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The Book of Acts – What Does It Teach about REPENTANCE?

[Editor’s note: For the initial 32 monthly issues of TRUTH, the last article in each has been a look at a New Testament passage. Starting with this issue, we are deviating temporarily from that pattern, as it is our plan to do a series of studies from the Book of Acts.]

Throughout the Book of Acts, we see the followers of the Christ proclaiming a message of repentance. More is said about repentance in the Book of Acts than in any other book of the Bible. Let us look at some fundamental truths about repentance that we see in this stirring record.

  • That of which a person repents is sin. When one repents, it is “repentance toward God” (Acts 20:21). Where there is no sin, repentance cannot take place. Peter told Simon to repent of his wickedness (Acts 8:22), and the same apostle told the assembled Jews on the Day of Pentecost that repentance was for the remission of sins, meaning that repentance is for those who have sinned (2:38).
  • The Lord commands people to repent. Repentance is not God’s suggestion, preference, or request. No, it is a command – He “commands all men everywhere to repent” (17:30). And, what does the Lord expect humans to do with His commands? Obey them, of course (Matthew 28:20). If a person chooses to disregard what God says about repenting, he can do that, but he must be prepared to face the consequences! Getting people to change their thinking about sin and make a mental commitment to lay it aside is a huge challenge. Whether sinners choose to repent or not is out of our control. Our task is to tell them the truth about repentance.
  • God grants people repentance. Early Jewish disciples glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18). The word “grant” means to give or bestow. The Bible teaches that God wants all men to repent (2 Peter 3:9). God wants repentance to take place, but He does not force it to happen, nor does He step in and do the repentance for one who is in sin. Because He commands man to do his own repenting (Acts 3:19), then it must be the case that the Lord does not grant repentance in a miraculous way. If He miraculously caused one sinner to repent, but failed to so the same for others, He would be showing partiality, which is something that is contrary to His nature (Acts 10:34,35). So, how does God “grant” repentance? First, in His word He charges those in sin to repent. In His word, He further shows us what repentance involves, and He gives all people the chance to repent. In truth, “the goodness of God leads” people to repent” (Romans 2:4). In His word, He shows us the sacrifice of His Son in our stead, shows us the two possible eternal destinies before us (Matthew 25:46), and pleads with us to make the wise choice to follow Jesus (Matthew 7:24-27), which includes repenting of our sins.
  • Repentance is required in order to be forgiven. Repentance stands between a lost person and the cleansing of his sins. That truth is found multiple times in the Book of Acts (2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 11:18). People may not like to hear what the Bible says about repentance, but it is still true. Those who snub God’s teaching do so to their own destruction!
  • “Repentance” can be used as a synecdoche. That is, the single concept of “repent” can stand for the totality of what a person must do in order to be saved. Sometimes faith is the single condition of salvation that represents all conditions. But in Acts 11:18, where it is stated that God “granted to the Gentiles repentance to life,” repentance is employed as a synecdoche – standing for all that one must do in order to receive true, spiritual life.
  • Repentance requires fruits or evidence of change. Paul said that he preached so people would “repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance” (Acts 26:20). John the Baptizer taught the same, saying, “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Genuine repentance is demonstrated, or evidenced, by a changed life.
  • Sometimes the ones who need to repent are children of God. Simon the sorcerer believed and was baptized (Acts 8:13). After his conversion, he sinned. What was he told to do to remedy the situation? “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). When Christians sin, they need to repent of their wrongdoing just like anyone else is required to do (cf. Revelation 2:4,5).
  • People need to hear the truth about repentance. The early disciples preached repentance wherever they went, beginning in Jerusalem and then going into Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8; 2:38; 26:20). If people must repent in order to be saved, then they need to learn God’s will about repentance, right?

It is unlikely that anyone thinks, “Wow! I just love to hear about repentance.” Still, it is a most important topic. The church needs to teach clearly about repentance, not being afraid to set forth everything that the word of God says about it. To do so is in the best interest of lost souls, and at the same time it helps the strength and purity of God’s people.

Roger D. Campbell

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