When was the last time you heard a sermon or teaching on the place, power or purpose of repentance? Do you need to think back a long way? Do you remember one?
Repentance is one of the greatly neglected teachings in our current church world. To understand the place and significance of repentance we need to look to the New Testament (NT). When we look to the NT we see that John the Baptist began his ministry preaching repentance (Mk. 1:4), more importantly, Jesus did the same (Mk. 1:14-15). In the first ever sermon as the church was birthed on the Day of Pentecost Peter answered the question of salvation by pointing to repentance (Acts. 2:37-38). It is clearly an important issue. In fact in defending himself at trial Paul looked back over his many years of apostolic travail and said his fellow Jews wanted to kill him because he had been preaching repentance.
19 “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. 21 For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.” Acts 26:19-21 (NKJV)
The writer of Hebrews in summing up the Christian faith says clearly that repentance is foundational to our walk with Jesus.
1 Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. Hebrews 6:1-3 (NKJV)
Think about some buildings you are familiar with. Can you imagine a building without a foundation? Everything stands on something. We cannot put up a building then remove the foundation and have the building stand. Nor can we walk closely with Jesus if we remove the foundation of our faith, repentance.
So, given the importance of repentance in the foundation of the church corporately and us individually it seems wise to understand it. Understanding repentance obviously requires defining the term. While I will later provide some definitions from NT words it important to understand that what many of us may have been taught is not true. I grew up hearing that to repent means, ‘To turn and go the other way.’ It does not. Repentance is a change of mind and heart that produces a corresponding change in behaviour. We can for a time modify our behaviour without ever having actually embraced repentance. In true repentance a behaviour change is the fruit or result of repentance, it is not repentance itself.
It is also important to note that biblical forgiveness is for sins not excuses. If we are still caught up in justifying our behaviour then we are not yet at the place of repentance.
So, some questions I will address as I develop this series on repentance and our continuing walk with Jesus are as follows.
- What is the role of repentance in conversion and after conversion?
- Is repentance after conversion qualitatively different than repentance leading to conversion?
- Do we repent of our behaviour, nature or both?
More to come…