Not long after Christ's death, the apostle Peter delivered a powerful message about salvation through Jesus Christ. Cut to their hearts, his audience responded, "What shall we do?" Indeed, what must we do to be saved?
"Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts:3:19).
The New Testament Church—the spiritual body called and chosen to become God's faithful people—began with God giving the Holy Spirit to Christ's disciples on one of His annual festival days, the Feast of Pentecost. Acts 2 records how God's Spirit came on those who had believed Jesus, accepted His teaching and faithfully followed Him. But the miracles didn't stop there. Thousands of others who were gathered together that day were amazed by the miracles they saw and heard.
As the apostle Peter spoke on that day, he announced that the promised Messiah had come but was rejected and sent to suffer a brutal death. Peter explained that every human being bears responsibility in Christ's death—not just the Roman soldiers or the small group of Jews who arrested and brought Jesus to trial.
In the audience were visitors from nations all around the Mediterranean world and as far away as Parthia and Mesopotamia to the east (Acts:2:7-11). Many of them may not have even been in Jerusalem when Jesus had been put to death earlier in the year.
To this diverse audience Peter declared: "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it" (verses 22-24).
"What shall we do?"
Some of Peter's listeners recognized the significance of his words. Though they may not have been directly involved in causing Christ's death, they grasped, from Peter's powerful preaching, that the real reason the promised Messiah was crucified was to pay the penalty for the sins they and all other human beings have committed! To them Peter's message was personal and pointed.
Peter continued: "'Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.' 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?'" (verses 36-37).
Yes, they were "cut to the heart." Their sense of guilt overwhelmed them. Hearing Peter's rebuke, they did not reflect on their good deeds over the years but on the sins that had stained their lives. Indeed, what were they to do?
Peter responded immediately: "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" (verse 38). And that's exactly what they did. That day alone 3,000 "gladly received his word [and] were baptized" (verse 41).
God still commands repentance
Since that time, members of God's faithful Church have continued to preach the same message that Jesus, our Messiah and Savior, brought—the good news of salvation, the Kingdom of God and that all must repent (Mark:1:14-15).
The response to the message varies. Some pay no attention. Others show only a passing interest. But a few recognize it as the most exciting and important news they have ever heard—a pearl of great price! Perhaps you are one of those.
As we have already read, this present evil world is spiritually blinded by Satan (Revelation:12:9; 1 John:5:19). But God is calling a few out of their blindness. If you are one of those whom God is calling to understand His Word and live by it, then you may be asking yourself the same question those who heard Peter on the Day of Pentecost asked: What must I do now?
God's Word tells us that all have sinned (Romans:3:23). That includes us. But it is so much easier for us to see mistakes and wrongdoing in others than it is to see our own faults and shortcomings.
Yet we all are guilty of thoughts and actions that are contrary to God's law of love. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John:1:8-9).
Like us, our original human parents were given freedom of choice. Although God urged Adam and Eve to obey Him, He did not force His way on them. Because of Satan's influence in the Garden of Eden, they chose to disobey His instruction, to rebel against Him and follow the devil.
Since then Satan has wielded tremendous—but not absolute—power over humanity (2 Corinthians:4:4). His role in shaping our world's entertainment, education, politics, advertising and moral standards has been enormous. Regrettably, we are all products of this world. Our minds, thoughts and motives reflect years of Satan's influence over our lives (Ephesians:2:2-3). (For more on this, see What's Wrong With Our Human Nature?".)
Yet, along with this knowledge, we must always keep in mind that God the Father is, as Jesus reminded us, "Lord of heaven and earth" (Matthew:11:25). He is always on His throne and is constantly overseeing the progress of His great plan and purpose on this globe.
Watching over those whom He has called to overcome sin in their lives is an integral part of His plan. Satan can do only what our Creator allows for the time being. This we learn from the events described in the first two chapters of the book of Job.
James also explains, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James:4:7). Individually, with God's help, we can resist and overcome Satan's influence over our lives.
Take a long look inside
Yet we have to live in a society that is growing increasingly evil, selfish and arrogant as the time for Christ's return draws near: "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Timothy:3:1-5).
How, then, do we separate ourselves from such attitudes? True repentance includes our recognizing, with God's help, how much these attitudes have affected every one of us . As Paul explained: "All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of [God's] wrath" (Ephesians:2:3, NIV).
To repent, we must take a long, honest look at ourselves. Otherwise we will respond much like the Pharisees who criticized Christ for dining with those looked down on as sinners and tax collectors. Jesus responded to those unperceptive religious leaders: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance'" (Luke:5:31-32).
The Pharisees were too spiritually blinded to see themselves as they really were. They were so comfortable with their presumed spiritual state that they closed their eyes to their sins. They neither recognized nor even understood Christ's warning that they needed to repent.
The Scriptures tell us all have sinned. Therefore we have all earned for ourselves the penalty of eternal death (Romans:6:23). Without God's intervention to help us change, we would all perish, never to live again!
But it is God's will to transform us, to enable us to repent and be converted: "The Lord . . . is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter:3:9).
God provides a way to remove the sentence of death that hangs over us—without excusing or condoning our unrighteousness. He sent His Son to pay the penalty for us: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John:3:16). If we willingly turn from a wrong way of life, God is more than willing to substitute the shed blood of our Savior for the sentence of death we brought on ourselves through our sins.
What is repentance?
Jesus Christ solemnly warned a crowd, "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke:13:3, 5; compare Acts:5:31-32).
We rarely hear the word repent anymore. Few understand what it really means. The Greek and Hebrew words translated "repent" both refer to a change of heart, a significant shift in our thinking, a transformation of purpose with emphasis on modifying one's conduct.
Peter tells us to "repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts:3:19). The word translated "be converted" means to be turned. Turned from what? Obviously, from the sins to be blotted out. Thus, when we repent we must turn away from the sins we are guilty of committing, and we must unconditionally surrender our will to God. Put another way, we are to turn from the influence of Satan in our lives and commit ourselves wholeheartedly to God.
Though Christ came to take away our sins, we still have our part to do. He didn't come to save us in our sins or while we continue in sin.
If a judge pardons someone of a crime, he expects that person to cease his criminal acts. He doesn't pardon him so he can continue his life of lawbreaking. Likewise we are to turn away from sinful acts and thoughts. The apostle John tells us that "everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John:3:3).
Repenting encompasses both believing and doing
Acts 16 records the imprisonment of Paul and Silas in Philippi and how an earthquake loosed their chains and opened the doors to their cells. The jailer, recognizing a miracle from God, asked them what he must do to be saved. They told him, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts:16:31).
But what does such belief require? Having faith in Jesus is not simply believing that He is our Savior; it is believing His message, His promises, His instructions to the point of acting accordingly. Earlier Christ asked, "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?" (Luke:6:46).
When we repent we stop doing what is wrong and start living in harmony with God's ways and laws— His will! We stop sinning deliberately and knowingly!
Repentance should include a sense of sorrow and shame, but genuine, heartfelt repentance is much more than simply an emotion. Our lives must change. When God calls us He removes our spiritual blindness and enables us to understand His Scriptures as never before (John:6:65; Matthew:13:11). He enables us to see how contrary our ways are to His. We come to a major fork in the road of our lives. We face significant decisions. The time of repentance is a major turning point in life.
True repentance is a gift from God (Acts:11:18). God leads us to that point if we respond positively to His working with us to open our minds, and He gives us understanding of His Word and ourselves (John:6:44; 2 Timothy:2:25).
Now—so we can understand that we must change—let's carefully examine the biblical explanation of sin so we can better understand what we need to change.