Repentance is a change of mind, or heart. By repentance, then, we mean the work accomplished by the word of God in the heart of man, whereby he has a changed attitude toward sin and God. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation…” (2 Cor. 7:10). Thus, we learn the cause of repentance.
By salvation, we mean the forgiveness of sin. It makes no difference whether we have in mind the sin of an alien or the sin of a child of God. Of course, the forgiveness of sin here looks to the eternal state of heaven. Having clearly made known what we have in mind by the two terms of our study, we are ready to consider the relation they sustain to each other.
It is not our aim here to study all the conditions of salvation imposed upon men, so we are not suggesting that repentance is the only condition unto salvation. Indeed, repentance is not possible, and even if it were it would not be acceptable to God, unless we first believed. “But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6-7). So repentance cannot take place until one has become a believer in God, and in the plan of God to save man.
Also the Scriptures teach us that the only way to get into Christ and to put on Christ is to be baptized into Him (Gal. 3:26-27). We then need to do more than repent in order to complete our part of obedience to the plan of salvation.
Christ said, “I tell you nay, but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Words could not be more direct than these and they leave no doubt at all as to repentance being a condition of our salvation. According to Christ, then, repentance must take place in our hearts before we can receive salvation or the forgiveness of sin.
It is not only true that we must repent, but this command is universal in its application to all men.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead (Acts 17:30- 31).
Here we have repentance set forth as a condition of righteousness before Christ in the day of judgment and that for all men. Man who has not repented of his sins cannot be considered righteous before God in the final judgment. A failure to repent means one will be rejected in that great day. Repentance, then, is essential in the judgment if we are to be saved eternally.
When the day of Pentecost was come, following the ascension of Christ to glory, men for the first time heard the full gospel of Christ, and having heard, they believed. Upon this belief, they cried out, “Men and brethren what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). They were believers already, for it was that belief that prompted them to cry out. Then Peter answered their question in inspired words: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins.” (Acts 2:38). Thus, the Holy Spirit declared through the inspired Peter in the first gospel sermon that repentance is a condition of salvation. All of Peter’s hearers were to repent, and they were all to be baptized in order to have the remission of sins.
Simon the sorcerer is an example of a Christian who sins to whom the command to repent also applies.
And Simon also himself believed: and being baptized, he continued with Philip (Acts 8:13 ASV).
Now when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter said unto him, Thy silver perish with thee, because thou hast thought to obtain the gift of God with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord, if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee.” (Acts 8:18-22 ASV).
Here we have an example of one who had become a child of God, but who had sinned. In this case—as in the case of the alien sinner—repentance is a condition of salvation. No, not the only condition, for the Christian must pray for God to forgive him of the thought of his heart. But before he prays, he must repent of his sin. Therefore, whatever the state or condition we are in, or the relationship we have with God, when we sin, we must repent of our sin if we are to be forgiven. Repentance is a universal condition of salvation to all who have sinned.
In the great commission, Jesus said remission of sins is a universal offer to all who repent (Luke 24:46-47). Men must therefore repent if they are to be saved. Where there is no repentance, there is no salvation.
Repentance is not suggested as an act of pleasure, or something easy, but something we must do if we are to be saved. Repentance demands restitution. When one has repented, he has the desire to restore that which he has destroyed. When he was converted, Paul went about rebuilding the church which he had before tried to destroy. A man could not steal an automobile, repent of his theft, and keep the automobile. Such a state of heart would not be a state of penitence. We cannot substitute good acts on our part for true repentance. We must repent and allow a truly penitent spirit to produce the fruits meet for repentance in our lives.