Kevin DeYoung is a terrific pastor who wrote a great piece on repentance: Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand. I encourage you to read it all. It is a key part of Jesus’ message that is so easy to leave out.
Revelation 9:20-21 “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”
God’s word to the peoples of the world is not only an offer of grace, nor even less simply a call to live rightly, nor even less still a promise to make all our dreams come true if we just have faith. We have not heard all that God wants to say to us unless we have heard his command to repent.
Ezekiel said “Repent and turn from your transgressions” (Ezek. 18:30). John the Baptist said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). Jesus said “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Peter said “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). And Paul said God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
Repentance has never been easy. No one likes to be told “Die to yourself. Kill that in you. Admit you are wrong and change.” That’s never been an easy sell. It’s much easier to get a crowd by leaving out the repentance part of faith, but it’s not faithful. It’s not even Christianity. Of course, there is a whole lot more to following Jesus than repentance, but it’s certainly not less. “Repent,” Jesus said, or “you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).
If you don’t repent, you will perish.
His section on how repentance isn’t remorse, embarrassment or apology is important, because we often confuse those things and think we’ve repented.
. . . So regret is easy, embarrassment is easy, and apology is easy. Repentance, on the other hand, is very hard and, therefore, much rarer. Repentance involves two things: a change of mind and a change of behavior.
Repentance means you change your mind. That’s what the Greek word metanoia means– a changed (meta) mind (noia).
You change your mind about yourself: “I am not fundamentally a good person deep down. I am not the center of the universe. I am not the king of the world or even my life.”
You change your mind about sin: “I am responsible for my actions. My past hurts do not excuse my present failings. My offenses against God and against others are not trivial. I do not live or think or feel as I should.”
And you change your mind about God: “He is trustworthy. His word is sure. He is able to forgive and to save. I believe in his Son, Jesus Christ. I owe him my life and my allegiance. He is my King and my Sovereign, and he wants what is best for me. I believe it!”
Repentance is hard because changing someone’s mind is hard. In fact, when we’re dealing with spiritual matters of the heart, God’s the only one who can really change your mind. People are simply not predisposed to say “I was wrong! I was wrong about God and about myself. My whole way of looking at the world has been in error. I want to change.” That’s repentance. And it’s amazing when it happens.
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Repentance also involves a change of behavior. It’s like a train conductor driving his train down the tracks straight for the side of a mountain. It’s one thing for him to realize and admit that his train his going in the wrong direction. It’s another thing to stop the train and it get it going in the opposite direction.
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If we preach a “gospel” with no call to repentance we are preaching something other than the apostolic gospel.
If we knowing allow unconcerned, impenitent sinners into the membership and ministry of the church, we are deceiving their souls and putting ours at risk as well.
If we think people can find a Savior without forsaking their sin, we do not know what sort of Savior Jesus Christ is.
There are few things more important in life than repentance. So important, that Revelation, and the gospels, and the epistles, and the Old Testament make clear that you don’t go to heaven without it.