By Cecil Willis
We sought, in our lesson last week to correct the erroneous definitions of the word repentance given by the majority of the religious world. We saw that repentance is not fear, regret, godly sorrow, conviction of sin, confession of sin, nor is repentance a reformation of life. From the usage of the word repentance in Scripture, we concluded that the word accurately defined, was a mental change. Repentance is a change of mind, preceded by godly sorrow and followed by a reformation of life.
It was also seen that repentance is a prerequisite to salvation, that without it, one could not be saved. Therefore this consideration lays the foundation for our lesson this week. If one cannot go to heaven without repenting of his sins, then certainly all of us must be vitally interested in learning what produces repentance.
A large portion of the religious world understands repentance to be something that one “gets,” rather than something that he does. Repentance is a command, and cannot, therefore, be, something that one gets. One cannot “get” a command. Members of religious denominations tell us that repentance and faith are both direct gifts of the Holy Spirit, and these individuals also place faith after repentance. To them, one must repent before he can believe. In our next article, we shall consider the order of faith and repentance. Faith is not a direct operation of the Holy Spirit, nor is it the product of such an operation. Paul said, “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Just as faith is not a product of a direct operation, neither is repentance. Repentance is produced by certain forces, as the Bible plainly declares. Since one has to repent in order to be saved, and he does as we pointed out, then consider now the forces leading one to repentance.
First, “Godly sorrow leadeth thee to repentance” (2 Cor. 7:10). To many, godly sorrow is repentance, but Paul declared that godly sorrow and repentance are related as cause and effect. Godly sorrow is the cause, repentance is the effect. But in order that we might more fully understand Paul’s teaching, read more of that passage: “For though I made you sorry with my epistle, I do not regret it: though I did regret it (for I see that that epistle made you sorry, though but for a season), I now rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye were made sorry unto repentance; for ye were made sorry after a godly sort, that ye might suffer loss by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret; but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Cor. 7:8-10). In this passage, Paul referred to a former epistle. Of course this was the First Epistle to the Corinthians to which he referred. Those familiar with that epistle know that in it Paul reprimanded the Corinthians severely, because of the sins in the church. Paul was saying that for a while he was regretful that they had been made sorry by his epistle, but when he learned that as a product of that sorrow of theirs, caused by his epistle, repentance was produced, no longer was he regretful that they had been made sorry. On the other hand , he said, “I now rejoice.” Paul, after seeing the effect of the sorrow he had caused, was glad he had done it. Because of Paul’s firm, chiding preaching, they were made to realize that they were to be blamed in God’s sight. They understood that God was not pleased with them as they were. They were sorry toward God. Paul said that this godly sorrow worked in them repentance. When they understood that God did not approve of them, they were sorrowful toward God. This sorrow toward God, produced repentance, a change of mind about their sins. They resolved to abandon their sins. This repentance produced a reformation of their lives. Notice verse 11: “For behold, this selfsame thing, that ye were made sorry after a godly sort, what earnest care it wrought in you, yea what clearing of yourselves, yea what indignation, yea what fear, yea what longing, yea what zeal, yea what avenging! In everything ye approved yourselves to be pure in the matter.” They corrected their lives. So, their sorrow toward God caused them to repent; their repentance caused them to reform their lives. This is exactly the definition that we ascribed to the act of repenting. So “godly sorrow worketh repentance.”
The Goodness of God
Paul gave a second cause resulting in repentance in Rom. 2:4, as he said, “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” In the context of this passage, Paul was accusing the Jews of being ignorant of the goodness of God, or of his intention that His goodness was to motivate them to repent. While the blessings that God had poured out upon the Jewish nation should have made them recognize God’s sovereignty, yet it had not. The Jews had tasted the blessings of God, but had forgotten to consider from whence they had come. God’s goodness should be constantly acting upon us.
How does the goodness of God lead one to repent? In our everyday association we see the same principle illustrated. If we have a friend that is always doing something very nice for us, one who is continually giving us something that is precious to us, one who consistently makes great sacrifices in order that he might give to us, we then, become very favorable toward him. Should he ask us to do something that was right in itself, and something that was to our own advantage, certainly we would not refuse him.
God is that friend that for ages has been pouring out rich gifts upon mankind. He has given us many things that are of great value to us, namely the means by which we might be saved. He sacrificed, greatly, in order that He might give His only begotten Son, in order that we might be saved. These all are expressions of God’s goodness.
In considering the great gifts that God has made to man, the tremendous sacrifice He had to make in order to give them, the intention that God had of blessing man in giving these gifts, how can one refuse to comply with the righteous commands of God? How is it that we have been so ungrateful of all that He has done for us, that we have remained in rebellion to His commands? Some have not repented because they were like these Jews to whom Paul was speaking. They were ignorant of God’s goodness. This ignorance, was of course, a willing ignorance, for God had informed man of the things He was doing for him, but the Jews refused to hear. Paul then asked, is it because you are ignorant of God’s goodness, or is it just that you despise the goodness of God, now knowing that this goodness is to produce repentance in your heart? “The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.”
Longsuffering of God
While this next cause could be classified as an expression of God’s goodness, and therefore be grouped with the other gifts of God’s goodness, we are calling it the third force producing repentance. The longsuffering of God should produce repentance on the part of man. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). The expression of God’s goodness in His longsuffering should. cause some of its to repent. But sadly, enough, many people, rather than being moved to repent by God’s longsuffering, have been encouraged to continue in their sin. In the third chapter of 2 Peter, Peter answered those who doubted that the Lord would come again. They said, “Where is the promise of his coming? For, from the day that the Fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were, from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). Peter was telling them, that time is no element with God, for He is not slack concerning His promises. He has promised to return and He will. is tarrying His return that as many as will may repent, for the Lord does not want any to perish, but it is His will that all should come to repentance.
Today, some are making the same mistake that these ancients made. Since the Lord has waited so long in coming, they have forgotten that He is coming, or at least their lives indicate that they have. They make no attempt to prepare themselves for the time of His coming. But the longsuffering of God should lead men to repent, for He is tarrying His coming that as many as will might prepare themselves for His return.
A fourth cause producing repentance is fear of the judgment. Many preachers of today try to let this be the only means of producing repentance, and they spend all their time in relating death-bed stories to try to scare people into repentance. The extreme of this is the practice of others who try completely to reason with one to repentance. Between these two extremes should be the position of the gospel preacher.
The fear of judgment should have a very definite part in causing men to repent. Our Lord told those gathered about Him, that unless they repented they would perish just as those whose blood Pilate had mingled with the sacrifices. Should they fail to repent, Christ said that they would also be destroyed as were those on whom the tower at Siloam fell. With Christ it was a matter of repenting, or suffering eternal punishment for failing to do so. He said, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:5).
Paul also used the element of fear of the judgment, as he told the group in Athens about God. He said, “The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should everywhere repent: inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the 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). According to Paul, why should these men repent? It was because God had appointed a day in which he would judge the world in righteousness, and he hath given assurance that such a judgment will come in that He raised Christ from the dead, If God is going to judge the world in righteousness, surely there will be a condemnation of those who have done unrighteousness, or there would be no judgment in any sense of the word. A judgment involves the rewarding of the righteous and a punishment of the wicked. Therefore those who have not repented have very good reasons for fearing the judgment, for God will condemn them. The certainty of the judgment, and therefore their punishment, should lead them to a correction of their life.
If it were possible for one to picture in words the true horrors of hell, and a fair estimation of eternity, then one with good judgment, certainly would not continue to rebel at God’s commandments. Christ pictures hell in these words: “and if thine eye cause thee to stumble, cast it out; it is good for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For everyone shall be salted with fire” (Mk. 9:47-49). Seeing the terribleness of hell, and the certainty of our going there if we fail to repent, then we should be moved to repentance.
Not only should one be moved to repentance in order to avert hell, but a fifth power producing repentance, should be the intense desire that all should have to be saved eternally. The design of repentance is to receive the remission of sins. Peter told the Jews on Pentecost to “repent ye, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins” (Acts 2:38). They were to repent and be baptized in order that they might be saved. Both of these commands were in order to obtain salvation, and without either of them, salvation is impossible. In Acts 3:19, Peter said, “Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.” We are to repent that our sins may be blotted out. This means that they are taken away. So one should repent because he wants to be saved.
In summary, the forces producing repentance to which we have invited your attention are first, godly sorrow, secondly, the goodness of God, thirdly, the longsuffering of God; fourth, the fear of punishment; fifth, the desire to receive the remission of sins.
It is our sincere prayer that some or all of these forces will make you determine to quit sin, and resolve to obey the commandments of the Lord. Believe, repent, and be baptized in order that you might be saved.
Truth Magazine XX: 31, pp. 483-485
August 5, 1976