The previous lesson showed how this present world is controlled by “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). We saw that Satan influences the moods and outlook of human beings individually and collectively. Every individual has human nature, which is essentially Satan’s nature acquired throughout one’s entire lifespan.
Overcoming human nature is a process that begins by realizing the futility of the world with its satanic influences, and the futility of one’s own conduct and tendencies. This is the first step toward genuine, true repentance. This opens the door to real and lasting change. This transition is always accompanied by an opening of the mind to the truth to which the world has been blinded.
Upon learning of the soon-coming kingdom of God, which will rule earth in peace and equity, one begins to grasp the reality of this promise and grows in excitement. The very words of Christ that encompass this change are reflected by the admonition: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). As stated in earlier lessons, the gospel is the good news of the coming kingdom of God.
The world has come to accept a form of penitence—usually a form of self-denial accompanied by temporary remorse. However, genuine repentance is far different. It encompasses a comprehensive change in the outlook, values and direction in one’s life. This lesson will cover many of these vital aspects.
(1) Notice the dictionary definition of penitent: “contrite; sorry for sin or fault and disposed to making amends.” The Roman Catholic Church defines it this way: “one who confesses sin and submits to a penance—disciplinary punishment imposed by Church authority.”
Comment: Penitence originates from the proscribed practice of the Catholic Church and most dictionary definitions reveal this association. The words penance, penitent or penitence do not appear anywhere in the Bible.
(2) The dictionary defined repent this way: “to feel self-reproach, compunction, or contrition for past conduct; change of one’s mind with regard to past action in consequence of dissatisfaction with it; to feel such sorry for sin or fault as to be disposed to change one’s life for the better.”
Comment: This definition is much closer to the meaning of the term used in the Bible. The terms “repent” and “repentance” occur a combined total of 72 times in the Bible.
The Hastings Dictionary of the Bible also contains helpful insights into the subject:
“Repentance for sin is commonly expressed by ‘turn’ or ‘return’ [in the OT]. Repentance [in the NT] is also considered as ‘an indispensable condition of salvation.’ The [Greek] word ordinarily used (metanoia) means literally ‘change of mind.’ The change, however, is one in which not the intellect only, but the whole nature (understanding, affections, will), is involved. It is such an altered view of God and sin as carries with it heartfelt sorrow for sin, confession of it, and decisive turning from it to God and righteousness.”
(1) Is repentance a state of mind that one chooses to adopt or is it a gift from God? Acts 5:31.
Comment: Note the term “to give repentance to Israel.” This shows that God has given this to Israel—not that the Israelites had worked it up by their own initiative.
(2) When the apostle Peter was relating how it was shown to him that God had opened salvation to the Gentiles, did they initiate their own repentance? Acts 11:18.
Comment: As with Israel, repentance was granted by God.
(3) When the apostle Paul was instructing Timothy that the servant of God must not strive, but be apt to teach and patient when instructing those that oppose themselves, to what end was this precaution taken? II Timothy 2:25.
Comment: Here, we find the same condition in which God gives repentance as opposed to the individuals working it up on their own. Something given is a gift. Repentance is a gift from God. Yet, we see another connection, which was mentioned earlier—repentance being accompanied with the acknowledging of the truth or the opening of the mind. God often grants these gifts at the same time.
(4) Does God ever grant repentance to people as a result of their own goodness in seeking the truth? Romans 2:4.
(5) How do God and the angels react when someone responds to the repentance that God offers? Luke 15:7.
Comment: This is cause for joy and rejoicing. The phrase at the end of verse 7, “just persons which need no repentance,” could only refer to those who have already repented.
Comment: Human nature, which is Satan’s nature, resists the ways of God—the natural, carnal mind is enmity with God. This struggle is compounded by the fact that the human mind is exceptionally deceitful and desperately wicked.
(2) Although Job defended his own righteousness at first, what was his view of himself once he came to a repentant state of mind? Job 42:6.
Comment: It is crucial to recognize that although Job was attacked by the devil, wrongly accused by his friends and abased by God, not until he humbled himself before God and recognized the futility of his existence was his mind able to exalt God rather than justify himself. Repentance truly is a miracle granted by God so one can begin to see himself in the way that God does.
(4) When the Jews gathered for Pentecost in A.D. 31, many saw the manifestation of God’s Holy Spirit and heard Peter’s inspired message. Some were deeply moved and asked what they should do. What were they told to do? Acts 2:38.
Comment: Thousands were baptized at that time. These Jews already understood the Sabbath and Holy Days, the law of clean and unclean meats and the basic ways of conducting themselves, yet they had to repent of their carnal sinful natures as everyone must do.
(5) Is repentance from dead works a foundational doctrine of Christ? Hebrews 6:1-2.
Comment: Hebrews 6:1-2 names six foundational doctrines, listed in chronological sequence as an overview of the process of salvation. They consist of (1) repentance from dead works, (2) faith toward God (this includes the understanding of the existence of the true God and that His promises are sure), (3) baptism, (4) laying on of hands (to receive the Holy Spirit), (5) the resurrection of the dead (the future hope of every Christian) and (6) eternal judgment (eternal life for those who overcome).
Comment: Repentance means turning from our own way—the way that we are naturally inclined to follow.
(2) Why did Esau find no place of repentance though he sought it carefully with tears? Hebrews 12:17.
Comment: Repentance means change, and this always involves a change in one’s mind. Esau was sorry for having committed the action of trading away his birthright. His repentance was only sorrow over a past mistake—not a change in direction in life to turn from sin and follow God.
(3) Is God willing to offer mercy and forgiveness to those who turn from their former sins? Ezekiel 18:21-22.
(4) Why does God express His desire to grant repentance both to Israel and to all mankind? Ezekiel 18:30.
Comment: The last part of verse 30 reads, “so iniquity shall not be your ruin.” This shows God’s concern for all mankind.
(5) What did John the Baptist tell the multitudes who came to him to be baptized? Luke 3:8.
Comment: To “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance” means to show evidence that one is in the process of changing for the better. This is done by conscientious effort to turn from sin to righteousness.
(6) What are some of the examples that John the Baptist provided to explain his point of “fruits worthy of repentance” or evidence of a change in direction? Luke 3:10-14.
Comment: When the people asked John what they should do, he charged them to be ready and willing to share such necessities as clothing and food with those in need. Here, he was pointing out their responsibility to focus on the needs of others as opposed to selfish concerns. He charged the publicans or tax collectors to be scrupulously honest in their collection of taxes. Likewise, he charged the soldiers not to use violence or to bring false charges against the people and to be content with their wages. He was proposing a radical turnaround from the usual conduct of those to whom he was addressing. The people were, by nature, selfish and inward; the publicans were extremely partial in how they exacted and collected taxes; the soldiers intimidated the citizens with violence and false charges while unhappy with their own wages. John never demanded that the people just “repent,” as some vague theological term calling for temporary remorse. He charged them to change the way they conducted their business and the way they lived their lives.
(7) Besides repenting and turning from sinful nature, can we continue to set our affection upon the world? I John 2:15-17.
(8) Where is one to set his affection after having repented? Colossians 3:1-4.
(9) Did Israel always listen and heed God’s warning to repent and turn from their ways? Zechariah 1:4.
Comment: These verses apply to prophecy yet to be fulfilled. Because of Israel’s refusal to turn from their own way, their penalty will involve chastisement from God, in which only one-tenth of the population will survive to see the arrival of God’s kingdom. The vast majority will have succumbed to famine, disease, natural disasters, warfare and captivity. Their iniquity will have turned out to be their ruin (Ezek. 18:30). Much of the rest of the world will also suffer during the coming end-time disasters. Yet, repentance is still an option, and those who seek to turn to God’s way with all their being will be protected from the hour of sore trial to come upon all the world (Rev. 3:10).
(1) When someone has come to detest his own carnal nature and seeks to follow God’s way, what does the Bible instruct him to do? Acts 2:38.
Comment: As stated earlier, this is the sequence that God has established in order for one to receive the Holy Spirit and become a true Christian. Repentance must precede baptism, which is followed by the receiving of the Holy Spirit.
(2) Is this process of repentance a one-time event preceding baptism or is it something that a true Christian should practice as a way of life? Ephesians 4:31-32.
Comment: Paul admonished Christians to put away (turn from) all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil speech. Verse 32 shows that Christians are to turn from (to change or repent of) certain conduct. Repentance is not complete upon baptism—it must continue throughout one’s life.
(3) Do converted Christians occasionally slip and sin without willful intent? I John 2:1-3.
Comment: Even though one “sins not” and keeps God’s Ten Commandments as a way of life, it is possible to slip and sin.
(4) Are there some converted people who never slip and stumble in sin? I John 1:7-10.
Comment: The answer here is a resounding NO. Every true Christian sometimes sins.
(5) Since God is willing to pardon those who repent and seek forgiveness, should this approach not deserve greater fear than if God was closely “keeping score” of every infraction that man committed? Psalm 130:3-4.
Comment: This principle shows much about how God expects us to appreciate His forgiveness. The repentance we show toward God (Acts 20:21) must lead us to grow in gratitude and fear.
(1) What attitude does God honor when one seeks forgiveness? Psalm 51:16-17.
Comment: God desires for one to come before Him grieving and very sorry for having sinned.
(2) Is God responsive to someone’s contrite state of mind as when one is repentant, to the point that this commands His personal attention? Isaiah 66:1-2.
Comment: God declares that the things of His creation, including His throne in heaven and the earth, do not command His attention as much as a man with a poor and contrite spirit who trembles at His word. A truly repentant and humble attitude commands God’s special attention.
(3) Is God more willing to forgive someone with a contrite spirit than one who maintains his own righteousness? Luke 18:9-14.
Comment: The Pharisee in this parable was commending his own achievement of righteousness, while condemning those he felt he surpassed. The publican, by contrast, felt only shame and unworthiness before God. This man was the one to whom God granted forgiveness. Genuine repentance and humility go hand and hand, just as do self-righteousness and self-exaltation.
(4) What did Christ mean when He said that He came to call sinners to repentance rather than the righteous? Mark 2:17.
Comment: Just as someone who is sick could use the services of a physician, someone who is aware of his sins is receptive to true repentance. These are the ones receptive to the calling of God. However, just as those who are well do not need the services of a physician, those who (think they) are righteous feel they have no reason to repent. Truly, there are none righteous (Rom. 3:10), and the righteousness mentioned in Mark 2:17 actually means self-righteousness.
Since all have sinned, Christ came to call those capable of repenting as opposed to those who feel they have nothing of which to repent.
(5) Are there times when God corrects His people in order to impress upon them the extent of their negligence and sin so that they are moved to genuine repentance? II Corinthians 7:8-11.
Comment: In this case, Paul wrote a corrective letter to the Corinthians that moved many of them to a state of sorrow and repentance. Note this important phrase: “godly sorrow works repentance to salvation.” Repentance is so crucial in God’s sight that salvation is not possible without it. Sorrow was necessary to drive home the seriousness of the matter and to seek forgiveness. The Corinthians were properly indignant against themselves and moved with fear (as we observed in Psalm 130:3-4). They were moved with vehement desire and zeal to “get it right” from that time forward—not to make excuses or blame someone else, but to hold themselves accountable to make amends for their thoughtlessness and iniquity.
As quoted earlier, repentance is “an indispensable condition of salvation.” It serves not only as a transitional state of mind for those who come to God’s way, but must be internalized and practiced throughout the Christian life. Our booklet Just What Is Salvation? explains this crucial step of repentance in the process of salvation.