By Randy Blackaby
Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
As members of the church it is easy to place the emphasis in this chapter on baptism and miss the very important first command – to repent.
Do we understand what repentance is? Do we adequately communicate the need for repentance to those we teach the gospel?
Repentance is “to change one’s mind or purpose.” It is “a change of mind which reverses the effects of a previous state of mind.”
Without repentance we simply baptize a dry sinner and raise a wet one, as preachers used to be fond of saying.
The mental decision to turn from sin and toward a pattern of behavior enunciated by our Lord must be accompanied by action which shows that decision to be genuine. Mental assent to the truth of the gospel (an inactive belief) is far different from repentance (active belief), which is typified by changed behavior.
Drastic change is suggested in repentance. “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). Being born again suggests starting all over, it suggests pain.
The “new birth” is defined as the old man dying, being buried in baptism and raised to a new life. That’s drastic. It’s absolutely necessary to be a Christian – and to remain in hope of eternal life.
It is ironic that so many people find baptism to be the tough action, when actually their hesitancy may be more closely connected with an unwillingness to repent (change) and make a complete break with the old way of living.
Repentance is produced only by a heart-wrenching process. Those on the day of Pentecost were “pricked in the heart” by the God who came to redeem them from sin. We don’t repent until we learn the truth, acknowledge we have been doing wrong, and change our direction. It is never easy to admit that we have been wrong. That is a greater stumbling block to conversion than all the doctrinal disputes combined.
This reticence to admit wrong not only keeps many from obeying the gospel, it keeps many of us who are Christians from making needed changes as we move into the mature years of our service to God.
Sorrow leads to repentance. “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed unto repentance; for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of, but the sorrow of the world worketh death,” Paul told the Corinthians.
Godly sorrow provokes repentance (change). Worldly sorrow is “I got caught syndrome” which feigns sorrow but really only seeks to escape responsibility.
As the children of God we must look at the ways of children. When they fail because of mistakes, they change and try again. And as long as their father sees a willingness to admit fault and change for the better, he smiles and forgives, lovingly understanding that it is a part of growing up.
It is the same with our heavenly Father and we need to understand repentance and use it to mature as God’s children.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 11, p. 338
June 4, 1987