This is the second part of a four-part series answering the question, “what must I do to be saved.” In part one, we looked at the first expectation that God has for mankind’s reconciliation to Him. We established that faith is critical to salvation – but we also established that simply believing is not all that God expects of us (Js. 2:19). In this installment we will consider God’s expectation of repentance. In the coming weeks we will look at God’s expectations of confession and water baptism.
The Necessity and Meaning of Repentance
As it was with the concept of faith, so also is it with the concept of repentance – it’s essential to reconciliation with God. Jesus specifically states that, “unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:3). These words come directly from the Son of God. But what exactly does repentance mean and what is involved in the process? The original word for repent in the Greek language was the word “metanoeo,” literally meaning to change one’s mind. More specifically in the context of what Jesus expects of his followers, repentance isn’t only a change in mind, but more precisely a change in mind that leads to a change in action. Just as faith without works is dead (Js. 2:17), so also is repentance if it’s simply a mind change without an action change. What should change in the mind of a person seeking a right relationship with God? This individual’s mind should change about who is Lord – no longer themselves, but God. Their mind should change about what their purpose in life is – no longer self-glorification, but glorification of God. A mind that is changed about these things will also have their mind changed about the type of life that they should live – no longer a life that embraces sin, but a life that abhors unrighteousness and abstains from it. True repentance looks like someone that is heading one way down a path but chooses in their mind to make a change and heads the opposite direction. True repentance is evidenced by what takes place after the mind is sincerely changed. Those that repent do as Paul said and “perform deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20).
The Motivation Behind Repentance
Because one’s mind is changed about who is Lord and what their purpose in life is, one is motivated to truly change things in their life. But additionally, repentance is motivated by a realization of guilt and shame. Those listening to Peter preach the first gospel sermon were “cut to the heart, and said…, ‘Brothers, what shall we do” (Acts 2:37). This was in response to realizing that they were at fault for crucifying the Lord Jesus. The same should be motivation for us as we realize that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Every single person is guilty of putting Jesus on the cross – and upon realizing this we should all be motivated to repent of our evil deeds. But not only should guilt and shame be motivation for repentance, but so also should a fear of eternal consequences. Certainly, our primary motivation for repentance should be because of a love for God – but it is also prudent to have a healthy respect for what will happen to us if we don’t repent. Jesus said if we don’t repent, we’ll perish (Lk. 13:3); Peter taught that if we don’t repent, we won’t receive salvation (Acts 2:38).
Examples of Repentance
Every single example of someone in the Bible genuinely becoming a Christian would have involved repentance – but consider these examples that are clear pictures of change in a person’s life: Paul repented of persecuting Christians and later preached that which he tried to destroy (Gal. 1:23); the prodigal son left the pig sty and came home (Luke 15); various magicians repented of sorcery and burned their books (Acts 19:19); and the Thessalonians repented of idol worship and turned to the true God (1 Thess. 1:9).