Thank God He has made a way for us to experience His presence. The best decision one can make is to abandon his life entirely over to God. But where does it all begin, and how do we do that? It starts with repentance. For this lesson, we will study the act of repentance and the vital role it plays in our walk with Christ.
First, let’s define the word repent.
Repent means to feel self-reproach, compunction, or contrition for past conduct; to feel regret or change one’s mind with regard to past action in consequence of dissatisfaction with it or its result. Isaiah gives us the following Biblical definition of repentance.
“Let the [a]wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.”
We also see in Isaiah 55:7 that the act of repentance is two-fold. We must forsake our way and return to the Lord; this establishes the act of turning from and turning toward. It means not only turning away from sin but also turning to God for forgiveness.
So why do people need to repent? Do you remember the story of Adam and Eve? God created the two in His image. Holiness. But that quickly changed when Eve chose to disobey God’s command and then influenced Adam to do the same. From that time, men and women were born in Adam’s image with a propensity to sin. It was not until after Jesus’s sacrifice that men and women would be able to become one with God again and live in holiness as God initially intended.
But how do we acquire this state of being again? Looking to the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, we find He preached the doctrine of repentance. Repentance is the first step to a life with Christ. All of us need to repent of wrongdoings we committed, and young people who reach the age of accountability are no different. We will talk about the “age of accountability” for young people later in our lesson. But first, let’s look to the Bible to learn more about the act of repenting.
“17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven [a]is at hand.”
This scripture in Mathew is where Jesus begins His ministry, and He started by teaching repentance. Because we each are born with the nature to sin, restoration to holiness requires one to repent after understanding sins committed are wrong against God. The act of repenting is the first step toward receiving forgiveness of sins and living a new life in Christ. John the Baptist required people to repent before he would baptize them with water. John’s commission was to prepare the way for the coming of Christ, and the need for repentance was John’s first message to the world.
“3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,”
The word remission means cancelation. True, John baptized people with water, but that isn’t what he was preaching here. John understood that it was only the baptism of repentance that could remove sins from someone’s life.
“8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”
Here John spoke directly to the religious leaders of the land. John called them on their hypocrisy. It was not enough to profess to know God. They must show the works or fruit that repentance has taken place before receiving the symbolic act of water baptism. John made it clear that to grow up a preacher’s son or daughter was not enough. To come from a devoutly religious family was not enough. Our lineage or bloodline can not save us or qualify us to be called holy. We must all bear fruit that shows we are ready for the baptism of repentance. The fruit will reveal what is in our hearts and expose our true motive. Water baptism will not cancel or take our sins away. We must repent of all wrongdoing, and Jesus will cover our sins with His blood.
Jesus commanded all men to repent.
” 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God [a]is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
The apostles also taught all sinners to repent.
“38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the [a]remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
“19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,”
Here the apostle used the term “blotted out.” This is precisely what Jesus does for us when we repent. Our sins are blotted out, no longer to be remembered by Jesus.
“30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,”
This scripture in Acts teaches us that there was a time that God might have overlooked some things, but this is no longer true for us. Jesus left men and women without excuse to continue their ungodly ways by willingly laying down His life for us. To have sins removed, all men must repent. There is no exception. Repentance is required of everyone, no matter how good or self-righteous they might be in the eyes of others or their own eyes.
“13 There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?
3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
Here Jesus was saying to us, “Do you think it matters that one group of people are more wicked than the others? Do you think the more wicked ones will suffer a worse fate than the others? The answer is no! Regardless, we all meet death. As we will all meet death, for Jesus to blot out our sins, we are also “all” required to repent. Again there is no exception. We all need to repent to become one with Jesus.
Godly sorrow also plays a vital role in the act of repentance. The two terms go hand and hand. Repentance can not take place without Godly sorrow. Let’s look at Jesus’s words to learn the difference between Godly sorry, which leads to repentance, and worldly sorrow that leads to death.
“10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13 And the Publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
The Pharisee came to God with a prayer that reveals to us a very proud heart. Putting all his confidence in the self-righteous practice of rituals ordered by the Phariesses’ religion, he believes he is in the highest favor with God possible. What we do not see here are the sins hidden behind the Pharisee’s profession of faith. On the other hand, the Publican acknowledges his actual state of circumstance with a prayer of humility. The prayer is revealing to us a heart smitten with genuine feelings of sorrow for his actions. The Publican fully understands only God’s mercy can save him from himself. With a truly vulnerable spirit, the Publican sorrowfully confesses his transgressions before God Almighty. The Publican is an example of a man stricken with Godly sorrow or the sorrow that leads to repentance. The Pharisee, however, would not reveal even his slightest fault to God Himself. Jesus then tells us who went away justified. We can then infer from the reading that the Publican’s sins were forever blotted out.
Genuine Godly sorrow is not the sorrow of the world.
“8 For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season.
9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”
The Apostle Paul tells us that a Godly sorrow will cause us to repent of our wrong, so we will not repeat it. But worldly sorrow is temporary. Meaning, once the suffering for committing the wrong passes, we are no longer troubled and will repeat the action. In the latter case, the sin was not blotted out because repentance did not occur, so the penalty “worketh death” remains.
Sometimes young people will feel sorrow for getting caught in some wrongdoing. But when the sadness passes, they repeat the transgression until the next time someone catches them in the act, which is an example of worldly sorrow. Many people are capable of worldly sorrow. Those who experience a Godly sorrow will stop the wrongdoing and receive Jesus’s forgiveness.
Young children will often repeat sinful acts because the child has not outgrown the bad habit or is unaware the transgression is against God. For example, suppose a young man throws a ball inside the family’s home and breaks his mother’s favorite vase. When his mother comes asking, “who broke the vase?” rather than telling the truth, he lies and blames his brother. If he gets away with it, he might try it again and again. If he gets caught in the lie, he still might try it again if the risk is worth enduring the punishment. Young people are capable of going on like this for a long time. But there will come a day in this child’s life when he realizes that lying is not just causing him trouble with his mom or dad. But the act of any deception is now also causing a great conflict in his heart.
Repentance is the only thing that can resolve the great conflict caused by sin. This young man has finally become accountable for his actions, not only to the one he has transgressed against but also to God Himself. The young man has reached what we call the “age of accountability.” Remember I told you we would revisit the meaning of “age of accountability”?
The age of accountability is different for everyone. We cannot put a set number on this critical time in someone’s life because everyone’s experience is different. But what if a child passes away before they arrive at their age of accountability to God? Because we know in this circumstance repentance can not take place. Well, God is merciful and has a plan in place for even this situation. To answer the question, if a child meets an untimely death, God in His mercy allows this child to join our Lord in heaven regardless of any history of transgressions. However, it is crucial to understand that this provision for innocent people, youth, or children does not make the scripture untrue. All who are accountable before God must repent. God in His mercy allows for the ignorant and naive to be protected from eternal damnation. But for the rest of us who clearly understand right from wrong and know the conflict sin causes with God, the message is clear. Repentance is the way for us to have our sins blotted out forever and have life anew in Christ.
Let’s look at another example of Godly sorrow. Did you know when the prodigal son returned home, he exemplified Godly sorrow?
“11 And he said, A certain man had two sons:
12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”
The prodigal’s son’s words help us to see what genuine humility looks like. The son was willing to ask forgiveness for his actions and live as a servant rather than a son in his father’s house. Godly sorrow brings humility and the understanding that only God has the power to resolve our sin issue. We humbly and sorrowfully seek forgiveness for excluding God from our lives, finally realizing the answer for our sorrow and sin is found with Him.
Before a man can repent, the Spirit of God must first convict him of his sinful ways.
“44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
For repentance to occur, in addition to Godly sorrow, God’s spirit is present with convicting power.
“8 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:”
We need only to confess our sins to God. Only God has the power to forgive sins, not men. Some religions indeed require individuals to confess their sins to a priest or another church elder. But the Bible teaches against this practice. Once God has one’s confession, and repentance takes effect, God cast those sins away, never remembering them again. The blood of Christ covers our past, and the fruit of our lives moving forward will reveal a repented heart. So to confess our sins to another person has no benefit. God alone can forgive sins and, most importantly, forget. We now have a clean slate and can build a new life with Christ.
“12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”
“9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
In Proverbs, the writer teaches us that covering sin is not the same as confessing and forsaking. We must be willing to walk away from our sinful life. No matter how seemingly small, the transgression appears. Many times young people growing up with Christian teachings and values feel they are not terrible sinners and ask, “What do I have to repent of?” However, the Bible teaches that all have sinned.
Let me create a picture for you. If I have a blank piece of pure white paper and I blot half of it out with a colored marking pen, it is easy to see that the paper is not pure or clean. Now, if I have another sheet of paper, pure white, then put a very tiny mark on it with the tip of a pen, and to the naked eye the mark is unnoticeable, does this mean the paper is pure white and ready for use? No. This piece of paper is marked as well. The two pieces of paper are equally unusable in their current state. It is the same with us. A young person may grow up with good values and avoid all the obvious and outward vices of sin, but this doesn’t mean they are exempt from the call to repent. Just knowing that you have not entirely abandoned your life to God is enough to leave a mark –a sinful mark. Just like the piece of paper marked with the ballpoint pen. We can not exclude God from our lives and think that He accepts us because we have morals and values aligned with good living. God calls each of us to relinquish control of our lives to Him. Forsaking “our way” is part of repentance.
“23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”
If one covers sin in their life and professes to know God, this is practicing hypocrisy. Hypocrisy means we say we are one way, but we believe and live something completely different. We must turn away from all sin and transgression.
“13 He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”
Some people find the following passage in Luke to be a hard thing to do. Does God want us to hate our family? Not at all. The Bible teaches against hate. Jesus spoke these words in this way to show us how important it is that God has first place in our lives. We must love everything else less than God. Repentance will cause us to make God and His work a priority. We must be willing to follow Christ with all our might, no matter what relationship, status with community, or any other thing it may cost us. If we are not willing to forsake all, we can not become a disciple of Christ.
“26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?
32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.
33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”
We must seek forgiveness from the people in our lives we have wronged. Going back to those we hurt and asking for their forgiveness is also a part of repentance.
“23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”
This passage in Mathew shows us God’s expectation when we wrong someone in our lives. God can not accept our praises if we are unwilling to make our wrongs right. Especially to those injured by our transgressions. We must confess our wrong and ask forgiveness of the one who we sinned against. The act of asking forgiveness from those we’ve wronged produces a good conscience towards men and God.
“16 And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men.”
Another essential piece of repentance is restitution or “making restitution.” Restitution is the act of restoring whatever loss was caused by our transgression toward our fellow man. For example, if someone needs to ask forgiveness for stealing. In this case, to make restitution, it is also necessary to either return the items taken or cover the cost. Restitution was one of the first things that Zacheous wanted to do after he met Jesus.
“2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.
4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.
6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
8 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.”
The scriptures teach us Zacchaeus, the tax collector, restored what he took from the people four times over! Zacchaeus indeed received the nature of a repented heart!
Repentance also requires us to forgive others. We must be willing to turn away from and let go of all hatred, malice, grudges, and negative or bad feelings toward others. If we are not willing to forgive others, God will not forgive us.
“14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
“34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.”
Jesus forgave those that mocked and crucified Him. His example as He was dying on the cross shows us we have no excuse to hold onto unforgiveness. If we choose not to forgive those who have wronged us, we only hurt ourselves. Unforgiveness is a heavy burden to carry. Jesus wants us to set that burden upon His shoulders and let Him remove it from us forever. Unforgiveness will eat away at our health and adversely affect our mental health along with our quality of life. In the end, unforgiveness will eventually succeed at destroying our soul like a cancer that destroys the body. When we forgive, it sets us free from the one who wronged us. We are no longer bound to the one who caused our pain; instead, we are bound to Christ and His love.
Lastly, as a man turns from sin and seeks God, an incredible feeling of humility and unworthiness overwhelms him.
2 Corinthians 7:11
“11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”
Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he
He climbed up in the sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see
And when the Saviour walked on by, he looked up in the tree!
And he said Zacchaeus! You come down!
For I’m going to your house today!
I’m going to your house today!
There is not a more wonderful feeling like the one experienced when Jesus removes the weight of sin and resolves the eternal conflict with God in your heart. Words alone can not do this experience justice, one must experience it for themselves. If you have not turned away from sin and turned toward God, Jesus is calling you just as He called Zacchaeus. Repentance, with Godly sorry, will give you a life with Christ and a home in heaven.
SBT & RHT