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The Call to Repentance

(Matthew 3:1-3, 5-8; Mark 1:1-8)

Lesson 1 -- fourth quarter 2008
September 7, 2008

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 2008

What is repentance?

Repentance is regret and sorrow for personal wrongdoing. Repentance acknowledges moral and personal failure, accepting personal responsibility for it.

Repentance includes an amending of life. In addition to grieving over the wrong done, it chooses a new course that will take it away from that wrong.

Did John the Baptist make repentance a new issue?

Repentance, both as an issue and as a word, appears in the biblical account long before John the Baptist was even born. However, our King James Version records only six Old Testament verses using repent or repented as something a human did, or should do, of his sins. Of those six verses, only one registers an individual repenting -- Job (Job 42:6); only one records a people repenting -- Ephraim (Jeremiah 31:19); and only two chronicle a divine call to repent and turn from sin (Ezekiel 14:6; 18:30). The other two usages appear in 1 Kings 8:47 and Jeremiah 8:6.

A careful study of the Old Testament shows an occasional appeal for a changed heart. For the most part, however, action centered around a sacrifice for sin that could be offered whether or not the person's heart had experienced a fundamental change. As I write this, I am in a country where the predominant religion takes that old approach -- confession and sacrifice will get you by without needing genuine repentance.

The New Testament is an entirely different proposition. Early in the Church Age, Peter preached, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19). In his message on Mars' hill, Paul stated clearly and emphatically that the old approach is abolished, for God "now commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30). From Matthew to Revelation, repent and its derivatives surface repeatedly. And John the Baptist launched the new emphasis -- "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2); the Lord and His men echoed that clarion call (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Acts 20:21; Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 12:21; 2 Timothy 2:25; 2 Peter 3:9). John forcefully preached repentance as the new condition for the remission of sins (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3); Jesus and His disciples continued that emphasis (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38). John also introduced baptism as an outward sign of that inner state. You might say that John the Baptist was on the cutting edge of what was to become the New Testament approach to sin and guilt (Acts 13:24).

Later on in His ministry, Jesus issued proclamations that surely startled His listeners: "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matthew 9:13); "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5); "Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). In His messages to the churches in Revelation, the Lord waxes equally direct; here is one example: "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (2:5).

Is repentance strictly a personal matter?

Many in the church would have us believe that repentance is only a personal affair. They openly proclaim the repentance issue a matter between God and the individual alone, with everyone else being closed out. Obviously, they are right in the sense that I cannot force it on anyone else. However, they are wrong when they insist I cannot observe the effects of that repentance. Both John the Baptist and Paul called for fruits and works "meet for repentance" (Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20).

So prove it!

Both John and Jesus spoke very severely to those whose righteousness did not touch their hearts. Both of them rejected righteousness for show, yet both of them demanded that righteousness show.

If I say I have experienced repentance, the inward change I profess should be very obvious outwardly. In other words, what I am will always reveal itself with visible fruit. Just as a lemon tree produces lemons, so repentance produces right living. If I say I have changed but you can't tell I have changed, have I really changed?

John stated plainly, "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Then he gave this warning of a coming test and judgment: "Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 3:10).

Let us also give life-changing heed to these words of the Master: "Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit.... Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 7:17,19). Thankfully, Jesus also assured us, "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Why does God command repentance?

Paul announced, "God...now commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30). John the Baptist came announcing the Kingdom of God with a powerful call for repentance. Jesus did likewise, and so did Peter. And so have many others. Why does God command repentance?

Because God is done winking. At the ignorance of people who in all sincerity worship idols. At the love-your-friend-hate-your-enemy approach to life. At the focus on form at the expense of substance. At divorce and so many other things. He's been done with all this for almost two thousand years. Jesus came! And now God commands "all men every where to repent." Do we get the message? Out?

Because without it, we cannot experience conversion and cleansing from sin. "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19). So...what's the status of your sin?

Because He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world. Oh the mercy and loving kindness of God to give us the opportunity for and call to repentance! He could have just quit winking and judged the whole lot of us. But not God. Do not despise this time of waiting. Make sure you are ready, then help others get ready!

"...God...hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18).

"...The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance" (Romans 2:4).

"...If God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25).

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