Repentance: Your First Step

You are here

Repentance

Your First Step

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up

×

“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” (Matthew 3:1-2 Matthew 3:1-2 1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, 2 And saying, Repent you: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
American King James Version×
).

After God calls us, repentance is the starting point in our relationship with Him. Without repentance, we are cut off from God: “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2 Isaiah 59:1-2 1 Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: 2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
American King James Version×
).

However, God wants all to repent and become His children (2 Peter 3:9 2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
American King James Version×
; John 1:12 John 1:12But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
American King James Version×
). For this to happen, God in His great mercy begins leading us to repentance (Romans 2:4 Romans 2:4Or despise you the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
American King James Version×
).

Sincere study of God’s Word, coupled with a strong desire to yield to His will, soon lets us see in ourselves the selfish desires that dominate the behavior and reasoning of most people.

Notice how God used the apostle Peter to instruct those He was calling. In Peter’s first recorded sermon on the Day of Pentecost, he said, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Those listening were “cut to the heart.” They implored Peter and the other apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “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” (Acts 2:36-38 Acts 2:36-38 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made the same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ. 37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brothers, what shall we do? 38 Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
).

But what does it mean to “repent”? Definitions of repentance include: a turning with sorrow from a past course of action; the changing of one’s mind for the better; regret or contrition; sorrow for sin with self-condemnation; abhorrence of past sins; complete turning from sin.

The Bible describes repentance as a profound realization of our sins and resulting sorrow that leads us to change our thoughts and actions: “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10 2 Corinthians 7:10For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world works death.
American King James Version×
).

Godly sorrow allows us to see how totally selfish, corrupt and far from God we are and causes us to place our hope in Him. It leads to a deep, life-altering commitment. Worldly sorrow, by contrast, is shallow and superficial, producing no real and permanent change.

At its core, repentance is change. It is turning from our previous self-centered way of life to serve God and center our life around Him.

Peter, in his sermon quoted above, described repentance as a personal expression of deep and heartfelt surrender to God, the result of recognizing and acknowledging what Jesus, as our personal Savior, did to reconcile us to God the Father (Romans 5:8-10 Romans 5:8-10 8 But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
American King James Version×
; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 18 And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them; and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be you reconciled to God.
American King James Version×
). Repentance unites us with God the Father and Jesus Christ in an extraordinary relationship.

The miracle of repentance

Early in our relationship with God, we need to understand that repentance is a miracle. Through the Bible we see the opportunity to repent as a gift from God, possible only when God draws us to Him. As pointed out earlier, Jesus plainly stated, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44 John 6:44No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
American King James Version×
).

It is impossible for anyone, acting alone, to completely surrender his or her will to God. Humanly we cannot comprehend the depth of change that God desires to see in our hearts and minds. We need help even to understand what sin is!

That’s why God must grant us repentance (Acts 11:18 Acts 11:18When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance to life.
American King James Version×
; 2 Timothy 2:25 2 Timothy 2:25In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
American King James Version×
). In addition, we need the will—both the desire and the choice—to repent. This willingness to repent, too, comes from God: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13 Philippians 2:13For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
American King James Version×
, New Living Translation).

Although God “desires all men to be saved,” He doesn’t force anyone to repent (1 Timothy 2:4 1 Timothy 2:4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
American King James Version×
). His kindness and goodness lead us to repentance as mentioned (Romans 2:4 Romans 2:4Or despise you the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
American King James Version×
), but He doesn’t make the choice for us. The decision is still ours.

Those who choose to genuinely repent soon realize that God is active in their lives—working within them to instill a deep desire to change in whatever way is necessary to please Him. They want to learn God’s will—to know what He expects of them. They study God’s inspired Word, the Bible, to better understand His will. They desire to submit to God and live according to His instructions.

Sincere study of God’s Word, coupled with a strong desire to yield to His will, soon lets us see in ourselves the selfish desires that dominate the behavior and reasoning of most people. We begin to recognize the pervasive influence that the carnal or fleshly mind, as the apostle Paul called it, has on our thinking and behavior (Romans 8:7 Romans 8:7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
American King James Version×
).

Before we can repent, God must convict us of sin (John 16:8 John 16:8And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
American King James Version×
), helping us to realize how far away we are from His ways. We must recognize the sin within us and comprehend our deep-rooted hostility toward Him.

To recognize sin in ourselves is an enormous step. The first step in changing a bad habit or avoiding a wrong act is to recognize the problem and admit that it exists. We must be willing to admit our faults and acknowledge our guilt. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:9-10 1 John 1:9-10 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
American King James Version×
).

What is sin?

In today’s world, sin is not a popular subject. As a society we search for ways to absolve ourselves of responsibility for our actions. We hear experts say, “He was abused as a child, therefore we cannot hold him responsible for what he did.” We reason that, if everybody is doing something, it must not be all that bad.

But God, through the Bible, goes right to the heart of the matter, clearly defining sin for us in 1 John 3:4 1 John 3:4Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
American King James Version×
: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.”

To what law was John referring? He made it clear in other verses in this same epistle: “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4 1 John 2:3-4 3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that said, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
American King James Version×
). And: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3 1 John 5:3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
American King James Version×
).

Sin, therefore, is defined as breaking God’s commandments and laws.

Why should we worry about transgressing God’s laws? Because our eternal life is at stake! Paul warned, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×
). We readily consider such acts as murder, theft and adultery to be sin. However, Christ made it clear that we can sin by our very thoughts, not just our actions. He said that hatred and lust violate God’s commandments against murder and adultery just as surely as the physical acts themselves (Matthew 5:22-28 Matthew 5:22-28 22 But I say to you, That whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has ought against you; 24 Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, whiles you are in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. 26 Truly I say to you, You shall by no means come out there, till you have paid the uttermost farthing. 27 You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not commit adultery: 28 But I say to you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
American King James Version×
; 1 John 3:15 1 John 3:15Whoever hates his brother is a murderer: and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
American King James Version×
).

We have all missed the mark. As Paul says in Romans 3:23 Romans 3:23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
American King James Version×
, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

In the same chapter he quotes several Old Testament passages in describing our natural, evil, rebellious state apart from God: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God … There is none who does good, no, not one … Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18 Romans 3:10-18 10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one. 13 Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: 14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood: 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways: 17 And the way of peace have they not known: 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
American King James Version×
; see Psalms 14:2-3 Psalms 14:2-3 2 The LORD looked down from heaven on the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. 3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that does good, no, not one.
American King James Version×
; Psalms 53:2-3 Psalms 53:2-3 2 God looked down from heaven on the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. 3 Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that does good, no, not one.
American King James Version×
; Isaiah 59:7-8 Isaiah 59:7-8 7 Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. 8 The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whoever goes therein shall not know peace.
American King James Version×
; Psalms 36:1 Psalms 36:1The transgression of the wicked said within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes.
American King James Version×
).

Repentance is change from the inside!

God is not harsh, even though He knows we are sinners. He does, however, require that we surrender our will to Him. He expects us to bring into our lives His way of thinking and living as revealed in His Holy Scriptures. He wants every one of us to rid ourselves of our former way of thinking and living and become a “new man” in thought, attitude and character (Ephesians 4:22-24 Ephesians 4:22-24 22 That you put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 24 And that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
American King James Version×
). To each of us He says, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23 Ephesians 4:23And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
American King James Version×
).

God reveals His thoughts and mind through His Word. It contains His values, standards and principles. We learn to think like God by reading and studying the Bible.

These admonitions mean a lifetime of growth and change for us, starting with the initial change—the repentance God expects before baptism. He asks us to reorient our hearts, aiming for a new direction in life.

“To be carnally minded is death,” said Paul, “but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6 Romans 8:6For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
American King James Version×
). We must be willing to let the revealed Word of God, the Bible, change our thinking. That is where real repentance begins. Repentance is our personal choice to let God change us inside and out! James says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8 James 4:8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.
American King James Version×
).

God’s mercy is so great that He will forgive us, provided that we forsake both our way (our wrong behavior) and our thoughts: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7 Isaiah 55:7Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
American King James Version×
).

We must learn to think like God

If change originates from the inside, with our thoughts, right behavior will follow. Godly behavior is only the fruit of righteous convictions, desires, emotions and attitudes—the result of our thoughts.

But how can we learn to think like God? How can we change our thoughts? God reveals His thoughts and mind through His Word, the Bible. It contains His values, standards and principles. We learn to think like God by reading and studying the Bible.

Proverbs 2:1-5 Proverbs 2:1-5 1 My son, if you will receive my words, and hide my commandments with you; 2 So that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; 3 Yes, if you cry after knowledge, and lift up your voice for understanding; 4 If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hid treasures; 5 Then shall you understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
American King James Version×
expresses it clearly: “My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.”

Jesus confirmed the importance of God’s Word as our guide to life. He said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ ” (Matthew 4:4 Matthew 4:4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
American King James Version×
). One with a truly repentant attitude will search God’s Word for instruction on how to live.

We must show “fruits worthy of repentance”

Repentance was an integral part of the message of John the Baptist, who “went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Luke 3:3 Luke 3:3And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
American King James Version×
). Notice that his message connected baptism, repentance and the remission (forgiveness) of sin. One cannot properly discuss one of these topics without discussing the other two.

John was popular among the people of his day. Crowds followed him, asking for baptism. But not all were welcomed by John. Some simply had no comprehension of repentance. John admonished them: “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:7-8 Luke 3:7-8 7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say to you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
American King James Version×
).

John’s refusal to baptize everyone astonished them. Just what were these fruits he demanded? What did he expect? They asked him, “What shall we do then?” (Luke 3:10 Luke 3:10And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?
American King James Version×
).

John’s answer is one of the most penetrating and revealing descriptions of true repentance in the Bible. He showed that real repentance produces fruit—genuine results from a change of heart. John did not provide a dictionary definition of the words repentance and fruits. Instead he gave examples of how people need to change to be truly repentant before God.

“He answered and said to them, ‘He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.’ Then the tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what is appointed for you.’ Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, ‘And what shall we do?’ So he said to them, ‘Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages’ ” (Luke 3:11-14 Luke 3:11-14 11 He answers and said to them, He that has two coats, let him impart to him that has none; and he that has meat, let him do likewise. 12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said to him, Master, what shall we do? 13 And he said to them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. 14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said to them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.
American King James Version×
).

It was common for the tax collectors to demand more taxes of people than was legally due, greedily pocketing the difference. Soldiers, charged with the duty of maintaining law and order, often augmented their income by extortion—intimidating and abusing the very people they were supposed to protect.

Because these public servants had difficulty recognizing their own failings, as people often do, John chose examples that hit home to them, asking for evidence of repentance from the heart. He demanded personal sacrifice, given willingly, that showed genuine concern for others. He told them to look inside themselves and examine the motives driving their attitudes and actions.

The specific fruit John called on these people to produce was a change in their behavior. However, he chose examples that typify the self-centered, self-serving nature in all of us.

Jesus makes it clear that the changes needed most come from the heart, from our thoughts. He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts” (Mark 7:20-21 Mark 7:20-21 20 And he said, That which comes out of the man, that defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
American King James Version×
). He then listed ways these inward attitudes show themselves: “Adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:21-23 Mark 7:21-23 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
American King James Version×
).

To some, the change God wants in us can appear so overwhelming that repentance and conversion to God’s way of thinking seem impossible. And that’s the point. Without God’s help, they are impossible!

When Christ compared entering the Kingdom of God to passing a camel through the eye of a needle, the disciples asked in amazement, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:23-26 Mark 10:23-26 23 And Jesus looked round about, and said to his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answers again, and said to them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?
American King James Version×
). Jesus replied, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27 Mark 10:27And Jesus looking on them said, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.
American King James Version×
). To truly repent, we must learn to trust and rely on God more than on ourselves.

In Luke 18:9-14 Luke 18:9-14 9 And he spoke this parable to certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote on his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.
American King James Version×
, Jesus contrasted the attitude of an outwardly religious individual who trusted in himself for his righteousness with the attitude of a repentant tax collector who correctly perceived his own spiritual inadequacy and looked to God for help to become righteous. Jesus explained that God’s forgiveness (justification or making right) is extended to those who humbly look to God rather than to themselves for the power to repent and change their behavior.

Seek God’s help in faith

If you sincerely desire to commit your life to God, ask Him for His gift of repentance. Tell Him your intentions in prayer. Seek His help. Don’t rely on your own ability to perceive your sins and change them all by yourself. If you have not yet developed the habit of regular prayer and feel awkward about praying, understand that God will help you. Jesus promised, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 Matthew 7:7Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you:
American King James Version×
). If you sincerely want to follow His commandments and instruction from the Bible, tell Him.

Of course, all of this requires that we believe in God and learn to trust Him. Indeed, faith in God is a key part of this entire process. Hebrews 11:6 Hebrews 11:6But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
American King James Version×
says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Your part is to act on faith, then trust God to answer your prayers. This is one of the most important steps in your entire life. Don’t delay! Take the time now—talk to God.

Let’s next examine the significance of baptism.