Repentance That Leads to Life

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In Mark 1, we read: “Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’ ” (Mark 1:14–15).

In Acts 20:21, Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that the essence of his preaching was “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Standing before King Agrippa, Paul again summarized his preaching as declaring that men “should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20).

An all-important question is “What must I do to be saved?” In the light of these texts, any answer to that question that omits a call to repentance is a radically defective answer. Our concern now is to identify what constitutes “repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18)?

John Murray captured the heart of what is involved in true repentance. He wrote: “Repentance consists essentially in a change of heart and mind and will. The change of heart and mind and will principally respects four things: it is a change of mind respecting God, ourselves, sin, and righteousness.”

The answer to question 87 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism explains: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”

The word repentance basically means a change of mind, but it is a change of mind that penetrates into the deepest recesses of a man’s being. Therefore, the catechism states that the penitent sinner will have a “true sense of his sin” and will experience “grief and hatred” of his sin, issuing in a resolute “turning from it.”

Furthermore, the catechism underscores the fact that in true repentance, we turn from a life of self-will, self-centeredness, and self-worship to embrace the one true and living God as our God, with a purpose of rendering to Him the obedience that He demands of us as His creatures (2 Cor. 5: 15).

What then are the “deeds in keeping with their repentance” spoken of by Paul in Acts 26:20? I can do no better than to quote J.I. Packer: “The New Testament word for repentance means changing one’s mind so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently. The change is radical, both inwardly and outwardly; mind and judgment, will and affections, behavior and life-style, motives and purposes are all involved. Repenting means starting to live a new life.”

Finally, since repentance and faith are inseparable (Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21), the catechism reminds us that all true repentance involves “an apprehension of (faith in) the mercy of God in Christ.” 

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.