Repentance means a change of mind. It is a change of mind that results in a change in behavior. Repentance is the result of godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10). Godly sorrow is the quality of being so grieved by the wrongs committed in the past that there is a determination to turn away from those kinds of actions, combined with a determination to do only that which is right in the eyes of God. Godly sorrow is not the sorrow of being caught, but sorrow that is characterized by a broken, contrite heart. Jude tells us that such a one hates even the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 23). Repentance was described by Jonah when it was said that the Ninevites “turned from their evil way” (Jonah 3:10). When Jesus spoke of the same situation, He stated that they “repented at the preaching of Jonah” (Matt. 12:39-41).
All sin is against God and must be forgiven by God. King David recognized that though his sins involved others those sins were against God. He exclaimed, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned” (Psa. 51:4). God is not obligated to forgive. Forgiveness is the result of God’s mercy and grace. Forgiveness is through the blood of Christ (Eph. 1:7). Paul in that passage also referred to the “riches” of God’s grace. God’s grace is sufficient to forgive all of the sins of all of mankind. There is no inadequacy in the blood of Christ. No matter how awful our sin is, no matter how many those sins are we can be forgiven by God. If we are alien sinners (not Christians), we must do those things that God requires in order to receive the remission (forgiveness) of our sins. We must obey the Gospel to be saved from our sins. That Gospel stipulates that we must believe in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of man (John 8:24), repent of our sins (Luke 13:3, 5), confess our faith in Christ before men (Matt. 10:32), and be baptized by the authority of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16). If we are already members of the church, we must follow God’s second plan of pardon to be forgiven. We must repent of our sins (Acts 8:22) and confess those sins to God in prayer (1 John 1:9; Acts 8:22). The blood of Jesus can thus cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
In either case—whether an alien sinner or fallen child of God—the common act required for forgiveness is repentance. It is, therefore, imperative that we understand what is meant by repentance and all that is involved in this act.
Repentance involves restitution. Restitution is restoring to another that which we have unjustly taken in our sins. If we have deprived others of some material thing, then we must restore to that person the thing taken or the value of that thing. If that cannot be done then reasonable satisfaction must be given. If what is taken is intangible, then every effort must be made to remove the effects of the wrong. In simple terms this means that if we have stolen an automobile we must return it if we have repented. We cannot keep riding around in the car if we have genuinely repented. I believe we all have the ability to understand this. This illustration has been used effectively many times. It clearly illustrates the idea of restitution involved in repentance.
If emotions were not so heavily involved in other similar situations, I believe we could see the parallel and apply this idea of restitution consistently with success. But, when “marriage” is the sin, many do not see as clearly as they would otherwise. If a person is in an unscriptural marriage (a “marriage” not authorized by God), then many want to suggest that a person can repent without giving up that which is not rightfully his. Repentance requires restitution where possible. Baptism, in the case of the alien sinner becoming a Christian, does not sanctify an unscriptural relationship. The sin of adultery can be forgiven, but only when repentance occurs which means turning away from the practice of adultery. A person cannot continue in the sinful practice and have God’s approval or forgiveness. A person must stop the practice of whatever sin in order to be forgiven.
Perhaps this additional illustration will help. Suppose a practicing homosexual learned the Truth and wanted forgiveness. It is impossible to have that forgiveness and have a right relationship with God while continuing to practice homosexuality. That sinful practice must stop if forgiveness is to obtained! Baptism will not sanctify such a relationship that is sinful no more than baptism will sanctify an adulterous relationship. If forgiveness is to be obtained, then the sinful practice must stop. That is part of what repentance requires!