Repentance Unto Life

Acts 11:18
When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.


 I’m sure we’re all agreed that there is room for improvement in our lives. We all need to be kinder to people, more generous, more willing to help others, more loving to our neighbour and so on. And whatever church door we enter, we’ll more than likely hear sermons and homilies encouraging us to do these things. After all, Jesus Christ Himself taught us exactly the way we should live:

Luke 6:27-31
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

This is all very good. We need teaching like this. And we should all be making more of an effort in this regard. But none of this is exclusive to Christianity. The imam, the rabbi, the living buddha and the atheist politician will all give fairly similar advice. Be kind to your neighbour. Give to the poor. Do good to everybody, even to those with whom you find it difficult. So, the question we may ask ourselves is: Why should we have to embrace Christianity to understand that this is the way we should live? And here is where we must realise that Christianity is far more than just moral teaching.

Simply trying to pull our socks up doesn’t work, because we can’t. Christianity is all about salvation. Being saved from the consequences of where, if left unchecked, our sins would inevitably lead us. It’s not about anything else. It’s this that sets Christianity apart from all other faiths and belief systems. They all teach self-help. We teach the absolute necessity of believing in and putting our trust in one glorious Saviour, who specifically came into this world to save His people from their sins. And that is Jesus Christ:

Matthew 1:21
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

Acts 10:43
To him [Jesus Christ] give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.

Jesus Christ is certainly a moral teacher:

Matthew 23:8
But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.

But He’s far more than that. He’s a prophet:

Deuteronomy 18:18
I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

He’s a King:

John 18:36
Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

He’s our great High Priest:

Hebrews 9:11,12
But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

And, as He said Himself, He is the Son of God:

John 9:35-37
Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.

So, the fundamental principle of Christianity is that we shouldn’t trust in ourselves, thinking ourselves good enough to be able to get to heaven. Rather, we are to trust and believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour to get us there. There are many calls in Scripture to do this:

John 8:24
….if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.

Acts 2:21
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Acts 13:38-39
Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

Acts 16:31
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

1 John 3:23
And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.

Sadly, there are many churches out there that really don’t teach this gospel message of the absolute necessity of believing in Jesus Christ for salvation at all. They stop at a self-improvement religion. Thankfully, however, there are still many churches that do preach this. And that’s good, as far as it goes. However, it has to be said that in most of these, there’s still something missing from their message. The gospel call is not just to “believe in Jesus.” The gospel call is to “repent and believe in Jesus.” We only have to look through the Bible to see the importance of repentance:

Matthew 4:17
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matthew 9:13
….I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Acts 2:38-39
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

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.

Acts 17:30-31
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

Acts 20:21
Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 26:18
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

Acts 26:20
But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

A church which does not call its hearers to both repent and believe, is only preaching half a gospel.

And there is something further we need to understand too. It’s very easy to misunderstand the gospel call altogether. The gospel calls all men everywhere to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. But we may mistakenly think that implies we have the ability to do these things in our own strength. That doesn’t follow, but we can easily think it does. So it is possible to end up outwardly professing Christianity as our faith, but, I have to say this solemnly, it’s not real, it’s not in our heart, because we’re still trusting in ourselves. The whole concept of the Christian life is to be finished with self altogether, and trust in the Lord alone.

The faith and repentance we need can’t be worked up from within ourselves. Too great a change is needed. It must not be just “faith,” but “faith unto salvation”:

1 Peter 1:5
Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Hebrews 10:38,39
Now the just shall live by faith…. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.

Similarly, our repentance should not be merely trying to make an effort to change, but a  “repentance unto life”:

Acts 11:18
When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.

And this can only be granted by God:

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.

2 Timothy 2:25
In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;

The only way to receive “faith unto salvation” and “repentance unto life,” is to come to an end of self. We must recognise our utter inability to whip these things up from within ourselves, and call upon the Lord to grant them to us. Only then can the Lord work in us. And He promises to do so to all who call upon Him:

Psalm 145:18
The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.

Isaiah 55:6-7
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Matthew 7:7
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you....

The Bible speaks of a world of difference between the sorrow of the world, which leads to a false repentance, a repentance in our own strength which is no good to us, and “godly sorrow,” which is the only kind that leads to true repentance:

2 Corinthians 7:9,10
Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

In order to shew this difference more clearly, take a look at these Biblical characters:


Exodus 10:16,17
Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste; and he said, I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once, and intreat the LORD your God, that he may take away from me this death only.


Numbers 22:34
And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.

King Saul:

1 Samuel 15:24
And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.

1 Samuel 15:30
Then he said, I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD thy God.


Matthew 27:3-5
Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.


Genesis 27:38,41
And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept.... And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.

Hebrews 12:16,17
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.

What have all these examples got in common? None of these characters obtained “repentance unto life.” But why not? Why did the Lord not grant repentance to these folk? They repented. They were clearly remorseful. It even brought tears to Esau, and caused Judas to kill himself. Surely the Lord ought to have had compassion on such heartfelt repentance? But all these people mentioned here made one big mistake. They only sought repentance in order to try to avoid some kind of punishment or consequences. It’s not genuine. As soon as the situation eased, they would have been off again following their evil ways just like before. It’s not real. And no repentance we think we can muster up from within ourselves is ever going to be real.

On the other hand, the “repentance unto life” that only God can give is altogether different. We see our sin for what it really is before God. We cry to God alone:

Psalm 51:4
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Jeremiah 31:18
....turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God. 

Only then can the Lord work and grant us the “repentance unto life” that we so desperately need. And once we have it, it completely changes our attitude toward ourselves, particularly in two ways: Firstly, it brings self-loathing:

Jeremiah 31:19
Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.

Ezekiel 6:9
….and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.

Ezekiel 7:16
But they that escape of them shall escape, and shall be on the mountains like doves of the valleys, all of them mourning, every one for his iniquity.

Ezekiel 20:43
And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed.

Ezekiel 36:31
Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations.

Secondly, it brings us to accept our punishment. We’re no longer attempting to escape anything. Maybe we do deserve some kind of punishment from this world. We accept it. We certainly deserve eternal punishment from God. We accept that too. If God wishes to throw us into hell-fire forever, so be it. Blessed be the name of the Lord if He should do so. Such an attitude toward ourselves can only make us all the more thankful for Jesus Christ and His salvation, who came for the very purpose of saving all those who come to Him from their just deserts.

Here are some examples of true repentance in the Bible:

Genesis 42:21
And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.

2 Samuel 24:17
And David spake unto the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house.

Job 33:27
He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; he will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light.

Jonah 1:12
And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.

This is where we should be. Finished with trying to change ourselves, we call upon on the Lord to do it for us. This is the true repentance which leads to eternal life. 

1 John 5:11-13
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.