From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.Matt. 4:17
Readers may recall from previous Bible Studies, the same phrase was declared by John the Baptist in the Bible verse Matt. 3:1-2. With Jesus now making this bold statement it reinforces the unity and importance of this inaugural message from both Jesus and John the Baptist. The message of repentance was state before the lengthy sermon on the mount to the multitudes from Jesus and evidence of this theme were symbolic within his messages on the importance of repentance.
The word repent is not frequently used in the world today as a topic of general conversation. It usually brings the implication that someone has done something wrong before God. Repentance though is mentioned throughout scripture in various forms, whether it be repent, repented, repentance, etc. In most cases, it means to change one’s mind through personal conviction, to feel compunction over, reconsider, or turn away from something. We will soon see the latter point, in turning away from something, becomes a common theme for repentance throughout all scripture.
As a case in point, repentant behavior was stated by the Lord God in his plea and instruction to the Israelites, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” [2 Chron. 7:14] This notable and often quoted verse illustrates the importance of repentance. It is a repentance marked by humility, prayer, seeking God and turning away from something that in all likelihood is impeding a person’s walk of faith.
A similar example on the importance of repentance is found in the New Testament written by Paul, “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, [even] Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” [1 Thess. 1:9-10] Take careful note how both verses not thus far indicate a turning away from something and then turning to God.
On another occasion, It is interesting to observe the effect of Paul and Barnabas’ preaching to a group of people. The residents were from the city of Lystra and were about to offer pagan sacrifices on behalf of the two disciples. Having witnessed the miraculous healing of a disabled person, they viewed Paul and Barnabas as gods. But the two men would have nothing of the sort and it became necessary to admonish the people, “…saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein.” [Acts 14:15] Again, note the turning away from things contrary to the will of God.
Repentance in Preaching
During the ministry of Jesus, he sought to illustrate the importance of repentance by using story-like messages called parables. While speaking to the religious leaders among the Israelites he shared, “A [certain] man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I [go,] sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of [his] father? They say unto him, The first.” [Matt.21:28b-31a]
Do you see the continuity of theme on the importance of repentance thus far? It is becoming increasingly evident that repentance formed a core part of early preaching and conversion for individuals desiring to become people of faith. In essence, repentance and faith work harmoniously together. Consider when the people of Judea and Jerusalem were brought to the realization of who Jesus really was, whom they crucified, from Peter’s preaching. They asked Peter what they should do and the dialogue concluded, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” [Acts 2:38]
Repentance was at the forefront of the apostles preaching to the multitudes. As the apostle’s ministry progressed in sharing the gospel message to both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jewish people), the same theme continued, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” [Acts 3:19]
Another noteworthy incident occurred with a man named Simon who was a former practitioner of sorcery, “…when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.” [Acts 8:18:19] Peter no doubt strongly admonished him over his desire to think that the gift of God could be bought with money, “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” [Acts 8:22]
Paul also included the theme of repentance in his messages while preaching to the people of Athens who worshipped an unknown god, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” [Acts 17:30] The importance of repentance was a fundamental part of preaching to both Jews and Gentiles during the disciple’s ministry as shown in the latter part, “But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and [then] to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” [Acts 26:20]
Repentance meets Forgiveness
Continuing on with this subject a bit further, Jesus highlighted not only the importance of repentance during his ministry but also a message of forgiveness with it. Evidence of this is found, “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” [Luke 17:3-4]
As the gospel message unfolds throughout these Bible Studies, we will see how forgiveness reflects one of the many attributes of God, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. ” [Eph. 4:32] Repentance and forgiveness form an alliance in how repentance can become part of your daily faith walk.
Repentance meets Grief
The subject of repentance would not be complete without giving some indication of how an unrepentant heart affects God. The actions and behaviour of people quite often grieve God in his heart. This dates back right to the beginning, “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man [was] great in the earth, and [that] every imagination of the thoughts of his heart [was] only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” [Gen. 6:5-6]
The Lord was also grieved by the Israelites in their rebellion of spirit after the exodus from Egypt despite everything he had done for them, “Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in [their] heart; and they have not known my ways.” [Heb.3:10] The importance of repentance is not merely something done in isolation of one’s self since it affects the very heart of God. Any wonder why John 3:16 starts with, “For God so loved the world!”
Grieving of the Lord was also reflected during the ministry of Jesus, “And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” [Mark 3:5a] Furthermore, the Holy Spirit, as part of the triune Godhead, is also grieved by the actions of people, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” [Eph. 4:29-31]
Repentance meets Sin
A great number of scripture references were provided in this study to give a more comprehensive picture of repentance, its meaning, relevance and impact upon people and God . If it is not already evident, sin is directly correlated with repentance. Sin and the absence of repentance will prevent people from seeking and turning to God. Such an event occurred even in the early days shortly after the transgression took place in the garden of Eden, “And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.” [Gen.3:8] This was similar to Peter’s response to Jesus, “When Simon Peter saw [it,] he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” [Luke 5:8] To conclude on this point, sin is dichotomous to the holiness of God and while sin is in play, God is very much grieved in his heart.
Repentance meets Contemplation
To summarize this Bible Study thus far on the importance of repentance, diligent readers have seen how recent studies have covered many subjects such as sin, spiritual darkness and light, and now repentance. All these are complex, contemplative and interrelated to each other. This is shown by the Lord’s instruction to Saul while the Lord prepared him to preach to the Gentiles, “…To open their eyes, [and] to turn [them] from darkness to light, and [from] the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” [Acts 26:18a] Seekers of faith should know the Lord is indeed calling all people to himself and his desire is for a sincere heart of repentance, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” [2 Pet. 3:9]
Repentance meets Faith
A person’s daily walk of faith may require the forsaking of certain things in order to trust more in God’s provision for their life. This is faith in action and it is clearly an individual and very personal decision. This is usually started by turning to God, whether it be through humility of spirit or by praying in faith, “But without faith [it is] impossible to please [him:] for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” [Heb. 11:6]
To close off this Bible Study on the importance of repentance, for seekers of faith who have perhaps not made a decision to believe just yet, perhaps now is the time to let God’s love draw you into repentance. His forgiveness is waiting for you as referenced in the above scripture from 2 Chron. 7:14. At the end of the day, it is with a contrite spirit where people come to peace in the Lord through repentance as reflected here, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 4:6-7]
Bible Study Questions
- Who else in the Bible used the phrase expressed by Jesus, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand?
- In this study, how can lack of repentance in someone’s life affect their walk of faith with God?
- Provide some reasons why people may not feel the need or desire to repent before God?
- Name at least three ways repentance is demonstrated in scripture before God?
- Jesus taught a message of repentance along with a message of what other attribute that went along with it?
- Why do you think it grieves the Lord when people do not repent of their sins before him?
- How does prayer play into the importance of repentance in your daily faith walk with God?
WORD GUIDE – * (whither – which) * (twain – two)