Our loving Creator promises complete forgiveness of our sins once we sincerely turn from and forsake them. How do genuine repentance and God's compassionate forgiveness work together to assure our salvation?
The Bible describes sin as the deadly enemy of all mankind. The chaotic and confused condition of our world proves this basic biblical truth. Yet most of humankind remains solidly in denial. Our human nature has a powerful compulsion to sin.
But to receive God's gift of eternal life, we must completely forsake sin in our attitudes and intents. Transgressing His great spiritual law is like playing with fire, and we trifle with it at our peril. The Bible clearly states that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
God leads us to true repentance
True repentance is the fundamental first step on our way out of sin—putting us firmly on the road to eternal life. Our puny human efforts are, however, far from enough.
Without God's help and support, we simply cannot accomplish this difficult task—freely admitting with shame and regret that we have been totally wrong in our defiance of His great spiritual law and that we seriously intend to mend our ways.
The apostle Paul challenged Christians in Rome with this crucial question: "Do you despise the riches of His [God's] goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4, emphasis added throughout). Indeed, God must grant us repentance (see Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25).
Like the patriarch Job, prior to his heart-rending repentance, too many of us stubbornly hold onto our own "righteousness" before God. But the Bible compares it to "filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6).
Another key biblical passage
Written two millennia ago, Acts 2:38 is one of the most crucial passages in the Bible. The apostle Peter cut to the core of what God expects from us in his inspired sermon on the Day of Pentecost. He told his convicted listeners: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (New International Version).
This critical passage shows two key truths: that our repentance and God's merciful forgiveness are both necessary, complementary parts of the overall salvation process.
Since repentance has to occur before forgiveness, let's look at repentance first.
Repentance in action
The book of Acts covers about 30 years of early Church history, reaching from Jerusalem to Rome. In one sense it is also a record of the repentance of God's people during the first century.
Paul, like Peter, continually preached the importance of repentance. He testified "to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).
He emphasized that promises to turn away from sin had to be reflected in obvious good works. He stated that men and women "should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds" (Acts 26:20, NIV). Earlier John the Baptist had demanded "fruits worthy of repentance" from his listeners (Luke 3:8).
Paul and Barnabas urged the people of Lystra to "turn from these worthless things to the living God" (Acts 14:15, NIV). Those who are truly being called by God have normally felt a strong sense of urgency to move forward—taking the biblical steps our Creator requires.
Procrastination—putting off God's clear command to repent and be baptized—gets us nowhere! We have to act on the truth God has already revealed to us. Then He will bless us by revealing more truth and helping us to follow Him.
Continuing in sin has a way of leading us into a box canyon with no way out. Most people do not realize that God holds us accountable for our thoughts and actions that defy His righteous way of life. We take sin all too lightly!
God views sin seriously
God does not view sin lightly! He is deadly serious about it—hating the transgression of His law in any form.
When King David broke two of the Ten Commandments, the Creator asked him through Nathan the prophet: "Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?" (2 Samuel 12:9, NIV). The shaken king responded, "I have sinned against the Lord."
But notice Nathan's reply: "The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die" (verse 13, NIV). David's sincere, heartfelt repentance is detailed for us in Psalm 51. Every Good News subscriber should read it from time to time to recognize the kind of heart and attitude God wants to see in us.
David's sin was against God, but it seriously affected the lives of others. Our Creator hates what sin does to human beings—the harm it automatically and inevitably produces for anyone caught in its clutches. God's spiritual law is self-enforcing. No human being has to catch you in a transgression. If you break God's law, it will eventually break you.
But God has mercifully provided us a way out of sin—at great cost to Himself. Once we really grasp the greatness of God—and really begin to see ourselves in comparison to our Creator like Job did—we are well on our way to genuine, heartfelt repentance.
Notice what this ancient patriarch said in reply to God's personal revelation to him: "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted . . . My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:2, 5-6, NIV).
God's merciful and compassionate forgiveness
King David expressed God's gracious nature in Psalm 103: "Praise the Lord, O my soul, . . . and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases . . . The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love . . . He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
"For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" (verses 1-14, NIV).
Once you have truly repented of your sins, God's forgiveness is absolute, total and complete. He applies the sacrificial blood of His Son Jesus Christ to you personally. "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).
God blots out our transgressions of His law through the sacrifice of Christ, "in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:14).
Clearing our guilty consciences
Without fully realizing it, the whole world is on a massive guilt trip.
Most of us have pangs and twinges of conscience from time to time. Things we have done in the past bother us, especially when inevitable circumstances remind us of occurrences we would rather forget. Yet God has provided a way to clear our troubled consciences and put us squarely on the path of getting rid of troublesome guilt.
The animal sacrifices mandated for Israel in the Old Testament "were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper" (Hebrews 9:9, NIV).
But Christ's atoning sacrifice can and will: "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God" (verse 14, NIV).
Our new status with God
Repentance, water baptism and receiving God's Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) begins a completely changed life for the true Christian. Once this bridge has been crossed, our salvation is sure—provided we keep to the path of God's law, mirrored by obedience to the Ten Commandments. As the psalmist wrote, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).
Jesus Christ said, "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him [the Father] who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he [or she] has crossed over from death to life" (John 5:24, NIV).
The apostle John repeated this encouraging truth in 1 John 5:11-12: "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life."
After His resurrection, Jesus, speaking of Himself in the third person, told the apostles that "repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" as a key component of the mission He gave His true followers (Luke 24:47, NIV). Now we can see how genuine repentance, followed by God's merciful and compassionate forgiveness, converge to impart true conversion—putting us firmly on the road to eternal life! GN