By Paul Smithson
God commands “all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:31). This is a universal command including me, you, our friends, neighbors, family, there are no exceptions. But what exactly is repentance?
Repentance is not just being sorry for a wrong done or a good deed left undone; for the apostle makes a distinction between repentance and sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10). In fact, he tells us there are two kinds of sorrow, the “sorrow that is according to the will of God” which “produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation,” and “the sorrow of the world” which “produces death.” One can be sorry for the hurt they have caused, or the mess they have gotten themselves into without being sorry that have sinned against God. This sorrow only brings about death– separation from God. Godly sorrow, however, produces a change of will. This change of in the stubborn will of man is Repentance. Godly sorrow produces it, and reformation of life comes as the result (Mt.3:7-8).
How are people brought to repentance? There are two great appeals that Jesus and His apostle made to the thinking of men to bring them to repentance. First, they taught repentance in view of the coming judgment. Jesus, speaking to the scribes and Pharisees said, “The men of Nineveh will rise in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here” (Mt. 12:41). Just as those to whom Jesus spoke, those today who fail to repent will be condemned in the judgment. The apostle Paul explained that the reason God was commanding all men everywhere to repent was “because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31). The day of judgment is going to be a day of absolute terror to those who have not repented and obeyed the will of God (2Thess. 1:7-9).
The second appeal that Jesus and His apostles made to men concerning repentance was to the goodness of God. The goodness of God is manifest in the sacrifice of His Son for our sin and His patience in giving us opportunity to take advantage of that sacrifice. The only reason that we are not punished the moment we commit sin is because of the mercy and patience of God. This fact alone should urge us to repent. “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 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” (Rom.2:4-5). God promises that one day Jesus will return and destroy the world and punish the wicked. Peter explains the reason this has not taken place yet is simply because God “is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2Pet. 3:7-9).
Repentance is a difficult thing for many to do for it has to do with an individual’s pride. It has to with admitting wrong, error, sin. Yet, the Scriptures make it very plain that we all must repent and be baptized to have our sins forgiven (Acts 2:38; 3:19).