By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
“Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17 Authorized Version
After His baptism and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus began His public ministry with this short and simple sermon: “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Despite the fact that this is the message which Jesus preached, some today believe that repentance is not a part of the Gospel and is unnecessary for us today. However, throughout the New Testament, repentance is given as a condition of salvation and a part of God’s message to men.
After Jesus sent them out to preach, the twelve disciples “went out, and preached that men should repent” (Mark 6:12). Jesus taught that “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). After His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples that repentance was part of the message which He wanted to be preached throughout all nations: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). On the day of Pentecost, when asked by the crowd what they should do, “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” (Acts 2:38). On a later occasion, Peter said: “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” (Acts 3:19).
Paul also preached repentance. Acts 17:30 says, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent”. Speaking to the elders at Ephesus, Paul said that while he was with them he had spent his time “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). When standing trial before King Agrippa, Paul described his message this way: “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” (Acts 26:20).
Some say that we are only required to repent from the single sin of unbelief. While it is true that we must repent of unbelief, that is not the only sin we must repent from. We must repent of our deeds (Revelation 16:11), of our sins (Revelation 9:21), of the sinful works of our hands and idolatry (Revelation 9:20), from dead works (Hebrews 6:1), of uncleanness (II Corinthians 12:21), and of wickedness (Acts 8:22).
Some may think that repentance is a dreary responsibility – laying aside sins and habits so dearly enjoyed. This is not how repentance works! The “goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Romans 2:4b) – it is an act of love and goodness on God’s part to bring a person to a place of repentance. God has meant people to live in holiness and a relationship with Him, not in sin! Repentance may seem burdensome or even impossible, but after you have repented, you will not regret it. I have never met someone who has said, “I wish I had never repented. That was a foolish decision.” Turning from sin and to God is always a good decision because that is how God meant life to be.
“Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:26).
Originally published in The Witness, March 2013.