke’s narrative tells us that Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus as He was passing through Jericho, but because he was a short man he had to climb into a sycamore tree to see over the crowd. This impressed Jesus, and the Lord told Zacchaeus to get out of the tree so that He could stay at Zacchaeus’ house. This greatly troubled the people and they complained, charging Jesus with being the guest of a sinner. In response to this Zacchaeus said, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (Luke 19:8).
In order to reconcile his wrong doing, Zacchaeus was willing to give half of his fortune to the poor, and with the leftover half, repay those he had cheated fourfold. This exemplary act of restitution pleased Jesus so much that He said “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9).
The concept of restitution is easy enough for us to understand, yet many forget to include it in their actions. If I were to come to your home in the middle of the night, steal your automobile and take it for a “joy-ride,” then hours later realize that I had committed sin in that theft, what would be expected of me? Suppose a deep and godly sorrow came upon me. I understood my sin and was vexed mightily because of it. Then I called you, confessed my wrong and said “I vow to never steal again! But since I already have your car, I’ll just go ahead and keep it.” Would this be in keeping with repentance? Certainly not! I would have to make restitution.
In the third and final installment of this article, we will look at that which motivates us to repent.
In parts one and two of this article, we have considered three emotions which do not equate to repentance (guilt, fear and sorrow), a Biblical definition of repentance (a changing, a turning, a returning and a conversion of mind and life away from sin and directed toward God), and three evidences of repentance that should be seen in a penitent person’s life (Godly sorrow, a reformation of life and restitution).
Change is very difficult for many. It speaks to our ego and tells us that we are not right. Some do indeed like change, but most are more stubborn and set in their ways and need motivation to change. Thankfully, God gives us at least three wonderful motives to help inspire us to make spiritual changes in our lives.
First, God’s goodness ought to motivate us to repent. “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
Has God been good to you? Has God blessed you? Has God given you more than you deserve? In the fifth chapter of Romans, Paul reminds us that God’s great love was manifested in the giving of Christ and that the gift of Christ was given to unrighteous, sinning, enemies of God (Romans 5:6-11). I ask you again, has God been good to you? Absolutely, He has! If there was nothing else given to mankind by God but Christ alone, each and every human being must admit and acknowledge God’s goodness.
However, Christ isn’t even all we’ve been given. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from God (James 1:17). Even the sunshine and the rainfall are blessings from the Father (Matthew 5:45). The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the roof over our heads, the jobs we work, the families we love, the Church of Christ we belong to, and the Savior we adore are all blessings from God. The question then becomes: shouldn’t God’s goodness motivate us to repent? Shouldn’t His gracious kindness encourage us to change when He asks us to change?
Second, God’s patience should also motivate to repent. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
The words “slack” and “slackness” may be unfamiliar in this setting, but they simply mean “to delay” and “tardy.” In other words, Peter wrote that God is not delaying His promise of eternal life in Heaven as some would be tardy in fulfilling a promise. A man may tell his wife that on their tenth anniversary he will take her on a trip to any place in the world she wants to visit, but when the anniversary approaches he examines their financial status and other obligations and says to his wife, “how about our fifteenth anniversary?” He is unable to fulfill the promise that he made with good intentions, and seeks to delay it. Such is not the case with God. God is not delaying eternity because He is unable to make good, He is delaying eternity because of His patient waiting.
God is exercising His patience with mankind. Why? Peter tells us it is because He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Remember what Jesus said about repentance? “…Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5). God continues to allow this world of sin and sorrow to exist only because He is patiently waiting for people to repent. Shouldn’t that motivate us to change? Every time we take in a breath of oxygen, every time we blink our eyelids, every day in which the sun rises and sets, should be viewed as an opportunity for us to repent, because one day God’s patience will run out. The very next verse that Peter pens says, “but the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (2 Peter 3:10). God’s patience is not eternal and one day He will send Jesus to destroy this world and judge mankind. Nonetheless, as long as you have life within you, you have time to repent.
Third, a conviction of sin ought to motivate us to repent.
“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to 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’” (Acts 2:37-38).
On Pentecost, the apostle Peter lays the blame for Christ’s crucifixion at the feet of the people. In his sermon, he had proved that Jesus was truly the Christ because God had testified with signs, wonders and miracles, because Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, and because the apostles were eyewitnesses of His resurrection. When the people realized that they were guilty and in sin they asked, “…What shall we do?” Peter’s response to this query was a call for repentance and baptism.
The call of Peter remains valid today. Whenever we realize that sin is present in our lives, we must repent. We must be sorrowful for our wrongdoing, vow to never do it again and make the necessary life change, and finally, make restitution whenever possible. This is what God counts as true repentance.
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘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 24:46-47).