"And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. " Luke 15:20 –21


Melvin Elliot

REPENTANCE is one of the great themes of the Bible. Inasmuch as all have sinned, no one shall see God in peace who has not genuinely repented. "And the times of this ignorance God winked at: but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). Observe, please, "all men" and "every where." This does not leave out one single responsible person wherever he may be. If men and women live in space or on Mars, all of them will have to repent. There is not one exception. It is a command of God that is universal!

Not only is this fact sustained by many scriptures, the converse, that unrepentant men will perish, is also taught by many passages such as II Peter 3:9. Since such is so emphatically set forth in the scriptures, it is certainly essential that we know what is involved in repentance and how we may comply with it.

It is fortunate indeed for man that those things which pertain to salvation are so clearly set forth that it does not take special intelligence nor education to understand them. We are not given the details of Paul's thorn in the flesh or about Lot's wife, but specific understanding of such things are not essential to salvation. However, those things essential to salvation are so clearly and completely taught that little more than a casual reading of scripture makes abundantly clear what God requires. Such is the case with repentance.

The Meaning of Renentance

What is meant by the word repentance? If one desires to take a moment to consider the original language, he easily learns that the word means to change one's mind or attitude toward sin. The results or proof of repentance is a reformed life. This is clearly set forth in the scriptures. For example, a man asked his son to go work but he said he would not do so, "...but afterward he repented and went" (Matthew 21:28-29). He "repented" and "went." The repenting was not the going nor was the going the repenting. The son repented, changed his mind toward his father's request, and went, or reformed his conduct. Paul, "...thought with myself that ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9). Paul had to change his mind and reform his life to be right with God (Acts 26:1-20).

John the Baptist demanded of certain people that they, "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Evidently, John observed nothing in these people to suggest they had repented. As reformation of life or "fruits" follows a genuine change of mind, John had proof that these had not repented and therefore refused to baptize these people. As Paul demanded the same, such applies to us today (Acts 26:20). In view of these things, that repentance is a change of mind followed by a reformed life and it is demanded, how in the name of common sense can we have those who teach that one in an admitted adulterous marriage can be baptized and then this same relationship becomes pure? Baptism does not make a liar truthful, a horse thief honest nor adultery moral!

This is what repentance is designed to do. One must change his mind about lying, stealing and adultery, which leads to reformation of conduct and then and only then does he become truthful, honest and pure in morals. Although repentance results in this changed conduct, it does not remit the sins of one's former life nor will it put one in Christ. This is the role of baptism upon one's repentance. As repentance demands a reformed life, an unreformed life proves that repentance had not occurred. If one does not truly repent, although he may be sorry for sin, he will perish either dry or wet by a so-called baptism. Paul tells us, "...godly sorrow worketh repentance..." (II Corinthians 7:10). But it is not repentance.

Some will probably charge that we are requiring "penance." To charge a thing does not make it so. Where is the proof? The etymology of the word is far different than the word used by inspiration. Man (Catholicism) requires penance but God requires a changed mind, a turning from sin and returning to God. Another has said, "Sackcloth for the body and remorse for the soul are not to be confused with a determined abandonment of sin and return to God. Not material sacrifice but a spiritual change, is the inexorable demand of God in both dispensations" (Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 6:20; Hosea 6:6). (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. IV, p. 2559)


What are some motives for repentance? We continue in Acts 17. "Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness..." (v. 30). I believe righteousness here to be the sum total of his will. God hates sin - we must hate sin. God will condemn unrighteousness - we must condemn unrighteousness. Also, God loves good - we must love good. God loves truth and right - we must love truth and right. Man must see the horrors of sin and the beauty of holiness. David said, "Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way" (Psalm 119:128). With this insight we under- stand why, (Romans 2:4).

John held out the kingdom of God as a motive for repentance (Matthew 3:2). We learn that, "...a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom" (Hebrews 1:8). The sceptre was a symbol of authority. That which would rule in the kingdom would be righteousness. Christ's administration was to be carried out in justice and right judgment. The kingdom is the manifold wisdom of God from the ages by which God had planned to redeem all those who hated sin and turned to God because they loved righteousness (Ephesians 3:8-12). The reign of righteousness necessitated repentance. Therefore, seeing the nature of the kingdom, man must repent, change his mind, that he may, like Christ, hate iniquity and love righteousness (Hebrews 1:9).


As one grows in "grace and knowledge," his resolve to shun evil and pursue righteousness is strengthened. Thus, as one understands more and it becomes clear that some belief or practice is improper, he immediately reforms himself. In this fashion one is continually "fine tuning" his life in turning away even from the appearance of evil to doing all that God requires. For your good, please read Colossians 3:1-17.

This in no way is to be understood to mean that man cannot revert to corruption both in mind and practice. When Simon desired to buy the ability to impart the Spirit, it suggests to me that his mind had turned to his old way of pretending greatness. Peter confirms this in that he said the thought of his heart was not right. Simon had to "repent...and pray." Obviously, he had to change his mind, ask for forgiveness and live accordingly. If he had never been really converted, inspiration would not have been ignorant of it, and he would have been instructed to sincerely repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38; 8:9-25).


Here we have what we may call God's second law of pardon. It is for one who is already in the church. When a child of God turns away and loves unrighteousness again, he obviously has turned away - fallen - from God's grace because such is appropriated by repentance (Jonah 3:8-10). Therefore, he must be restored to his former mind of faith and love for that which is good (Revelation 2:5); and upon his return to God, he will hear his prayer for forgiveness.

The religious world fails to recognize this vital matter because of their holding to a relic of Calvin: the perseverance of the saints. Of more immediate concern is the failure of brethren to comply with this requirement. The New Testament establishes that a brother who sins is to repent, confess his sins and ask forgiveness of both the church and God (Luke 16:8; 17:3-4; Acts 8:22). Today, when doctrine is violated and/or people abused, we often see the guilty in effect asking what it will take to satisfy the offended and especially what it will take to silence those who point out his error. In this way, many only want settlement and appeasement.

Further, we often see and hear of those who say they didn't do what they should or have been involved in error but do nothing further about it. Do not we know that recognition and even admittance of error is not repentance? How many times have you seen elders, promoters of harmful projects and programs, our college administrators and professors, false teachers and those who supported them, say they were wrong? When have they said: We have sinned and repent - we ask your forgiveness? What we have seen is reorganization, change of policy, firings, threats, resignations, slander, politics, pressure, compromise and cover-ups. So sin in compounded, the effects broadened, and fertile soil is cultivated wherein further corruption thrives.


Christ said if one comes saying (Luke 17:4). When one comes on the basis of the above and we decide to "sweep it under the rug," we have bidden the sinful "God speed" and have become "partakers of his evil deeds," because we have followed the rebellious and not God's law (II John 10-11). All such is rebellious and presumptuous sin. If I remember correctly, a preacher of years gone by said the following, "I found some old goats that had wandered on the mountain of sin so long and fed on the devil's commons until they didn't know sneezeweed from clover!"

Some brethren (unfaithful) must think highly of themselves to so fly in the face of truth. Surely the Lord could also say of this generation, "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here" (Matthew 12:41).