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What is Repentance?
by Clifford Tate 
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I sincerely doubt that any person would get a very enthusiastic response when posing this question to a person. I dare say that probably the majority of people polled with this question would refuse to respond having never heard the word ever used in their lifetime. I can see in my mind already the puzzled looks and confused stares coming from the faces of most people when confronted with this question. Imagine going into some of the country’s finest learning institutions and asking the very educators this question. The unlearned and antagonistic response from worldly people is perhaps understood, but many Christians have no real biblical understanding of what this word truly means.

In order for any person to be saved from sin and eternal damnation in hell, that person must repent of their sin and put their faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, this truth makes the understanding of this word crucial for every human being that will ever live on earth. A mere intellectual knowledge of repentance will not give any person the opportunity to ever see or behold our Lord and Savior. Adam’s disobedience has left every person born into this world enslaved to sin possessing a reprobate and depraved mind. Every adorable little baby born anywhere in this world has this mind with no exception.

The Bible clearly states in Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Faith then is paramount to being able to get right with God. The next question is then, how does someone get faith in God? Do we just ascent to certain facts about God in order to obtain this critical faith? Do we just believe it intellectually? What is the transaction that must manifest in order to have true faith or saving faith? What role does repentance play in this transaction?

Paul teaches us that when Christ humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross a supernatural miraculous transaction took place between God and man that can only be accessed through repentance and faith. When we go to any type of store to purchase something, we don’t get what we want from that store until we give the store clerk money in exchange for the item or goods we desire. We all understand that dynamic completely. If we take something without giving the money for the exchange then we have stolen it and we must face the penalty of the law that prohibits such behavior.

What am I saying here by using this example? Like in the natural an exchange takes place between the consumer and the store or business, in the supernatural work of salvation and redemption a transaction or exchange takes place as well. I am not saying that any sinner comes to Christ with something to buy his/her salvation, not at all. The transaction between Christ and every sinner is like the above example in that we sinners bring to Him our sin (and the willingness to repent = change of mind and turn away from our sin to Him) and immediately like in the natural example above the two parties come to full agreement and both are satisfied. Christ cannot save an impenitent soul at all not because He is unable, but solely because that sole is unwilling to receive Him and be forgiven. Why are so many people gambling their eternal future by denying or neglecting the requirement for true repentance?

The Lord Jesus told the Jews the following parable, Matthew 21:28-31 "Tell me what you think about this: There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first son and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' "The son answered, 'I will not go.' But later he decided he should go, and he went. "Then the father went to the other son and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' He answered, 'Yes, sir, I will go and work.' But he did not go. "Which of the two sons obeyed his father?" The Jewish leaders answered, "The first son." Jesus said to them, "The truth is, you are worse than the tax collectors and the prostitutes. In fact, they will enter God's kingdom before you enter. John came showing you the right way to live, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes believed John. You saw that happening, but you would not change. You still refused to believe him. ERV

What our Lord was telling these very religious people is that only a true change of mind (repentance) would lead to their forgiveness. He told them that the very people they despised and looked down on heard John in their hearts and they truly wanted God’s forgiveness. The Kingdom of Heaven is not for good people because there are no such people on this earth. The Holy Spirit speaking through Paul told us in Romans that, “There is none righteous no not one.” Also he said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Our Lord and Savior speaking to some of the same people He spoke to above no doubt said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” There is our word again from the mouth of our Lord and He makes it plain and clear that without “repentance” He cannot be known in a personal and intimate way (which is the only way to forgiveness and heaven). I believe one of the worst things in this life is for a person to not experience a true crushing in their spirit that makes them look up to heaven for deliverance. Christ’s salvation is from sin and it is deliverance from sin into His marvelous light.

Deuteronomy 26:7 And when we cried unto the LORD God of our fathers, the LORD heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labour, and our oppression. KJV

Exodus 3:7 And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows. KJV

Job 30:27 My bowels boiled, and rested not: the days of affliction prevented me. KJV

Psalm 25:18 Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins. KJV

Psalm 88:9 Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee. KJV

Psalm 119:50 This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me. KJV

Psalm 119:92 Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction. KJV

Jonah 2:2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. KJV

When we examine the above Scriptures, we see how affliction is really a blessing from God to mankind. In each of these cases, affliction was a catalyst to change. We don’t have any power within us to cleanse our own hearts. One of the worst things we (as human beings) can do is comparing ourselves to other people. This was the heart of these people and it is also our heart today. I am just like all who follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and see ourselves as so inadequate when it comes to His Word and digging into the rich depths of the unsearchable knowledge and infinite wisdom of God. I feel less than a kindergarten student in the School of Christ. However, my heart is open to receive whatever He reveals to me to be His truth.

I sorrow so much when I encounter people who have (for whatever reason) wrongly divided the Word of Truth and thereby made its power of no effect to the people listening to them or reading their literature. The enemy is not and has never been opposed to religion. Religion has no power of the one true God in it and cannot affect change in the hearts of men and women. This is still a very real issue and problem the visible Church faces today. It is dead and it speaks death to those who are already dead spiritually. Repentance is like a man carrying a load on his back up a steep hill and finally realizing that he needs to lay it down in order to preserve his life else he die trying to climb such a steep hill. The weight is a metaphor for our sin. We from the womb carry the overwhelming weight of our sin everywhere we go until the kindness and goodness of God comes to our heart and we finally see that we face certain eternal death unless we lay our sin at the foot of Christ cross. Human beings from the beginning of life are loaded with sin and guilt that will never subsist until we are brought by God the Holy Spirit to true repentance.

I met a man Seminary Educated with a Doctorate in Theology tell me that repentance is not necessary for a sinner to come to saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. I tried to humbly present to him what our Lord said, “Unless you repent you will likewise perish” but he knew that Scripture but still is diluted to believe what he does. How is this possible? What can be done to correct these errors that can and will dam souls in hell? I am not revealing something new; our Lord told us that the narrow way is hard. Did Jesus espouse easy believism? Did He promise impenitent souls the hope of forgiveness and heaven? The answer is simply no. A true biblical knowledge and understanding of repentance is essential in seeing true conversion verses false conversion. If a man repents not, then he is saved not.

Well, I’ve said a lot of things but still no deep illumination on what repentance means, what does it look like, and what does scripture tell us. There are two Hebrew words used for our English word repent and they are nacham, naw-kham' a primitive root; properly, to sigh, i.e. breathe strongly; by implication, to be sorry, i.e. (in a favorable sense) to pity, console or (reflexively) rue; or (unfavorably) to avenge (oneself):--comfort (self), ease (one's self), repent(-er,-ing, self). The second Hebrew word found is shuwb shoob a primitive root; to turn back (hence, away) transitively or intransitively, literally or figuratively (not necessarily with the idea of return to the starting point); generally to retreat surely, turn (away, back), withdraw.

When John the Baptist saw some of the Pharisees and Sadducees come out to where he was baptizing, he called them a brood of vipers (translation: children of the devil). Note: These were very religious people (in the synagogue always); some of them were the religious rulers in Jerusalem. They were as lost and dead in trespasses and sins as any Gentile temple prostitute. You see this condition is true of everyman born into this world of sin. They did not know the true condition of their souls and this is true of every man prior to the new birth. He knew that many of these people wanted God and their evil sinful ways at the same time. He cut right through any pretense or hypocrisy that they might bring. He wanted them to know that the one true God sees through religious rituals and ceremonies directly into the hearts of every man, woman, boy, and girl. He wanted all who came out to him for water baptism to know that this was just a symbolic act that pictured what the One (Jesus) coming after him would do in baptizing them with the Holy Spirit for those who from the heart truly repented and believed.

John wanted them to know that they had nothing of value to bring to God for His acceptance. He used graphic language that they would understand when he said the axe was laid at the root of the tree to cut it down if it did not bear good fruit. The tree was symbolic of a person, and the good fruit meant morally excellent and virtuous lifestyle. John spoke to the hearts of three different groups of people. They were the religious Jews (Pharisees and Sadducees), the tax collectors, and finally the soldiers. When each of them asked John what they must do, he spoke to the most visible sin he was aware of for each group of people. How does what he said to them apply to us today? The Holy Spirit convicts every person of the prevailing sin in that person’s heart that would prevent them from receiving Christ forgiveness. For example, when our Lord spoke to the rich young ruler, what was the sin that kept him from forgiveness? It was his covetousness or his love of his money more than wanting Christ forgiveness. Our Lord knows the depths of every human heart and will place His conviction right on the sin we covet. Now it is true we must give up or turn from all of our sin and receive Christ. The act of true repentance (from every sinner) cannot be seen by any human being (only the Lord Jesus sees this) because it occurs in the heart. Turning from sin is one of the results of genuine, faith-based repentance towards the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sincerely in Christ,

Clifford D. Tate, Sr.

For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation. — 2 Corinthians 7:10

Conviction of sin is best portrayed in the words -

"My sins, my sins, my Saviour,
How sad on Thee they fall."

Conviction of sin is one of the rarest things that ever strikes a man. It is the threshold of an understanding of God. Jesus Christ said that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict of sin, and when the Holy Spirit rouses a man’s conscience and brings him into the presence of God, it is not his relationship with men that bothers him, but his relationship with God – "against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight." The marvels of conviction of sin, forgiveness, and holiness are so interwoven that it is only the forgiven man who is the holy man, he proves he is forgiven by being the opposite to what he was, by God’s grace. Repentance always brings a man to this point: I have sinned. The surest sign that God is at work is when a man says that and means it. Anything less than this is remorse for having made blunders, the reflex action of disgust at himself.

The entrance into the Kingdom is through the panging pains of repentance crashing into a man’s respectable goodness; then the Holy Ghost, Who produces these agonies, begins the formation of the Son of God in the life. The new life will manifest itself in conscious repentance and unconscious holiness, never the other way about. The bedrock of Christianity is repentance. Strictly speaking, a man cannot repent when he chooses; repentance is a gift of God. The old Puritans used to pray for "the gift of tears." If ever you cease to know the virtue of repentance, you are in darkness. Examine yourself and see if you have forgotten how to be sorry.

By Oswald Chambers

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