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Biblical repentance

by Bill Wong

 

 

 

Christianity today teaches a gospel about Jesus Christ: who He is, what He did and will do, and why He died and was raised (please note the real name of Jesus is Hebrew: Yeshua‘ – or Yahushua‘ / Yahusha‘; see the article: ‘The Name of God and Messiah’). However, Christianity does not really teach everything the Lord Jesus did and when they try, it is not according to the Bible. Instead of concentrating on the person of Jesus and His miracles, how about what He actually taught? He did not just teach about Himself.

 

The gospel message of the Bible is not just about Jesus Christ, it is also the gospel of Jesus Christ – the things He taught. The cornerstone of what He taught is the other side of why He came to die. Yes, the Lord Jesus came to die for our sins, but He preached repentance from sin to enter the Kingdom of God. He came to teach that we must stop sinning and be holy. To not stop sinning is to make a mockery of all He suffered and died for. God did not send His only-begotten son to die for people who continue to live in sin, but God wants a holy people for Himself who repents of sin.

 

The leaders of the churches today often speak of repentance from sin and give various thoughts on what sin is. While these things should be acknowledged, controlled and repented of (such as pornography, drugs, etc.), it is usually not the Biblical definition of sin. And sometimes, the terms “sinning against God” and “obeying His will and commandments” come up, but not with any Biblical explanation of what they mean. People do not know what sin and repentance are Biblically.

 

But have people ever stopped to find out for themselves what God’s definition of sin is? Do they know what Biblical repentance is? How can they know what Biblical repentance is if they do not know what the Bible says sin is?

 

What is missing from the churches today are the truths about what sin really is, overcoming sin and true repentance, what love & faith in God and His Son (and for each other) really means, and the coming Kingdom of God


Repentance is to change. It is our acknowledgement in humility and contrition that we are sinful and that our sins can only be washed away by Jesus' atoning sacrifice and God's grace. We acknowledge we are hopelessly in the clutches of sin and want to break free and are resolute to turn our lives around by not sinning anymore. 

Repentance means to turn away from and change from the way things were before, so to repent from sin means we must change our lives and stop sinning.

 

Repentance is not feeling sorry and repentance is not a one-time thing.  Repentance is a life-saving change that is constant as long as we are in this world and are flesh.  The believer in Christ as the son of God and Messiah who saves us with His blood, who does not continue to repent has stopped growing.  This is because repentance is a life-saving change that is constant as long as we are in this world and are flesh.       

 

Just feeling sorry is often a temporary and fleshly/carnal reaction.  However, repentance involves not just knowing you are sinful, but knowing you must stop sinning and there is action involved – you must actually take action to change your life and stop sinning.  We must know it is not enough to just feel sorry about sin and what we have done in a fleshly/ worldly way, but we must have a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  When we have this godly sorrow, it leads us to Biblical repentance and makes us really want to change. This godly sorrow leading to repentance from sin creates in us a change of heart and a change in our way of thinking and doing things to remove sin in our lives and be holy to God:

 

2 Corinthians 7:

9    Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.

10   For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

11   For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.    (NKJV)

 

 

Repentance means we are willing to turn away from our way of life and to live by God's ways. Repentance means we are willing to change and stop sinning against God.

 

The Bible from the very beginning teaches repentance from sin. It was the first thing Jesus taught as well. It is a recurrent theme throughout in the New Testament; God does not want sinful children – He wants holy children.

 

So we see in preparation for the coming of Jesus the Messiah, John the Baptist preached repentance from our sins and the Kingdom of God:

 

Matthew 3:

1   In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,

2   and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"

3   For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

   " The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ' Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.' "  (NKJV) 

 

 

After He was baptized (as a model for us by immersion, Matthew 3:14-16), fasted for 40 days and resisted the enemy's temptation (He rebuked the enemy from the words of His Father in the Old Testament), Jesus preached the very same message, picking up where John left off after John was put in prison:

 

Matthew 4: 

12      Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee.

13      And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali,

14      that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

15      " The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles:

16      The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned."

17      From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  (NKJV) 

 

 

Luke 24:

46   and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day,

47   and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

     (NASB)

 

 

We must note that in Luke 24:47 above, just before Jesus returned to heaven, He said that repentance is tied to forgiveness of sins and said this should be proclaimed to the entire world. So we must turn away from sin! 

 

Therefore, it is not surprising that we see in the Book of Acts that the apostles heeded the Lord Jesus’ command. From the very beginning of the church of God, the body of Christ, on the Day of Pentecost, it was made known again that repentance from sin is at the core of the gospel as the apostle Peter makes clear:

 

Acts 2:

38   Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins,

     and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  (WEB)

 

 

This same repentance from sin was also taught by the apostle Paul after His conversion on the road to Damascus:

 

Acts 26:

12   "While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,

13   at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun,

     shining around me and those who journeyed with me.

14   And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language,

     'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'

15   So I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

16   But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose,

     to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.

17   I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you,

18   to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God,

     that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.'

19   "Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,

20   but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea,

     and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.

     To break free from the bondage of sin is why Jesus came and sacrificed himself for us.   (NKJV)

 

Acts 17:

30   The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked. But now he commands that all people everywhere should repent,

31   because he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he has ordained;

     of which he has given assurance to all men, in that he has raised him from the dead."  (WEB)

 

 

 

What is sin?

 

The Bible reveals that repentance from sin is clearly very important in the eyes of God. So in order for us to repent from sin, we must know what sin is.

 

What is the Bible’s definition of sin? The Bible teaches that sin is the transgression of God’s Law. The Law of God is summarized as the 10 Commandments.


1 John 3:

4   Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.   (AKJV)

 

 

And these are the 10 Commandments:

 

Exodus 20:

3    "You shall have no other gods before Me.

4   "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.

5   "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,

6   but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

7    "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

8   "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9    "Six days you shall labor and do all your work,

10   but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your

          son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.

11   "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them,

and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

12   "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.

13   "You shall not murder.

14   "You shall not commit adultery.

15   "You shall not steal.

16   "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17   "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor."    (NASB)

 

 

However, churches today teach that the 10 Commandments should no longer be observed, because they are only part of the Old Testament. Now, the churches say, we are under grace and not law. Is this true? Does the New Testament teach that the Law of God is obsolete and no longer applicable?

 

This is what the Lord Jesus Christ said Himself in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5:

 

Matthew 5:

17   "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

18   "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from

      the Law until all is accomplished.

19   "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same,

      shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them,

      he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20   "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees,

      you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

21   "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and

      'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'

22   "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother,

      'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says,

      'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

23   "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,

24   leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

25   "Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way,
      so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.

26   "Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

27   "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery';

28   but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery

     with her in his heart.     (NASB)

 

 

The very first thing the Lord Jesus said was that He did not come to destroy the Law at all and it will stand until heaven and earth pass away (verses 17-18). He then proceeds to magnify the Law and give its expanded spiritual application (verses 21-28).

 

So the Law is not done away with.

 

 

This is supported by the apostle Paul, the “apostle to the Gentiles”. He says:

 

Romans 6:

15   What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.   (AKJV)

 

 

We see that even despite God’s grace, God forbid we should even think of continuing to sin, and sin is the transgression of God’s Law.

 

Paul goes on to tell us more about the Law. His definition of the Law is the same as the apostle John’s definition of the Law – that the Law is God’s measure of what sin and holiness is, and transgressing/breaking the Law of God is sin:

 

Romans 7:

7   What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law.

    For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet."   (NKJV)

 

 

Paul goes further and states the Law is holy, spiritual and good:

 

Romans 7:

12   So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.   (NASB)

 

Romans 7:

14   For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.     (NASB) 

 

 

Paul teaches both Jews and Gentiles that the Law of God is still valid.

 

Many Christians have been falsely taught that the 10 Commandments are done away with and even cite the apostle Paul taught this. However, we clearly see that Paul did not teach the Law is obsolete. It is the subject of the Law where the apostle Paul is most widely misinterpreted and misunderstood. We are actually warned by the apostle Peter that Paul’s writings are difficult to understand and would be distorted to mean something else:

 

2 Peter 3:

14   Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless,

15   and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him,

     wrote to you,

16   as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand,

     which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.

17   You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the

      error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness,   (NASB)

 

 

These incorrect/distorted teachings occurred very early in Christianity and have been taught ever since as Biblical truth. But do Christians know that much of these early teachings against the 10 Commandments were based on hatred of Jews? This alone is false, because the 10 Commandments are not the Law of the Jews, but they are the Law of God.

 

And so today, most believers misunderstand greatly that it is not the Law that has been destroyed, but the penalty for breaking it (sin) which is death that has been destroyed. The Lord Jesus’ atoning sacrifice has overcome the wages of sin which is death.

 

If we stop to think for a minute, we know the Law of God cannot possibly be done away with. Since it is the standard of measurement to know what sin is and what is holy, the only time the Law can be obsolete is if there is absolutely no person left who needs to repent of sin. This is obviously something that has not happened yet.

 

The other thing Christians misunderstand about the Law due to the way Paul writes, is that Paul argues against Pharisees that they should not use the Law to justify our salvation. Of course we should not do that – and no one is saying that we should! The Law of God was never about justification for salvation and should never trump faith in God. This is true in both the Old and New Testaments.

 

The 10 Commandments were always about obedience and how to be holy – how to be a loving and obedient child of God who pleases God. This is why we are told that obedience is better than sacrifice:

 

1 Samuel 15:

22      And Samuel said, Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?

       Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.

23     For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.

       Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.   (AKJV)

 

 

God wants holy people who repent of their sins. There is just no excuse to continue to sin.

 

 

The fact that the Lord Jesus Himself declared that the Law is not abolished, but instead magnified it, tells us that the New Covenant/Testament does not do away with the Law of God at all, but also magnifies the Law of God. Jesus initiated the New Covenant with His blood and showed us what the spiritual Law of God is. The Bible reinforces this truth elsewhere.

 

Remember, the apostle Paul said the Law is spiritual, holy and good. Those who are of the flesh are hostile to God and are not subject to God’s Law and do not please Him. But those who are of the spirit – who have the spirit of God and Christ within them, are subject to the Law of God and please God:

 

Romans 8:

6   For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,

7   because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God,

    for it is not even able to do so,

8   and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9   However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.

    But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.   (NASB)

 

 

There is a fleshly mind and a spiritual mind. The spiritual mind obeys God’s Law.

 

Paul also tells us that these people who walk by the spirit of God do not nullify the Law of God at all just because they have faith in Christ:

 

Romans 3:

31  Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.   (NKJV)

 

 

Instead, Paul says believers in Christ establish the Law! This is an astounding statement that most Christians never seem to notice. Paul is teaching the opposite of what Christianity today teaches. Paul does not teach at all that faith in Christ makes the Law obsolete. Instead, he says clearly that not only do they not nullify the Law, but they establish it.

 

Why does he say that? What does it mean?

 

It means that believers in Christ should know and abide by the spiritual Law of God that the Lord Jesus taught. As we just read in Romans 8 above, those in Christ are spiritual and are subject to the Law of God and they please God. They establish the Law, because the spirit of God is in them and conforms them to the image of Christ:

 

Romans 8:

29   For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son,

      that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.   (NKJV)

 

 

In other words, those who have faith in Christ are spiritual-minded and also obey the Law of God. They establish the Law, because they are the ones who are lovingly obedient, while there are those who are not. Remember, the Law of God is the standard of measurement to know what is holy and what is sin – and it will always exist as long as there are people alive who need to know of and repent of sin.

 

Believers in Christ are new creations in Christ who become like Christ. And we know the Lord Jesus was obedient to His father. We are also told to imitate Him:

 

1 Corinthians 11:

1   Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.   (NKJV)

 

Galatians 6:

15   For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.  (NKJV)

 

 

And we see again what Paul says about the Law. It is not done away with. He says keeping the Law of God is all that matters:

 

1 Corinthians 7:

19   Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.   (NKJV)

 

 

Indeed, let us compare what Paul wrote in Galatians 6:15 and 1 Corinthians 7:19 side by side below. They are identical except the ending:

 

Galatians 6:

15   For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.

 

1 Corinthians 7:

19   Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.

 

 

It becomes crystal clear that the reason why believers in Christ do not nullify the Law, but are spirit-minded and subject to the Law of God (and thereby establish the Law), is because they become new creations in Christ who keep the commandments of God.

 

 

The apostle Paul is equating ‘new creation in Christ’ = ‘keeping the commandments of God’.

 

 

So we find that what the Bible actually teaches is that believers in Christ become like Christ and keep the Law of God.

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

The parallel theme of the gospel message that runs alongside faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the son of God and Messiah who saves us by His blood atonement, is the believer’s repentance from sin. The reason for this is because God wants a contrite and holy people who not only acknowledges their sins, but repents of them. The Lord Jesus did not die for us to continue to sin. Repentance from sin was what John the Baptizer, the Lord Jesus and all the apostles such as Peter and Paul taught.


What is this “sin” of which believers must repent? The Biblical definition of sin is the transgression of God’s Law, His 10 Commandments – God’s holy, spiritual and good standard of measure.


The Bible teaches that the Law of God is not done away with at all, which is the opposite of what Christians are taught and believe. It tells us that those who have faith in Christ are the very ones who keep the commandments of God, because the spirit of God is within them and changes them to become new creations in Christ.


These new creations in Christ are the ones who do not nullify the Law, but instead establishes the Law. They know that it is by the Law we know what sin is and also what is holy and pleasing to God. The spirit of God conforms us to the image of Christ and as the Lord Jesus is obedient to His father’s Law, so we also obey the commandments of God. The Lord Jesus Christ died to bring a holy people to God; He did not die so that we may continue sinning and take His blood for granted. God forbid.


Truth is priceless and sets us free. Therefore, when we know truth, we must hold onto it and live by it, and not fear man and let the traditions and teachings of men override God’s truth. We must live by the word of God only. We ought to obey God, not men:


Acts 5:

29   But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.   (NASB)

 

 

Again, Biblical repentance is not feeling sorry.

 

Biblical repentance is: knowing that your behavior has hurt the one you love, and because you love Him so much, you change your behavior to not grieve Him anymore.

 

 

Therefore, since we know the Biblical definition of sin is the transgression of the Law of God, then Biblical repentance from sin means we must change our ways and stop breaking God’s Law.  Now that we know what the Bible says sin is, will you change your ways and stop sinning against God?  Will you stop breaking God’s 10 Commandments?  

 

James 4:

17   Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.   (NASB)

 

Hebrews 10:

26     For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins,

27     But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. (AKJV)

 

 

Let us hear the conclusion of the matter from King Solomon:

 

Ecclesiastes 12:

13   Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.  

    (AKJV)

 

 

 

Please also see the sections: ‘The Law of God’ and ‘The Sign of the Times’.