The topic of repentance is often met with uncomfortable silences and inaccuracy, not due to a failure to acknowledge key points, but often due to the fact that we do not allow the nuance of the topic to be brought to the forefront. Many of you know what the word “repentance” means, but for those who may not be familiar with it. Repentance is showing true regret and remorse. By true, I mean that it actually produces a genuine desire to change within the person.
I believe that a call to repentance is central to the sharing of the gospel message. Because having a repentant attitude means that one acknowledges their guilt, shame, and wrongdoings and has a desire to change. The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ came incarnate, lived a perfect life, and died a death that bore the punishment for sins that all people deserve. Why do we deserve punishment for those sins? It is because they go against what the creator made human beings for. That is, to glorify him through our lives and to be accurate representations of him to all of creation.
So now, getting back to repentance. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is in part that he bore our sins on the cross, this would also lead us to assume that Jesus Christ knew our sins intimately, acknowledges them as sin, and presented them honestly to the Father. How much more should we recognize our own wrongdoing as the offense that it is to God. This should stir a desire within us not to live in sin simply because Jesus already died, but to repent of the sin that plagues us because of what it cost and the amount that Jesus Christ had to bear. This is not to say that Jesus Christ’s atonement was not sufficient but rather that because it was sufficient that we should seriously consider the weight of our sin and what it has done, currently does, and continues to do.
There are many verses that speak of repentance and I would love to share them with you if you’re still listening…
Matthew 28:18-20 (NET), Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This passage is known as the Great Commission. Before Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father in the kingdom of Heaven, he instructed his disciples to go to all nations and make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey everything that Jesus had commanded them. Here are a few of Jesus’ commands that are found in the gospels which have to do with the concept of repentance.
Mark 1:14-15 (NET), ‘Now after John was imprisoned, Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of God. He said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!”’
Luke 13:1-5 (NET), ‘Now there were some present on that occasion who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. He answered them, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered these things? No, I tell you! But unless you repent, you will all perish as well! Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them, do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you! But unless you repent you will all perish as well!”’
(Great Commission From Luke’s Gospel) Luke 24:45-49 (NET), Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
We can clearly see that these passages portray the heart of God and the importance of repentance. Because repentance works in tandem with believing the gospel message. One cannot recognize their need for forgiveness if they don’t know what needs to be forgiven. And why would anyone accept the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for sins if they didn’t realize that sin deserves the just punishment of God. Without repentance, there is no gospel message.
Acts 3:16-20 (NET), And on the basis of faith in Jesus’ name, his very name has made this man—whom you see and know—strong. The faith that is through Jesus has given him this complete health in the presence of you all. And now, brothers, I know you acted in ignorance, as your rulers did too. But the things God foretold long ago through all the prophets—that his Christ would suffer—he has fulfilled in this way. Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you—that is, Jesus.
In this passage, the Apostle Peter is addressing a crowd of people who desperately need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ because they had yet to place a true and living faith in the only Son of God for the remission of sins. I would like to hone in on what is stated in verse 19 though, “Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out,”. Peter instructs that the people are to repent of their sins so that they may be cleansed from them. This is not to say that their salvation is reliant upon their decision to repent or not, but rather that repentance is in fact a major fruit of believing the gospel message. Because is someone is convinced that they have no need to repent because Jesus died, then that belittles and demeans the weight of sin and the reason why Jesus took the wrath of God (the punishment for sin) upon himself. How insulting would it be to fail to really recognize the cost of that sin and refuse to repent because “Oh, Jesus alright paid for that so I’m good”. As Christians, we should be living lives of constant self-denial and repentance due to the extreme weight of sin and the offensiveness that it is before God. Without repentance, it would be wise to question if someone even truly believes in the gospel message.
Luke 6:41-42 (NET), Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while you yourself don’t see the beam in your own? You hypocrite! First, remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Most Christian know this passage extremely well, but I often find that it is misquoted… or rather, that many will quote the beginning without acknowledging the conclusion of the parable. Before we dig into the reason that the whole parable is important to the concept of repentance, I want to direct our attention back to the Great Commission passage(s). What does Jesus tell his disciples? These are men who have repented of their own sins (and continue to do so) and have place their faith and truth in Jesus Christ the Son of God. Jesus tells them to make more disciples and teach them all that he had taught/commanded them. And as we discussed previously part of Jesus’ teaching was to repent of sins. Calling individuals to repentance was a major part of his ministry and message of the gospel, and it should be for our own proclamation of the gospel as well.
So now, the passage in Luke begins with Jesus telling a mass crowd of people not to judge others, but it has more nuanced than people give it credit for. Jesus tells people not to judge others hypocritically and if one can remove their hypocrisy then they will be able to properly help those in need. In the parable, Jesus states that how can someone remove a speck from their brother’s eye if they have a log/beam of wood in their own. It would be unwise for someone who had a beam in their eye to try and remove a speck with their limited eyesight, it’ll only create more damage. But Jesus goes on to say “First, remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can clearly see to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”. This is not just a throwaway phrase at the end of the parable, he said this for a reason and I believe that the reason is this.
I believe that Jesus is the one who is able to remove the beam from our eye, this would clearly be a way to portray the cleansing of one’s sin and the forgiveness of God. That when someone repents and believes in the gospel they are acknowledging the beam in their eye, their need for a savior and that savior forgives and removes the beam. This then leaves the brother with the speck in his eye, what about him? It would seem to me that the parable indicates that once a man is free of the beam in his eye, then he is equipped to properly address and help his brother with the speck in his eye. I will make the stipulation that one shouldn’t just go around removing specks willy-nilly though, but that in God’s timing he sends and equips people with his Holy Spirit so that they can adequately handle and address the specks in other’s eyes with love, care, forgiveness, mercy, and grace.
In conclusion, it would seem that personal repentance and a proclamation to repent are pivotal in accepting the gospel as individuals and properly communicating the gospel message to those without faith in Jesus Christ. And this is not something that applies only to the ministry of Jesus Christ, he has entrusted this message to those who follow him so that many more can come to know the God of the Bible. Christians are called to preach repentance, not as a way to show how “great” they are, but rather how wretched all people are (including themselves) so that we can all share in the love, mercy, grace, peace, and joy that can only come from God himself. All people are in need of forgiveness which makes it all the more pertinent to remain close to God and studying his word so that he may use even wretched sinners like us to bring more people to faith in the Son, Jesus Christ.