In the fiftieth verse of the Book of Matthew, repentance is mentioned for the first time in the New Testament. There it is written that John the Baptizer preached, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). The next chapter records that Jesus "began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). The word "repent" in both of these instances is from the Greek word "metanoeo," which means "to change oneís mind for the better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of oneís past sins: Matt. 3:2; 4:17 . . ." [Thayerís Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 405].

The process of repentance involves recognition that one has done wrong. After a person has transgressed Godís law, if he does not realize that what he has done is wrong, then he will see no need to repent of such. After one understands that he has done wrong in Godís sight, then he must be filled with godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10). He must then make the determination to not commit such a sin again Ė this is the change of the will or mind that is the basic meaning of repentance. Following oneís change of mind or heart regarding his past wrongs, he must then bring forth fruits of repentance (Matthew 3:8). That is, he must prove by his future actions that he has truly turned away from and given up his sins. The change of the mind must bring forth a change or reformation of life.

Repentance is not a popular topic with a lot of people. Suppose you and I decide that because repentance is such an unwanted message, we will just not teach or preach about it anymore. What would that mean? Let us consider a few ways that we might answer that question.

(1) If we do not teach and preach repentance, then we are not doing what the Lord wants us to do. Jesus told His disciples, "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his [the Christís, rdc] name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). Jesus later told Paul that He would send him to the Gentiles to "open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light" (Acts 26:18). Paul said that he obeyed Jesusí charge and told "the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance" (26:20). Jesus wants His followers to preach repentance. If we fail to do such, then we are failing our Lord!

(2) If we do not teach and preach repentance, then we are not imitating the example of the first century preachers and saints. As we already noted, both John the Baptizer and Jesus, the first two preachers about whom we read in the New Testament, preached repentance (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). Jesus sent out the twelve to preach to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, "And they went out, and preached that men should repent" (Mark 6:12). The Book of Acts is filled with examples of the early saints preaching repentance. Peter preached repentance on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). The same apostle preached repentance after he and John healed a lame man (Acts 3:19). The apostles preached repentance before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:31). Paul preached repentance as a command of God for all men everywhere (Acts 17:30), and he later declared that he had preached repentance to Jews and Gentiles alike (Acts 20:21). It is obvious that Jesus and His early preachers did not shy away from the topic of repentance. If we are going to imitate their manner of preaching, then we, too, need to preach plainly about repentance.

(3) If we do not teach and preach repentance, then our young people and new converts will not see the necessity and urgency of teaching repentance. We have got to be a good example for them. We must show them what and how to teach, and as we have seen from our previous two points, it is an undeniable fact that our Lord wants us to proclaim a message of repentance. What will our young people and new converts think of us if we claim to go by the Book, but fail to teach what the Book says about repentance?

(4) If we do not teach and preach repentance, then people will continue to be ignorant about their need to repent, and will thus remain in sin and be lost. People will not repent unless they see the need to do so. Repentance is unto life (Acts 11:18). Those that do not repent of their sins do not, and cannot, have life. God wants all men to repent. Those that do not repent will perish (2 Peter 3:9). Sins cannot be remitted or blotted out without repentance (Acts 2:38; 3:19). But unless we teach the lost Godís will about repentance, they will remain lost. It is true that some people know exactly what the Bible says about repentance, but they are still uninterested in changing their lives. In such cases we need to kindly, but plainly, exhort them to repent and spell out for them just what the consequence will be if they do not Ė separation from the Lord, both now and in eternity (Isaiah 59:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). What a horrible thought, that our failure to teach and preach repentance could be part of the reason for some people remaining lost!

(5) If we do not teach and preach repentance, then there must be a reason why we donít. Any ideas? What is there that might cause some Christians, including shepherds and evangelists, not to teach about repentance like they ought to? Do some saints fail to teach the necessity of repentance because they do not think that repentance is really essential for salvation? Surely every child of God can see that repentance is a condition of salvation for one that is out of the Christ (Acts 2:38; 3:19), and that it is also necessary in the case of a child of God that needs to be restored (Acts 8:22).

Do some members of the church refrain from teaching repentance because they think it is a waste of time, since most people have no desire to hear about it? The same Lord Who said that few will enter into life (Matthew 7:13,14) is the same Lord that preached repentance Himself and charged His followers to do the same (Luke 24:47). It is true that the great majority of people whom we will teach will not be receptive to the Bibleís message about repentance. Our task, though, is to be sowers, regardless of the type of soil or heart that we might come across. Sowers sow the seed, which is the word of God (Luke 8:11). Jesus did not tell His followers to preach repentance "when people want to hear it." No, His charge was to preach repentance so that all men could know that they are sinners (Romans 3:23) and that God commands them to repent (Acts 17:30). We need to teach and preach repentance, no matter how people respond to such a message.

Could it be that some disciples of Jesus stay away from teaching about repentance because they are fearful? Brothers and sisters, I fully understand that there are some teaching situations or discussions that cause us to feel uncomfortable, maybe even quite nervous. But, think about this. Our Lord charged His apostles to go and teach all nations. He told them to preach repentance. At the same time He promised the apostles that He would be with them when they would preach His word, including what He said about repentance (Matthew 28:19,20). That should have given them (and us!) confidence. Earlier, when Jesus sent the apostles to preach only to the Jews, by His will they preached repentance (Mark 6:12). Do you remember what Jesus told those apostles at least three times before they went out to preach to the Jews about repentance and the coming kingdom? He told them, "Fear not" (Matthew 10:26,28,31). Jesus did not want them to be afraid to preach repentance. His strong language was, "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (10:28).

If we think that our brother-in-law, who gambles, our aunt and uncle, who are living in adultery, or our parents, who worship the statue of Jesusí mother, will be upset and offended if we teach them about their need to repent, then chances are we will be tempted to be silent about repentance, lest we offend them. Brethren, sinners need to hear about repentance! It may not provide for a pleasant and party-like atmosphere, but we must help lost people learn Godís truth about repentance. We have got to put our trust in the Lord and by faith overcome any fear that in the past has held us back from teaching His truth about repentance.

Preachers are sometimes the leaders of the pack when it comes to being afraid to teach on repentance. Some preachers wonít preach the truth on repentance when it comes to marriage and divorce, because they know that a son of one of the bishops is living in adultery. Some preachers wonít preach the truth on repentance when it comes to dancing, because they know that a deaconís daughter attends every school dance. What has such preachers so afraid? Fear of losing their job. They donít preach falsehoods. They just conveniently fail to preach on repentance.

There may also be well-intentioned Christians that do not teach about repentance simply because they are convinced that teaching lost people about repentance is not a good way to attract them to Jesus. True, times have changed since the first century. And, yes, our culture is different in many ways from the cultures in which the apostles preached repentance. But, the need to teach and preach repentance remains! People can come to Jesus for salvation only when they are willing to lay aside their sins. Repent or perish! (Luke 13:5). We cannot get around this truth. We must educate people about repentance, showing them from the Bible its necessity, what it means, and what it requires.

If we do not teach and preach repentance, well, the consequences are disastrous. May God help us to have genuine compassion as we boldly tell lost people His truth about the need for sinners to repent.

-- Roger D. Campbell


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