Personal Evangelism Handbook
CHAPTER VI -
THE IMPORTANCE OF REPENTANCE
What place should repentance have in your presentation of the gospel? Is repentance the same thing as belief? Or is it something distinct from it? Is it important to emphasize repentance, or should we never mention it in this age of grace? What does repentance really mean, anyway? These are some of the questions the soulwinner must face (and answer) regarding the subject of repentance.
There can be little doubt that all men, from Adam on, have had to repent in order to have a right relationship with God. The importance of this is brought home when we realize men of every Biblical age preached it. John the Baptist preached it (Mark 1:15); the Apostle John proclaimed its necessity (Rev. 2:5); Paul preached repentance wherever he went (Acts 17:30; 20:21); and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself strongly emphasized that men who refused to repent would perish (Luke 13:3, 5). So, you see, repentance is necessary for salvation.
THE MISUSE OF THE WORD
The question is, “What does the Bible MEAN by 'repent,' and how should it be presented
to the lost?” The important thing is NOT what repentance has COME to mean down through
the centuries since Christ's time, but rather-
If you look up “repent” or “repentance” in a modern dictionary you will read definitions like the following: “regret; to feel sorry for sin and seek forgiveness; to turn from sin.” Based on these definitions, preachers have been going about earnestly trying to get men to quit their sinning, or at least to work up a genuine sorrow for sin. But is this the divinely appointed task of Christians to get men to change their ways?
No! This kind of preaching often leads to a form of self-
It is sadly apparent that our modern-
This negativism has blinded people to the fact that a Christian is “one of Christ's”-
Being good is not the way to become a child of God. Remember Ephesians 2: 8, 9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Because preachers have allowed themselves to propagate this error in the teaching
of repentance, our churches are full of “good,” self-
They do not have the assurance that comes from knowing Christ as their Saviour. Instead, they are plagued by the uncertainty that comes from trying to be good enough by their own efforts to gain heaven.
All too often this idea that “I must be good to gain God's favor” comes from Bible-
THE CORRECT MEANING OF “REPENT”
The word in the New Testament usually translated “repent” is the Greek word “metanoeo,” and the word translated “repentance” is “metanoia.” Both of these Greek words have the same basic meaning: “to change your mind; reconsider; or, to think differently.”
Granted, if a person changes his mind (repents) toward certain sins in his life, he may become very sorrowful and may even stop those particular outward sins, but the sorrow and the ceasing from certain sins would be the RESULT of repenting, not repentance itself.
When God tells an unsaved man to repent, He means for that man to change his mind about how to reach God and accept GOD'S way of salvation. The person must CHANGE HIS MIND from any idea of religion he may have to save him, and trust Christ's payment for everything he has done wrong.
PASSAGES ON REPENTANCE EXPLAINED
Try to get the picture. Christ in this passage was talking to good people who believed the old tradition that people suffered only because of their sins. So they logically concluded that those in Galilee and at the Tower of Siloam who died such horrible deaths must have been great sinners.
Christ contradicts what they “suppose” (v. 2) and “think” (v. 4) and tells these
Even if one doesn't know Greek, it is obvious from the passage itself that the meaning
of “repent” here cannot be “sorrow for,” or “turning from, sin.” These people obviously
needed, above all else, to think differently-
Acts 17:30, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at (or, overlooked); but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.”
To understand what God means here by “repent” only requires one to read the last part of verse 29 of the same chapter, “we ought not TO THINK that the Godhead is like unto . . . silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.” Instead, what ought these philosophers of Mars' Hill to think? They needed to CHANGE THEIR MINDS and see that God is quite different from stone!. He is judge (v. 31), and He is alive (w. 31, 32). Again, from the context, the true meaning of “repent” is clear.
Acts 20:20, 21, “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Notice that the Bible states here that we are to proclaim repentance TOWARD GOD. There is nothing here about turning from sin. Paul is giving his last words to these be loved Ephesian elders whom he had led to Christ. They had formerly been heathen idol worshipers (Acts 19) and very immoral. However, Paul's preaching to them was that they needed to change their thinking about God.
Think what an impact on these sinful heathen the truth of Romans 5:8 would have had: “But God commendeth (displayed) His love toward us, in that, WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS, Christ died for us.”
Remember, the word “gospel” means “good news.” Do you think it would have been good news to them if Paul had said, “While we were trying to give up our sins, God tried to love us a little bit,” or, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for our past sins, and now if we stop all our present sins and never commit any sins in the future, God will love us”?
No! These sinners needed to know that the God of the universe loved them even as
they were. They needed the assurance that God was not requiring of them the impossible
Later Scripture makes it clear that God certainly did work in their lives to bring about changes, but this took place only AFTER they were already saved (Eph. 2:10).
Acts 2:38, “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.”
Chapter Nine covers the part of this verse dealing with baptism. Here we will concentrate
on the part of the verse having to do with repentance. One of the first rules to
follow in understanding any Bible verse is to consider the context. In the second
chapter of Acts we discover that these Jewish unbelievers thought the disciples were
drunk (vv. 13, 15) and that Jesus was only a man whom they crucified (vv. 23, 36).
Peter lets them know that the disciples were not drunk but in God's will (vv. 15-
These Jewish men, having been set straight on these matters, were “pricked in their heart (Greek, 'thoughts') and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37)
Peter's immediate answer was, “Repent . . . every one of you ... for the remission of sins....” In the frenzy of the day that Jesus stood before Pilate the mob had cried, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Then they saw Him only as a man and a troublemaker. Now Peter tells them they must repent (think differently) toward this One and realize that He is “both Lord and Christ” (v. 36), and that salvation comes only through Him (vv. 21, 38, 41 ) . This, again, is Biblical repentance.
USING “REPENTANCE” IN WITNESSING
If you are going to use the word “repent” or “repentance” in your witnessing, you should always explain what it really means. You can perhaps teach the meaning of repentance through your personal testimony, explaining that you used to think God hated sin so much that He hated you as well, and not until you heard the gospel did you understand that God loves you and wants you to go to heaven. (If this IS part of your testimony.) Then, after understanding the gospel, you began to think differently about God. This way you could have the person understand the plan of salvation . . . he could repent . . . and you would never have to worry about whether or not you confused him by the word “repent.”
The important thing in witnessing is to lead the lost person from wherever he is spiritually to having faith in Christ as his Saviour. You should try to do this as smoothly and naturally as possible. Using first or third person illustrations in your conversation is an excellent way of achieving the desired results, and particularly in giving a proper, Scriptural explanation of repentance.
That great giant of the faith Dr. William L. Pettingill put it well in his book, Bible Questions Answered. Under Repentance and Salvation, page 215, he answers the following question: “What place has repentance in salvation? Should we tell people to repent of their sins to be saved?”
“The Gospel of John is the Holy Spirit's Gospel tract, written that men might believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing they might have life
through His Name ( 20: 31 ) . And it does not mention the word 'repentance.' But
that is only because repentance is a necessary part of saving faith. Strictly speaking,
the word repentance means a 'change of mind.' It is by no means the same thing as
sorrow (II Cor. 7:10). Since it is not possible for an unbeliever to become a believer
without changing his mind, it is therefore unnecessary to say anything about it.
The only thing for a man to do in order to be saved is to believe on the Lord Jesus
Christ: and to believe on Him is the same thing as receiving Him (John 1:11-
Any teaching that demands a change of conduct toward either God or man for salvation is to add works or human effort to faith, and this contradicts all Scripture and is an accursed message (Gal. 1:8, 9; Deut. 27:18). Study the book of Galatians.
Remember, the closer a counterfeit comes to the truth, the more people it will fool. Don't be fooled. Yes, a Christian should make every effort to discipline his life, to lay aside every weight and the sins which so easily beset him, but this has to do with SERVICE, which can come only AFTER salvation. Salvation is always a gift; it is nothing we do ourselves.
Let's make salvation as clear as we possibly can. If something might possibly confuse someone, let's find some other way of expressing the truth so that it will be crystal clear instead of confusing.
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:8).
“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the SIMPLICITY that is in Christ” (II Cor. 11:3).
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