Vol. 8, No. 8
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Before we can study repentance, we must first understand all repentance entails. Webster uses the three following definitions when defining "repentance:" (1) "to feel sorry or self-reproachful for what one has done or failed to do," (2) to feel such regret or dissatisfaction over some past action, intent, etc. as to change one's mind about," (3) "to feel so contrite over ones sins as to change, or decide to change, one's ways; be penitent." While all three of these definitions are somewhat accurate, a combination of the last two gives the most complete definition, as it demands a change of mind and a change of action. Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words states the term "signifies 'to change one's mind or purpose'" and, in the New Testament, always involves "a change for the better." Further, "this change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God" (Vine's).
Turn to Luke 19:1-10. As we recall the account, Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Tax collectors were known for cheating people in order to receive great riches (Nelson's). As long as the Roman government received its share of the taxes, the collectors could take anything they wanted for themselves, even if it was not part of the tax. For this reason, tax collectors were greatly disliked by the people and considered equal with sinners. Notice also that Zacchaeus was a "chief among the publicans." Most likely, this meant he had other publicans working for him, from which he took a portion of their profits as well (Barnes'). The repentance of Zacchaeus is seen in verse eight. "And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." Zacchaeus not only repented with words, but his actions also showed his penitent attitude as he made restitution for his sins.
Turn now to Matthew 3:1-10. In this passage we read of the Sadducees and Pharisees going to John the Baptist to be baptized. Notice in particular verses 8-10. In verse eight, they are told, "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance." The word meet means "deserving" or "suitable" (New Exhaustive). It is a request for their actions to show a change, indicating a true penitent heart. The likeness given is that of a fruitless tree. Verse ten shows such trees are cut down and burned. The same will be so with those who merely act their repentance. Matthew also records a warning by Jesus, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (7:21). It is one thing to state a change, but another to live that change.
The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is a great example of repentance as well. The first part of the repentance is seen when the young man determines in his own mind to make change and return home (verses 17-19). He states "I will arise...I will say." In verse twenty, he acts upon what he has already determined as "he arose and came to his father."
Car batteries have positive and negative terminals. If only one of the terminals is connected, the car will not work; both terminals are absolutely necessary. Bible repentance works the same way. The negative terminal is the cessation of sin. The positive terminal is embracing God's way. When repenting, we must not only stop committing and turn away from the sin, but also replace that action with something positive, thus embracing God's way. If one were to stop the sinful action without replacing it with good, a void remains. The unfilled void must be filled. If we do not fill it with goodness, we may inadvertently fill it with the same or another sinful act. Just like the car battery, repentance requires both a positive and a negative terminal.
Consider James 4:7-8. Here we see a two step process for submitting to God. The first step is to resist the devil which is equivalent to the cessation of sin. To resist means "to stand against" (New Exhaustive) or to oppose. In Ephesians 6:10-18 Paul discusses the "Whole Armor of God" and its use to resist the devil. In verse eleven of that text, we read of our ability to "stand against" the devil. Standing against the devil is resisting him. The parts of the armor are found in verses fourteen through eighteen. Only by utilizing every piece of the armor can one effectively resist the devil, resulting in his flight.
The second step found in James 4:7-8 is drawing nigh to God, equivalent to embracing God's way. To draw near to something is "to make near" or "approach" it (New Exhaustive). According to Hebrews 7:19, one draws nigh to God through the Gospel. By following the teachings of God and Jesus found within the Gospel, we approach God. John 14:15 tells us to keep God's commandments in order to show our love for him, thus making ourselves near to him. The result of drawing nigh to God is that he will in turn draw nigh to us. We can abide in God's love through obedience (John 15:10). To abide in God's love is "to stay" (New Exhaustive) in God's love. Basically, God will accept us if we accept him.
The Bible records two instances to repent. The first is included in what man has named "The Plan of Salvation." This is the process we are currently studying. After one believes the Word of God and decides to be obedient to God's commands, repentance is the next logical course. In Acts Chapter Two when Peter and the rest of the apostles taught in Jerusalem, the Jews asked what it was they needed to do. Peter told them to repent of their sins (Acts 2:38). God even commands all who desire to be right with him to repent of their sins (Acts 17:30).
The other occasion to repent is for Christians to return to God when they err. We find example of this in Acts 8:9-22. Verses 9-13 record Simon, and others, obeying the Gospel. In verses 18-21, Simon sinned by trying to buy miraculous gifts from Peter and John. In verse twenty-two, Peter commanded Simon to "Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee." Simon was to make a change in his life and pray to God for forgiveness.
As the Bible teaches repentance, it is more than words expressing feeling. Repentance is an expressed feeling seen by our actions. Repentance is a change of mind resulting in a change of actions. We have seen this through the example of Zacchaeus. It has been seen by the words of John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Repentance is necessary for two instances in one's life: in the process that makes one a Christian, and for an erring Christian to return to God.
Barnes' Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1986.
New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, 1994.
Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1985