31 “Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!” (Ezekiel 18:31–32, NKJV)
That fact that a child of God can fall away and be lost (“die”), does not mean God desires it to be so (see 1 Tim. 2:3-4). The prevention lies with the child of God who sins. God calls on His sinning children to repent: “cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” Without doing so, they would die in their sins. But, with a new heart, a new life can be lived. Without the change of heart that is called “repentance,” one’s conduct will not be successfully corrected. And so, sinners, including Christians, are urged to repent when there is sin in their lives (Lk. 13:1-5; Acts 8:12-13, 22-24). The world is lost, and needs salvation in Jesus (Acts 4:12). For a Christian to live in sin and not turn to Christ by repenting and ceasing his sin, is to invite certain and eternal death. Turn and live, “For why should you die?”
19 Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. (Acts 26:19–20, NKJV)
We dare not overlook the necessity of repentance in God’s plan to save sinners. Paul was true to his commission from Christ to be His witness to the Gentiles (Acts 26:16-17). As he preached the gospel, he explained that “they should repent” in order to “turn to God” (conversion, Acts 3:19). Without a fundamental change of heart (repentance) toward God and the sin we have committed against Him, we cannot be saved (Acts 20:21; 2:37-38; 17:30). When repentance occurs, changes in one’s life necessarily follow. That is what conversion means. The Christians chooses to stop practicing sin. The Christian chooses to begin and continue living for Christ (Gal. 2:20). Obeying the command to be baptized, without first having real faith and genuine repentance, is powerless to “wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16). Neither will it wash away unholy relationships; they, too, must cease (“works befitting repentance”). Minds must change toward God and sin to be saved. Repentance is not being sorry for sin. It is the complete change of heart that occurs because of godly sorrow for sin (2 Cor. 7:10). Without it, you cannot be saved.
Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, (Acts 17:30, NKJV)
God’s commandment, that all people everywhere repent, necessarily implies the existence of a common standard by which to know the sins in one’s life. Additionally, His command implies that standard can be effectively used to bring about the repentance (change of heart) that pleases God. The inspired Scriptures are declared to be the standard of truth that identifies sin and righteously corrects it (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Jno. 17:17). We cannot know our sin (what to repent of), much less know what form that repentance should take, without God’s standard of truth identifying our sin and showing us how to correct it. Our feelings cannot determine what is sin against God. The ancient world plunged into sin’s darkness because it rejected divine truth and relied on emotional, human wisdom for guidance (Eph. 4:17-19; Rom. 1:21-25). Let us be thankful that God’s commands include how to thoroughly equip ourselves for every good work. Then, let us obey Him in order to faithfully serve Him and be ready for the day of judgment (Acts 17:31).
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1, NKJV)
The blessed promises that God will receive us as His children and be a Father to us move us with expectant faith to “cleanse ourselves” of every defilement that sin has introduced into our minds and our bodies. The fruit of repentance is the ceasing of the sins we previously committed. Christians do not continue living in sin; we deliberately, sometimes painstakingly, refuse to continue in sin. This process of eliminating sin enables us to mature in making holy choices in life, because we hold God in reverence and seek to always do what pleases Him. We must devote ourselves to purity of heart and life because of the great promises of familial fellowship God gives us through His Son, Jesus Christ.
31 Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:31–32, NKJV)
Jesus silenced the accusation of the scribes and Pharisees by likening His contact with sinners to that of a doctor treating an illness. They complained against Jesus and His disciples for eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners (Lk. 5:30). But, the Great Physician came to heal (to forgive) sinners, not to validate their sins (including the self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees that prevented them from answering Christ’s call to repentance). Jesus did not endorse the sinners’ sins when He sat with them; that is a gross misuse of this text. Jesus “sat down with them” to teach them and call them to repentance (Lk. 5:29, 32; 15:1). Often, our problem is that we fail to see our own sins while being quick to point out the sin of others. Until we see our own sin, we will refuse to repent and remain lost. Notice that God’s forgiveness comes after sinners repent, not before (v. 32). Since you would welcome medical treatment to heal your physical disease, welcome Christ’s gospel treatment and be healed of your spiritual disease of sin. Answer Christ’s call to repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins (Acts 2:37-41).
3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” 5 Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:3–5, NKJV)
Sorrow is not repentance. Nor is sorrow equivalent to salvation. “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Judas was remorseful upon seeing Jesus condemned as a result of his betrayal. Instead of turning back to God, his despair led him to suicide. Clearly, his sorrow did not save him. The Lord is ready to forgive every soul (including you) whose sorrow over sin leads them to repent and follow Him. For the soul who is not a Christian, godly sorrow for sin leads to repenting and being baptized to be saved (Acts 2:37-38). For the disciple of Christ who falls into sin, godly sorrow produces repentance and prayer (Acts 8:20-24; 1 Jno. 1:9). The path out of sin’s sorrow is not despair and death; it is forgiveness through godly sorrow and repentance.
4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God (Romans 2:4–5, NKJV)
God is the Giver of good gifts (Jas. 1:17). But one’s heart must be open to seeing and appreciating His gifts. When sin hardens the heart its eyes are closed to seeing God’s goodness, forbearance and longsuffering, much less allowing these good things to stimulate repentance. Instead of laying up treasures in heaven, this hard, unthankful and unholy heart lays up treasures that will be repaid with wrath in the day of God’s righteous judgment. There will be no satisfaction on the day of judgment that “I did it my way,” when “your way” results in your eternal death. Today is the day to soften your heart toward God and be thankful for the many good gifts He gives you. Let these lead you to repentance so you can live in His blessings instead of being under His brooding wrath. May we never look with disgust upon the rich blessings of God.