Our repentance Bible study leads us to a statement made by the apostle Paul:
Let's break down this passage and see what Paul is really saying.
If you are not a Christian, or if you are a Christian but are not been living the kind of life you are supposed to be living, one of the reasons why is because you are not concerned about how your actions or lack of action affect God.
Godly sorrow comes because you have disappointed God and that produces in you a change in the way that you think so that you may obtain salvation. But it is not the selfish sorrow that is concerned with being caught or being punished. That kind of sorrow produces only death because it makes no true change. Do you want to go to heaven? Repentance is essential.
What are we talking about when we use the word repentance?
The word "repentance" and all its various forms is found 66 times in your New Testament. Did you know that 25 of those times were spoken by Jesus Himself? That means that just under half of the times the word "repentance" is found, it is Jesus Christ talking about it.
Did you realize that the very first command recorded in the Bible that Jesus ever spoke was the command to repent? In Matthew 4.17, we read, "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Did you know that the very last command that Jesus ever spoke personally that we have recorded is to repent. In Revelation 3.19, Jesus said, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent."
The first command is to repent. The last command is to repent. Repentance is important. It was important to Jesus. It is essential to our salvation according to 2 Corinthians 7.10. So what is this concept of repentance?
The Greek word for repentance is "Metanoeo." It is actually two Greek words put together.
Put it together and you have someone who is thinking something, and right in the middle of his thought, he changes and thinks along a different line of thought. To repent is to change the way you think.
There are some who conclude that repentance means to change the way you live. Some suggest that repentance mean that you are engaged in one kind of action and then you repent and change your course of action. However, that is not the literal definition of the word.
What the wise man is saying is that the way that your actions begin with the way that you think. Your actions are going to reflect your thinking. So if you change the way that you think in repentance, the natural result will be to also change the way you live. If you live the way you think, and you change the way you think, then you will change the way you live. Therefore, repentance implies a change in the way you live because you have changed the way you think.
Let's consider another passage that will help us to understand the concept of repentance.
Jesus said that the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah. When you go to the Old Testament, and find the minor prophet Jonah, you will find what the men of Nineveh did when Jonah finally came and preached.
Jonah preached to the people of the city of Nineveh. They responded by turning from their evil way. Jesus refers back to the men of Nineveh and how they changed the way they live, and He says that they repented.
So when we refer to repentance we are referring to one who changes the way they think that results in changing the way they live.
Why is it so hard for someone who is deeply religious, who has invested their life in the religion of man, to turn away from man-made religion and simply do what the Bible says? It is because it is so hard for him to change the way he has been thinking most of his life.
Why it is so hard for someone who has become addicted to drugs to change their behavior and give up the substance they are abusing? There is a physiological addiction where the body has come to need the substance. But there is also a psychological addiction as well where one has convinced himself that he needs it. So in rehab it is not just a physical cleansing where the abuser no longer has access to the substance. It is also a psychological treatment where they help him to change the way he thinks. Why is it that so many will leave rehab and go right back into drug addiction or alcoholism? It is not because there is a physiological need. It is because they have not changed the way they think.
Why it is that some will realize that they need to get themselves right with God, but they refuse to give up sin? It is because they refuse to change the way they think.
Why it is when someone has a health issue where their very lives are in danger, and suddenly they become more committed to Christ? It is because their health issue has caused them to reevaluate their lives. They change the way they think. That’s the concept of repent.
In Acts 10, we read about a good man. He was a just man and a very religious man. Yet in spite of all his goodness, there were still some changes he had to make. So what did he do? He changed the way he thought. We’re going to be reading about a man named Cornelius.
In the military you had a regiment. A regiment consisted of about 600 soldiers. Within this regiment you had six different groups of one hundred men each. A centurion was a commander of one of these groups of one hundred men. Cornelius was a centurion, a commander of a group of 100 soldiers.
Notice how Cornelius is described in verse 2.
According to verse 2, he prayed and gave alms. In verses 3,4 his prayers and his alms have come up to God, and it was a memorial. It reminded God of something. Presumably it reminded God about His promise that He made to offer the gospel to the Gentiles. Remember at this point it had only been preached to the Jews.
When we keep reading in verses 7-21, we find that Cornelius did as he was commanded. He sent men to Joppa who found Peter. When we pick up in verse 22, we read the conversation between these men and Peter.
The men Cornelius sent to invite Peter to come to his house describe Cornelius to Peter. Notice again how he is described.
When we back up to verse 6, it says that Peter will tell you what you must do. So these men go to Peter and tell them about Cornelius, a good and religious man, and asks Peter to come so that Cornelius can hear words containing what he must do. And what he must do will involve changing the way he thinks in repentance.
Cornelius had gathered his friend and relatives. Why? It was not for a barbeque. He had gathered his family and friends because someone was coming who would tell him words of what he must do according to God.
Peter arrived at the house of Cornelius, and we learn something else about him. Cornelius fasted for days. This was before the angel had appeared to him. This was a man who took his religion seriously. Cornelius continues to tell Peter about what has transpired.
Remember in verse 6, Peter would come and tell him what he must do. In verse 22, Peter was summoned to tell him words. In verse 24, Cornelius had gathered his family and friends together to hear these words. In verse 33, he says that we are gathered together to hear all the words commanded by God in reference to what we must do. We are ready to hear what must be done, what God has commanded.
As good as Cornelius was, he was not saved. There was something he had to do, and it would begin with him changing the way he was thinking in repentance. Now listen to what Peter tells Cornelius and his household.
As Peter preaches this Christ-centered sermon to Cornelius and his household, he says that the message of Jesus, Cornelius already knew. He knew about Jesus even before Peter had arrived.
Again, this Jesus who was anointed by God and went around doing good, Cornelius had already heard about Him. This gospel message had only been preached to the Jews, but the message had become so widespread that even Cornelius had heard about Jesus. Peter continues...
Do you want the remission of sins? Peter says, you must believe. What is belief? Belief is not a single act. To believe is to accept, trust, and obey. Whoever has this kind of biblical faith that moves him to obedience will have the remission of sins.
Notice that Peter was not done preaching. He was interrupted. Here is Peter preaching this Christ centered sermon. He tells Cornelius that he must believe, that is, accept, trust, and obey in order to obtain the remission of sins.
While he is still speaking, Peter is interrupted as Cornelius is baptized by the Holy Spirit. Peter then commands them to do what? What does verse 48 say?
If all they had to do is believe and accept Christ as their personal Savior why did Peter command them to be baptized? It is because you have to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins as this same Peter preached in Acts 2.38.
Cornelius sends for Peter to hear what he must do. Peter comes and tells him about Jesus which he already knew. He tells him that he must believe (accept, trust, and obey) Jesus for the remission of sins. He is interrupted as Cornelius is baptized by the Holy Spirit. When Peter has a chance to speak again, he continues right where he left off and commands them to be baptized.
Remember that we are looking at an example of repentance. Repentance is when you change your life by changing your mind. Now that we have seen this event unfold with Cornelius, let’s go back and briefly look at it again.
Here is Cornelius who was a deeply religious person. He was devout. He was God-fearing. He was a just man. He was such a good person that he was highly regarded among the Jews.
Peter comes along and says, Jesus is the One you need to accept, trust, and obey. Therefore be baptized. And that faith together with baptism will give you the remission of sins.
Here is a man who was religious, but he changed the way he thought about religion and turned away from one religion and turned to Jesus. That’s an example of repentance.
Are you a member of a man made religion? Are you a member of a market driven church where they look at the current moral and cultural climate and shape their doctrine based on what is popular? Are women allowed to take on leadership roles as deacons and elders, preachers and song leaders? Is there a general acceptance of the practice of homosexuality because this is what is popular in our society?
You may have a hard time studying the Bible. It is hard to change the way you think. I know. I face it all the time. I read the Bible and I come across passages I have never noticed before and I now have to adjust my thinking so that what I think is in line with what the Bible teaches, and that is hard. But it is what we must do in order to be saved and remain saved.
Opening up your Bible and conducting a Bible study on repentance has no value unless you can take what the Bible says and put these principles in your life. How can you take the definition of repentance knowing that it means that you need to change the way you think that results in changing the way that you live, and implement that concept in your life?
How can you take the example of Cornelius, a man who was devoted to one way of thinking religiously and had to change the way he thought so that he would instead be devoted to living for Christ?
Let's consider three passages that will help you and I apply this biblical concept of repentance.
In Acts 2, we are reading about a gathering of Jews who were described in verse 5 as devout. They were there for the purpose of observing the feast of Pentecost. The disciples of Jesus were there, were baptized by the Holy Spirit, and begun to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. This got the crowd’s attention. (vs. 1-13)
Now that they had the attention of the crowd, Peter preached about Jesus. He preached that Jesus was the Son of God. He preached that they had taken Jesus and crucified Him, putting Him to death. He preached how God raised up Jesus from the dead and is now sitting at the right hand of God. (vs. 14-36)
When these religious, devout Jews had heard this, they were cut to the heart according to verse 37, and asked Peter and the rest, “What shall we do?” Notice how Peter responded.
Peter said that they needed to change the way that they think (repent). In context, they had a hatred toward Jesus and put Him to death. They needed to change the way they think about Jesus.
Peter said that they needed to change the way that they think (repent), "and let every one of you be baptized" You cannot be baptized unless you first change the way you think. You can be immersed in water, but it will not do you any good if you have not first repented.
You must change the way you think in reference to your religion in that you now allow the Bible to be your guide rather than the traditions and commandments of men. You must change the way you think in reference to your conduct in that you now realize that you have lived a life separated from God, a life in which your conduct has been in violation of the will of God, and you now change the way you think about sin and turn from it.
Because you changed the way you think about religion, about yourself, about sin, you align your thinking to what the Bible says, and you are immersed in order to obtain the remission of your past sins. Repentance is essential for that.
The word "converted" comes from a Greek word that literally means, "turn over" as in turning over a new leaf.
Compare Acts 2.38 to Acts 3.19. What Peter said in Acts 2 is the same thing that he said in Acts 3. In both places, before you can obtain the remission of sins by being immersed, you must change the way you think. Before you can turn over a new leaf and have your sins blotted out, you must change the way you think.
There was a time when God would overlook the ignorance of the Gentiles in their polytheism. But once the door of the gospel was opened to both Jews and Gentiles, God commands all men everywhere to repent.
You know if you have been baptized in order to obtain the remission of sins because you have been moved by a faith that accepts, trusts, and obeys.
You know if you are a member of the church that is described in the Bible, the name of the church, the organization of the church, the work of the church that is all found in the Bible.
You know if your conduct among your friends, among your fellow workers on the job, among your family has been right.
So I have to ask? Do you need to change? Do you need to change the way you think and thus change the way you live?