The Importance of Repentance

This week’s scripture reading – Matthew 4:17, 

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Repentance Defined

Why is repentance important and what is the power of repentance? Readers may recall from previous Bible Studies, the same phrase was declared by John the Baptist in the Bible verse Matt. 3:1-2. With Jesus now making this bold statement it tends to reinforce the unity and importance of this inaugural message from both Jesus and John the Baptist. This message of repentance however pre-dated his lengthy sermon on the mount to the multitudes. There were indeed thematic elements expressed in this sermon on the importance of repentance.

But what does it mean to repent and why is it important? The word repent is not frequently used in the world today as a topic of general conversation. It usually brings the implication that someone has done something wrong before God. Repentance though is mentioned throughout scripture in various forms, whether it be repent, repented, repentance, etc. In most cases, it means to change one’s mind through personal conviction, to feel compunction over, reconsider, or turn away from something. We will soon see the latter point becomes a common element with repentance.

As a case in point, repentant behavior was stated by the Lord God in his plea and instruction to the Israelites from 2 Chron. 7:14, If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. This notable and often quoted verse illustrates the importance of repentance. A repentance marked by humility, prayer, seeking God and turning away from something that, in all likelihood is impeding a person’s faith walk. We will see that the importance of repentance in Christianity is something that applies to all believers in Christ.

then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin

2 Chronicles 7:14

Repentance Explored

A similar example on the teaching of repentance from the New Testament was written by Paul in 1 Thess. 1:9-10, For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, [even] Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. Take careful note how both of these verses indicate a turning away from something and then turning to God.

On another occasion, It was interesting to observe the effect of Paul and Barnabas preaching to a group of people in the book of Acts. The residents were from the city of Lystra and were about to offer pagan sacrifices on behalf of the two disciples. Having witnessed the miraculous healing of a disabled person, they viewed Paul and Barnabas as gods. But the two men would have nothing of the sort and so it became necessary to admonish the people as noted in Acts 14:15, And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein. Again, note the turning away from things contrary to the will of God.

Repentance meets Reality

During the ministry of Jesus, he sought to illustrate the importance of repentance by using parables. While speaking to the religious leaders among the Israelites he said in Matt. 21:28b-31a, A [certain] man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I [go,] sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of [his] father? They say unto him, The first. Do you see the continuity in theme of the importance of repentance thus far? It is becoming increasingly evident that repentance formed a core part of early preaching and conversion for individuals desiring to become people of faith. In essence, repentance and faith work harmoniously and this is how repentance can become part of your daily faith walk.

This theme also continued throughout the early ministry of the apostles after the ascension of Jesus to heaven. The people of Judea and Jerusalem were brought to the realization of who Jesus really was, whom they crucified, from Peter’s preaching. They asked Peter what they should do and the dialogue concluded in Acts 2:38, Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Here it is noted how the importance of repentance was in tandem with baptism in acknowledgement of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. As the apostle’s ministry progressed in sharing the gospel message to both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jewish people), the same theme continued in Acts 3:19, Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.

Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out

Acts 3:19a

Another noteworthy incident occurred with a man named Simon who was a former practioner of sorcery. It is recorded in Acts 8:18-19, …when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. Peter no doubt strongly admonished him over his desire to think that the gift of God could be bought with money as noted in Acts 8:22, Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. Paul also included the theme of repentance in his messages while preaching to the people of Athens who worshipped an unknown god in Acts 17:30, And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent. 

The notion of how the benefit of repentance can become part of your daily faith walk was a fundamental part of preaching to both Jews and Gentiles during the disciple’s ministry as shown in the latter part of Acts 26:20, But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and [then] to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. This act of repentance in tandem with turning to God clearly has a repetitive theme throughout scripture.

Repentance meets Forgiveness

Continuing on with this subject a bit further, Jesus highlighted not only the importance of repentance during his ministry but also a message of forgiveness with it. Evidence of this is found in Luke 17:3-4, Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. As the gospel message unfolds throughout these Bible Studies, we will see how forgiveness reflects one of the many attributes from God. This is shown in Eph. 4:32, And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Repentance and forgiveness form a partnership in how repentance can become part of your daily faith walk.

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

Ephesians 4:32

Repentance meets Grief

The subject of repentance would not be complete without giving some indication of how an unrepentant heart affects God. The actions and behaviour of people can quite often grieve God in his heart. This dates back right to the beginning in Gen. 6:5-6, And GOD saw that the wickedness of man [was] great in the earth, and [that] every imagination of the thoughts of his heart [was] only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. The Lord was also grieved by the Israelites in their rebellion of spirit after the exodus from Egypt as noted in Heb. 3:10, Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in [their] heart; and they have not known my ways. The importance of repentance is not merely something done in isolation of one’s self since it also affects the very heart of God. Any wonder why John 3:16 starts with, For God so loved the world!

Grieving of the Lord was also reflected during the ministry of Jesus in Mark 3:5a, And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit, as part of the triune Godhead, is also grieved by the actions of people as noted in Eph. 4:29-31, Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.  It is of interest to note, that coming to God in repentance tends to prevent what often becomes the proverbial hardness of heart from developing.

Repentance meets Sin

A great number of scripture references were provided in this study to give a more comprehensive picture of repentance, its meaning, relevance and impact upon people and God . If it is not already evident, sin is directly correlated with repentance. As previously mentioned, sin and the absence of repentance will prevent people from seeking and turning to God. Such an event occurred even in the early days shortly after the transgression took place in the garden of Eden as shown in Gen. 3:8, And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. This was similar to Peter’s response to Jesus in Luke 5:8, When Simon Peter saw [it,] he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. To conclude on this point, sin is indeed the antithesis to the holiness of God and while sin is in play, God is grieved in his heart from such actions, whether in thought, word or deed.

Repentance meets Contemplation

To summarize this Bible Study thus far on the importance of repentance, diligent readers have seen how recent studies have covered many subjects such as sin, spiritual darkness and light, and now repentance. All of these are complex, contemplative and very interrelated to each other. This is shown by the Lord’s instruction to Saul (also called Paul) while the Lord prepared him to preach to the Gentiles in Acts 26:18a, …To open their eyes, [and] to turn [them] from darkness to light, and [from] the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins. Seekers of faith should know the Lord is indeed calling all people to himself and his desire is for a sincere heart of repentance as shown in 2 Pet. 3:9, The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Repentance meets Faith

A person’s daily walk of faith may require the forsaking of certain ways in order to trust more in God’s provision for their life. This is faith in action and it is clearly an individual and very personal decision. This is usually started by turning to God, whether it be through humility of spirit or by praying in faith as in Heb. 11:6, But without faith [it is] impossible to please [him:] for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. For believers in Christ who have experienced the new birth, it is reassuring to know that it is Christ at work in us as expressed in Eph. 3:16-17, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love. This is indeed how repentance can become part of your daily faith walk!

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7

To close off this Bible Study on repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, for seekers of faith who have perhaps not made a decision to believe just yet, perhaps now is the time to let God’s love draw you into repentance. His forgiveness is waiting for you as referenced once again from 2 Chron. 7:14, If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. At the end of the day, it is with a contrite spirit where people come to peace in the Lord through repentance as reflected in Phil. 4:6-7, Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Bible Study Questions

  1. Who else in the Bible used the phrase expressed by Jesus, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand?
  2. In this study, how can lack of repentance in someone’s life affect their walk of faith with God?
  3. Provide some reasons why people may not feel the need or desire to repent before God?
  4. Name at least three ways repentance is demonstrated in scripture before God?
  5. Jesus taught a message of repentance along with a message of what other attribute that went along with it?
  6. Why do you think it grieves the Lord when people do not repent of their sins before him?
  7. How does prayer play into the importance of repentance in your daily faith walk with God?

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