“REPENT” IS NOT THE MESSAGE OF SALVATION
John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”. In this passage we read that belief in Christ was the only requirement of salvation. In Acts 2:38 we read, “Peter replied, repent and be baptized everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven”. Is Acts 2:38 a different message of salvation? I believe not, I believe that John 3:16 explains the gospel of individual salvation in every dispensation and the passages about repentance have to do with earthly blessings or punishments. In the New Testament repentance and baptism served to identify a believer as a servant of God (please see the paper on baptism for the Scriptural evidence of that statement), but was not part of God’s plan of salvation, per se.. We shall consider those passages as we look at each occurrence of where man is called upon to repent.
As we begin to study the passages having to do with repentance we must keep in mind that Israel had a conditional covenant relationship with God. We read in Leviticus chapter 26 that if Israel obeyed God’s Law they would be blessed with earthly blessings, but if they disobeyed God’s Law they would be punished with earthly punishments.
We know that Old Testament believers were saved by grace through faith. For the Scriptural evidence of that statement please see the paper Faith And Works In God’s Plan Of Salvation.) The Old Testament is however more a history of God’s people, Israel, and Her relationship, past and future, with Her God, than it is about individual salvation unto eternal life. Even though Old Testament believers were saved by grace through faith, the Old Testament does not center primarily on salvation, it centers rather, on a nation’s walk with God.
Now let us look at the times in the Bible where man is called upon to repent. I believe that as we do that, it will become increasingly obvious that repentance has to do with temporal blessings or punishments and completing one’s faith.
THE CALL TO REPENTANCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Jer. 18:11-12 reads, “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, this is what the Lord says, ‘Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and am devising a plan against you. So turn from (repent) your evil ways, each one of you and reform your actions. But they will reply, it’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart”. The punishment for their refusal to repent is given in verse 16; “Their land will be laid waste, an object of lasting scorn”. This passage shows the conditional covenant relationship that God had with Israel, i.e. when they obeyed, He would bless them but when they disobeyed, He would punish them.
Jer. 26:2-6 reads, “This is what the Lord says, ‘Stand in the courtyard of the Lord’s house and speak to the people of the towns of Judah’…. . Perhaps they will listen and each will turn (repent) from his evil way. Then I will relent and not bring on them the disaster I was planning…. .” This passage is very much like Jeremiah 18 and, once again, we are told what the call to repent meant to Old Testament Israel.
Ezek. 14:6 reads, “Therefore say to the house of Israel, This is what the sovereign Lord says, ‘Repent! (repent) Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices”. In this passage, the consequence of not repenting is explained in verse 8, “I will set My face against that man.. I will make him a byword. I will cut him off from My people”. To be cut off from Israel as a result of disobeying God’s Law is a concept that is often spoken of in the Old Testament. For example Gen. 17:14 reads, “Any uncircumcised male will be cut off from among his people; he has broken My covenant”. Note also Ex. 12:15, “…. Whoever eats anything with yeast in it…must be cut off from Israel“. The phrase “cut off” can mean put to death as in Gen. 9:11, “Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood…”. But it often means to be separated from Israel. Note for example Numbers 15:31, “…that person must be cut off; his guilt remains on him”. Obviously, if one’s guilt remains on him, he is alive. When an Old Testament Israelite was cut off from his nation, it meant that he will not inherit the earthly blessings promised to God’s people. Ps. 37:9 shows the same idea. It reads, “For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.” It does not mean the loss of eternal salvation. It does mean the loss of earthly blessings that will come to Israel during the millennial reign of Christ.
Ezek. 18:27, “…if a wicked man turns away (repents) from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life”. The context of this verse will show that it is not eternal life that is spoken of here, but one’s temporal life. Note for example verse 13, “…. Will such a man live? He will not…he will surely be put to death”. Also verse 17-18, “…He will not die for his father’s sins; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin”. Verse 20, “For the soul who sins, he will be put to death”.
Joel 2:13-14, “Return (repent) to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate…and He repents from sending calamity. Who knows that He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing, grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God”. Again, this passage speaks not of eternal life but of earthly blessings for those who repent.
THE CALL TO REPENTANCE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
It is clear that the exhortation to repent in the Old Testament had to do with earthly punishments and/or blessings. We will now examine the New Testament calls for repentance, bearing in mind that the New Testament did not come out of a vacuum. So when we study repentance in the New Testament, we must understand it as the hearers of the message would have understood it.
Because we have in the Word of God the expressed reason that Israel was called upon to repent in the New Testament I think it best if we allow that inspired reason to speak for itself. That reason is found in Acts 3:19.
Acts 3:19, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord”. The note in the Companion Bible on the word translated “when” in the phrase “when the times of refreshing shall come” reads, “when=in order that. Gr. hopos. Occurs 15 times in Acts and always expresses a purpose“. So this verse should read, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, in order that the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord”. We have in this verse the divinely expressed reason that Israel was called upon to repent. It was “in order that” the times of refreshing (the millennial reign of Christ) shall come.
This is perfectly consistent with the reasons Israel was called upon to repent in the Old Testament. As we have seen in the sections above, Israel had been called to repentance in the Old Testament in order to avoid punishment or to lay hold of a blessing. In the New Testament the message of John the Baptist, of Christ, of Peter and of the apostles, whenever Israel was called upon to repent, was in order that Christ would return and set up His millennial reign which , when established will be the greatest time of earthly blessings. Again, repentance and baptism served to identify a believer as a servant of God (please see the paper on baptism for the Scriptural evidence of that statement) but was not part of God’s plan of salvation, per se.
Matt. 3:1, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the desert of Judah saying, ‘Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is near’”. The “kingdom of Heaven” is Christ’s rule of Israel in His millennial reign. (For the Scriptural evidence of that statement, please see the paper on this web-site The Kingdom of Heaven.) John the Baptist preached repentance so that the kingdom of Heaven would be established. This is perfectly consistent with the inspired reason for repentance given in Acts 3:19, quoted above. And it is also completely consistent with the calls to repentance in the Old Testament. Just as in the Old Testament when Israel was called upon to repent either to avoid a punishment or to lay hold of a blessing, so too here, if Israel had repented they would have enjoyed all the blessings associated with the millennium. It should be noted once again that repentance and baptism served to identify a believer as a servant of God (please see the paper on baptism for the Scriptural evidence of that statement) but was not part of God’s plan of salvation, per se.
Matt. 4:17, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near’”. See note above on Matt. 3:1.
Matt. 11:20-21, “Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. Woe to you Korazin, Woe to you Bethsaida! If the miracles that had been performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Siddon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes”. Note that it is cities that are called on to repent. Eternal salvation is never offered to cities but to individuals.
Matt. 12:41, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah”. Let us look at the message of Jonah to Nineveh and learn what they repented of and what was their reward for their repentance. In Jonah 1:2 God tells Jonah to “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come up before me”. In Jonah 3:4 we read that Jonah was proclaiming to Nineveh, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed“. In verse 10 of chapter 3 we see that “When God saw what they did and how they turned (repented) from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened”. We see that Nineveh repented to avoid the destruction of their city, this has nothing to do with eternal salvation.
Mark 1:4, “John did baptize …and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins“. See notes on Acts 3:19 and Matt. 3:1 above.
Luke 3:3, He (John the Baptist) went into all the country around the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. See notes on Acts 3:19 and Matt. 3:1 above.
Luke 3:8 “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. This passage is about the ministry of John the Baptist. His ministry was two fold. 1) John was to announce the coming of Christ, which clearly this passage is not about. 2) John was to call Israel to repent “in order that” Christ would set up His millennial reign. I believe that we may conclude that it was the second reason that John called upon Israelites to repent in this passage.
Luke 5:32, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”. Many people take this to be the gospel of salvation, but I believe that a closer look at the context will show otherwise. Verse 32 comes as an answer to the objections of the Pharisees, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” If one takes this passage to be about salvation, we are left to conclude by the question and our Lord’s answer that tax collectors and sinners are more in need of salvation than are others. But tax collectors and sinners are in no worse a position than any other person in terms of salvation “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. If disobedience to God’s Law were the issue (which I believe it was) then they would have been in a worse position, as those two groups were notorious for their disobedience to God’s Law. I believe that the repentance that our Lord preached was for the same purpose as was John the Baptist’s call for repentance. That is to say, if Israel had repented the millennial reign would have been established.
Luke 10:13. See notes on Acts 3:19 and Matt. 3:1 above.
Luke 11:32. See notes on Acts 3:19 and Matt. 3:1 above.
Luke 13:3, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” The context will show that “perish” refers to this temporal life, not to eternal life. In verse two Jesus was told about some Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices; and in verse 4 Christ tells of the 18 who died when a tower fell on them. He was talking about the end of temporal life; eternal salvation was not what was being discussed.
Luke 15:7, “I tell you that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent”. The point of this parable centers on the value of each person. Because that is the case we do not read of the faith required for righteousness. That is to say, this parable is not about the gospel of salvation, therefore, n my opinion, it does not impact the point of this study.
Luke 16:30. The rich man said, “No father Abraham, but if someone goes to them, they will repent”. We read in the next verse, “And He said unto him, ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead'”. It is clear from this verse that belief (i.e. “be persuaded”) was the message of this discussion. In other words, just as in Acts 3, repentance was the sign of their belief in Christ.
Luke 24:47, “Repentance and forgiveness will be preached in His name”. Please see the notes on Acts 3:19 and Matt. 3:1 above.
Acts 2:38, “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you so that your sins will be forgiven. Please see the notes on Acts 3:19 and Matt. 3:1 above.
Acts 5:31, “Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins”. The Greek word translated “repentance” in this verse is “metanoia”. I believe the definition as given in the Companion Bible will be helpful. “A real change of mind and attitude toward sin itself, and the cause of it (not merely the consequences of it), which effects the whole life and not merely a single act. It has been defined as a change in our principle of action from what is by nature the exact opposite…..”. This definition explains why Peter said that Christ gives repentance. That is to say, repentance, as is forgiveness, is an act of God. Obviously, this repentance and forgiveness is given to believers only.
Act 8:22, “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps He will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart”. This is not a message of salvation. This man had a wicked thought and he is told that he needs to ask God’s forgiveness for that thought. Salvation is not being saved from what we think or do; it is being saved from death which comes as a result of being children of Adam.
In Acts 11 we read of Peter’s account of his experience with Cornelius in Acts 10. We read in Acts 11:18, “…So then God has even granted the Gentiles repentance unto life“. There are two important aspects to this passage that can not be overlooked if we are to understand it correctly. 1) Peter’s message was to the Gentiles and was given for a different reason than was his call to Israel to repent. The Gentiles’ repentance had no relation to the return of Christ except to provoke Israel to jealousy (see Rom. 11:14). Note also, Peter expressly states that it was a repentance unto life, i.e. resurrection life. 2) Peter’s message given to the Gentiles in chapter 10 was to believe. We read in verse 43 Peter’s statement that, “everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His Name”. Note also that when Peter is describing this scene to those in Jerusalem, he says in verse 17, “So if God gave them the same gift He gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God.” Peter’s message to the Gentiles was that they should believe. When giving an account of his experience, Peter explained that believers received forgiveness of sins. As in Heb. 11 where those saints were reckoned as righteous because they believed the message that God had for them and acted upon that belief, so too the Gentiles to whom Peter preached also were reckoned as righteous when they believed Peter’s message and acted upon it by being baptized.
Acts 17:30-31, In this passage Paul is addressing “Men of Athens” (vs. 22). In verse 29 Paul speaks to them about the idol worship of which they have been guilty. And in verses 30 and 31 Paul says, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent”. Just as in Acts 3 and 11 where we saw that it was believing (faith) in Christ by which those Gentiles were saved, so too in this passage. This passage does not make that point as clearly as was made in Acts 11 and Peter’s discussion of it in Acts 15, but we do read in Acts 17:34 , “Certain men clave unto him and believed“. I believe the implication is that Paul’s purpose in asking them to repent of their idol worship was to demonstrate their belief in his message. But it is not repentance in itself that leads to salvation, it is belief/faith, “by faith ye are saved.…” (Eph. 2:8).
Acts 19:4, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the One coming after him”. I believe that Paul is saying here that John’s baptism unto repentance followed one’s belief in Christ because it is faith/belief that saves.
Acts 20:21, “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus”. As noted in Acts 19:4 Paul is saying that baptism unto repentance followed one’s belief in Christ.
Acts 26:20. “But shewed first unto them of Damascus……that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance”. I believe that we may logically assume that those who repented believed first. That is to say, they would not have turned to God had they not first believed Paul’s message concerning Christ.
Rom. 2:4, “God’s kindness leads you towards repentance”. Rom. 1:7 tells us that Romans was written to believers, “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints”. The context will show that the repentance of 2:4 refers to repenting from judging others. Obviously, the gospel of salvation does not include judging or not judging others .
II Cor. 7:9-10, “yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance…. Godly sorrow brings repentance”. Again, this is not a repentance unto salvation, but a repentance from doing what it was that Paul had written to them earlier about.
II Cor. 12:21, “I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity”. Again, this is the repentance from a sin of a believer, not a repentance unto salvation.
II Tim. 2:25, “…God will grant him repentance leading him to the knowledge of the truth”. This repentance is from one who is a believer and will not accept instruction. This repentance again has nothing to do with salvation.
Heb. 6:4-6, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame”.
This passage is often quoted to prove that one can lose their salvation. As the paper on that subject will prove, this passage has nothing to do with salvation, it has to do with the heavenly gift, which as the above mentioned paper will prove, is power from the Holy Spirit. It would take us too far off the topic of this paper to discuss that passage here, but if interested, may I suggest the reader consult that passage as it is discussed in the paper on eternal salvation.
There are eleven occurrences of “repent” in Revelation. In my opinion, each of them is an exhortation to Israel to repent of their sins or they will suffer the consequences of the tribulation. At no time in Revelation are these verses in regard to eternal salvation. To go through each verse would take us beyond the scope of this paper, which I fear is long enough already. Also because there are so many interpretations of Revelation, I fear that a study of these verses would lead us far from our topic. So I will list the verses in which “repent” occurs in Revelation and allow the reader to examine those passages. They are: Rev. 2:5 (2) 2:16, 2:21, 2:22, 3;3. 3:19, 9:20; 9:21, 16:9, 16:11..
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. I would love to hear your thoughts. Please E-mail me at:email@example.com