The Purpose of Repentance
by Don Watson
Peter is preaching this powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on the disciples and people hear his message in their own tongue. He explains that God validated the “Messiahship” of Jesus by the great works and miracles he performed, and even though He was killed by the Jewish authorities, God resurrected Him and then He ascended to heaven where He is at the right hand of God, the Father. Then Peter concludes his message by saying, "So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!" (Acts 2:36) And the people were pricked to the heart and asked, "Brothers what should we do?" (Acts 2:37) And Peter said, "Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38)
It appears that, in order to be saved, we must repent of our sins, turn to God, and be baptized in order to be forgiven. Other texts seem to say similar things: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." (1 John 1:9) Here the apostle John seems to indicate that we must confess our sins to God if they are to be forgiven. Paul and Silas were in prison when an earthquake broke open the jail cells and when the jailer saw what happened he was about to take his life, when Paul stopped him and assured him that none had escaped. He had heard Paul and Silas singing praises to God and knew they had a real connection with their God, so he ran to them and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And "They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-you and your household." (Acts 16:30-31) So here the Bible seems to indicate that, in order to be saved, we must believe in the Lord Jesus.
So has Jesus simply reduced the number of commands, the number of rules required for us to obey in order to secure God's approval and our salvation? According to the Talmud, there were 613 mitzvot ("commandments") in the Torah required in order to be accepted by God. Did Jesus whittle that down to five? Are Christians saved by works, something we do? Do we have a list just like the Jews did, except a shorter list? Most of us, of course, would give an emphatic, "No! Absolutely not!" and quickly quote "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) But let's face it. If I hold a gift in my hand and offer it to you, but require you to do ANYTHING AT ALL to receive it, it is no longer a gift. It may be a good deal, but it is not a gift!
The Bible is very clear that our salvation or eternal life is a gift of God, and absolutely free. "The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let the one who hears say, "Come!" Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life." (Revelation 22:17) "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23) "And the result of God's gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man's sin. For Adam's sin led to condemnation, but God's free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins." (Romans 5:16) "So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it . . . if we have faith like Abraham, the ‘father of all’ who believe." (Romans 4:16)
The source of confusion for some of us may lie in the fact that God not only saved us, but He also wants us to KNOW we are saved and EMBRACE that salvation. In other words, God has done something FOR us, something that we were powerless to do by ourselves; He died FOR us (Romans 5:8). That death paid the price for our salvation (1 Peter 1:18-19), it reconciled us back to God (Romans 5:10), it justified us (Romans 5:9), and forgave us (Ephesians 1:7). All these are past tense verbs used by the scripture to emphasize the finished work of Christ. When He said, "It is finished!" it really was finished! But unless we were raised in a Christian environment – and not just any Christian environment, but a really good one that really understands the gospel – we probably don't know we WERE saved 2000 years ago when Jesus died. Jesus sent His Holy Spirit that we could know this ourselves, empowering us to be His ambassadors to let people know that they have been reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus and that "God does not count their sins against them." (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
When the Holy Spirit brings to us this amazing Good News (The Gospel), through a person or TV program or just a still small voice, we have a choice. We can either BELIEVE it or we can REJECT it. And if we will believe it, there's no way we can perish (See John 3:16) Now, our belief (Something we do), doesn't make us saved – we ARE saved (Because of something Jesus did). But God wants us to not only BE saved, but to KNOW we are saved. Because then, He gets US back and that is the reason for redemption. We were kidnapped by Satan and our sin when Adam fell, but when Jesus, the second Adam, died for us and paid our penalty and took away our condemnation, He got us back. That's what He wants. He wants US back.
Belief, repentance, and baptism are very important to Him because all these things are the ways God gets us back. But notice this text in Romans 2:4 "Don't you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can't you see that his kindness is intended to (lead you to Repentance) turn you from your sin?" God knows that as long as we feel condemned, we will never be drawn to Him, so He first saves us, takes away our condemnation, then uses this Good News, this Gospel, to turn us from our sins that hurt us to the God who loves us. That's God, giving us repentance!
Peter and Paul, in the stories we referenced above, continued delivering the Good News of Jesus who died and saved everyone – even killers of Jesus and gentile jailers. They are calling these listeners to embrace this Good News and come back to God (Repent) who lost them in Eden. How do they do that? They simply BELIEVE that it is true – Jesus has saved them. "By Grace you are saved, through faith." (Ephesians 2:8) We're saved by Grace (Unmerited favor – by nothing we do) but we come to KNOW that by faith – by believing it instead of rejecting it. And it is the knowing of it that brings peace and power in our life and a relationship with the resurrected Christ.
Dear reader, every time you are discouraged, the gospel will bring you back to God. You are loved while you are a sinner and while you are a doubter, and while you are discouraged, because "While you were powerless, Jesus died for the ungodly!" (Romans 5:6) Coming back – That's repentance, and it is the Cross that saved us that also brings us back.