DO MEN NEED TO REPENT OF THEIR SINNING
OR ONLY OF THEIR UNBELIEF AND SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS?
“I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.” Jer. 23:21-22
I have had many conversations with modern Antinomians who have said things like, “You don’t need to repent of your sins. You only need to repent of unbelief” or “You don’t need to repent of your sins. You only need to repent of self-righteousness.” And they classify repentance from sin as “works righteousness,” “works based salvation,” and “justification by works of the law.”
Antinomians reason this way, “We are justified by faith and not by works of the law. Therefore, we do not need to repent of our sins or repent of breaking God’s law, but only need to repent of our unbelief and repent of trusting in our self-righteousness and believe the gospel.”
This Antinomian theology is also known as “Easy Believism.” They teach that all you have to do to be saved is believe, you do not need to repent of your sins, and so long as you believe you are saved even though you continue in sin. No amount of sin can send you to hell, or forfeit your salvation, so long as you trust that Christ died for you.
This is, in reality, nothing more than the devil’s faith spoken of in James and turns the atonement into nothing more than a license to sin.
Just recently, someone posted this quote from me on Facebook:
“There is no salvation without repentance. No matter how much a person says that they “believe” and that they have “faith,” if they have not repented of their sins, they have not yet experienced biblical saving faith. It is possible for a person to “believe in Jesus” and still go to hell. I believed long before I repented. If God forgave without repentance, salvation would be nothing more than a license to sin.”
Someone else commented on this and said:
“Jesus never preached to repent of your sins. He preached repent from keeping the law to be in right standing with God. It has always been about faith and relationship.”
Repentance is often used to mean change of mind about sinning, not merely or exclusively a change of belief or a change of mind about self-righteousness.
Take this example of how Jesus used the word repent: “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” Lk. 17:3-4
Here Jesus said that if a man sins against us, we should rebuke him. And if he repents, then we should forgive him. In other words, if he repents of the sin then he should be forgiven.
We see that the word repent, as used by Jesus, does not merely mean to “change your mind about trying to save yourself through works” like Antinomians teach, but an actual change of mind about sinning. It is not merely self-righteousness that needs to be repented of, but all sin.
This use of the word repent, as used by Jesus, helps us to understand what Jesus meant in these verse:
“And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matt. 3:2
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matt. 4:17
“And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Mark 1:15
“I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Lk. 13:3
As Jesus said, “sin no more” (Jn. 5:14; 8:11) and this necessarily implies repentance from all sin, as a person can only “sin no more” if they first change their mind about sinning all together. So Jesus did preach repentance from all sin.
And since Jesus preached repentance, so did his disciples:
“And they went out, and preached that men should repent.” Mark 6:12
Notice also that the Bible says that Jesus Christ came to call sinners to repentance. It doesn’t say unbelievers or the self-righteous, but sinners, because it is their sins that they are repenting of.
“But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Matt. 9:13
“When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Mk. 2:17
“I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Lk. 5:32
“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” Lk. 15:7
You said, “Jesus never preached to repent of our sins, He preached repent from keeping the law to be in right standing with God.“
So is keeping the law to be in right standing with God a sin? If so, Jesus did preach repent of your sin by your own words. If it is not a sin, why repent of it?
Some say it is only unbelief that needs to be repented of, not sins. But is unbelief a sin? Yes, anything that is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). Therefore, to repent of your unbelief is to repent of sin. If unbelief was not a sin, why repent of it? But if unbelief is a sin, then unbelievers do need to repent of their sin.
I agree that trying to earn your salvation by your works is a sin and a sin that needs to be repented of, and that not believing the light that you have is a sin and a sin that needs to be repented of, but I go further and say that all sin must be repented of.
Repentance is not a work of the law, but a condition of mercy. It is a change of mind. It does not merit or earn salvation, as those who repent still deserve punishment, and therefore the pardon of the repentant is an act of grace and mercy.
“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.” Isa. 55:7
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Prov. 28:13
“John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Mark 1:4
“And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” Lk. 3:3
“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 3:19.
There is a world of difference between justification by works of the law and repentance for the remission of sins. One has to do with performing works of the Torah, like circumcision, while the other has to do with a change of mind about breaking the moral law. One is trying to be justified by merit, the other is justification by grace. One is condemned by the scriptures, the other is taught.
Repentance means a “change of mind” and is applied to God at times (Gen. 6:6-7; Ex. 32:12-14; Num. 23:19; Deut. 32:36; Judges 2:18; 1 Sam. 15:11, 15:29, 15:35; 2Sam. 24:16; Ps. 90:13, 106:45, 110:4, 135:14; Jer. 4:28, 15:6, 18:8, 18:10, 20:16, 26:3, 26:13, 26:19, 42:10, Eze. 24:14, Hos. 11:8, 13:14; Joel 1:13-14; Amos 7:3, 7:6; Jonah 3:9-10, 4:2; Zach. 8:14), but this does not mean that God repented of any sin. God has no sin to repent of. It just means that He changed His mind about His plans in light of new developments. He changed His mind about what He was going to do. Like when God repented of destroying Nineveh, He changed His mind about His future actions. But when God repented of making mankind in Genesis, He changed His mind about what He had already done, and His future choices were affected by this as He sent the flood.
But repentance is often applied to man and sin, in which case it means to change your mind about sinning. When it is used in connection to sin, it also means to change your mind about your future actions, as you determine to sin no more, while also a change of mind about what you have already done.
“Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” Eze. 14:6
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.” Eze. 18:30
“Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” Acts 8:22
“Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.” Rev. 2:22
“And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.” Rev. 2:21
“And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk” Rev. 9:20
“And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.” Rev. 16:9
“And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.” Rev. 16:11
While repentance itself is not a work of the law, but simply a change of mind about sinning, this change of mind will result in a change of life. This the Bible calls the fruit of repentance.
“Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” Matt. 3:8
“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.” Acts 26:20
You also said, “If you can turn away from your sin by the power of yourself then you have become self righteous.” But biblical repentance for the remission of sins is not self-righteousness, as it is not a choice that we make independent of God all by ourselves, but a choice that we make under His divine influence. It is a choice that we made under the influence of the gospel. So it is not self-righteousness, but a change of mind about sinning brought about by the grace of God.
Also, self-righteousness is when you think that you are righteous on your own, by your works, without God and without Jesus Christ, and therefore do not deserve hell but deserve heaven. Self-righteousness is not when you have been changed and transformed by Jesus Christ, having been brought to repentance by the gospel of His grace. To classify the born again experience as self-righteousness is to misrepresent and misunderstand both the born again experience and self-righteousness.
Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with works of righteousness, as the Bible says:
“But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” Acts 10:35
“Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” 1 Jn. 3:7
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matt. 5:16
“Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: she me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” James 2:18
The only problem is when people think that their good works earn or merit salvation, or when men have selfish motives for their good works like the Pharisees did (Matt. 6:1; 23:5). In that case, their righteousness is filthy rags (Is. 64:6) instead of pure white robs (Rev. 19:8). Any performing any religious ceremony or ritual, while having an impenitent heart, is of course “righteousness” which is nothing more than filthy rags.
Some suppose that any works of righteousness or good works are filthy rags. Filthy rags, as many know, refer to dirty tampons. But that would mean that these verses are saying, “But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh dirty tampons, is accepted with him,” “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth dirty tampons is righteous, even as he is righteous,” “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your dirty tampons, and glorify your Father which is in heaven,” and “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have dirty tampons: shew me thy faith without thy dirty tampons, and I will she thee my faith by my dirty tampons.”
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with good works or works of righteousness. Good works done out of faith are not filthy rags. That is, works of faith are not dirty tampons. Real works of righteousness are acceptable to God, but they do not earn or merit salvation. Justification is by grace through faith, a faith that includes repentance and that will result in a change of life and good works.
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