Elements of Conversion: Repentance
1. The “other Great Commission”: Luke 24.44-49 (esp. v. 47)
· “and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (v. 47)
2. The book of Acts shows how the early church obeyed and how they preached the gospel.
a. Acts 14.7-18 (Lystra): “preached the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God” (v. 15)
b. Acts 17.16-34 (Athens): “repent, because he has fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness” (vv. 30-31)
· Notice the mention of future judgment as part of Paul’s evangelism!
c. Acts 19.8-20 (Ephesus): “Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices.” (v. 18)
· Burned magic books in repudiation of their past magic lifestyle.
· This was “fruit” of their repentance: Acts 26.20
d. Acts 20.17-21 (to Ephesian elders): “solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v. 21)
e. Acts 26.12-23 (before King Agrippa): “they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” (v. 20)
3. Paul’s writings
a. 1 Thessalonians 1.5-10: “how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (v. 9)
b. Galatians 4.8-9:
· “when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods”
· “now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God”
· “turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again”
4. Theological reflection on repentance
a. “Repentance may be defined as the conscious turning of the regenerate person away from sin and toward God in a complete change of living, which reveals itself in a new way of thinking, feeling, and willing.”
b. “The question has been discussed: which is prior, faith or repentance? It is an unnecessary question and the insistence that one is prior to the other futile. There is no priority. The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance… The interdependence of faith and repentance can be readily seen when we remember that faith is faith in Christ from sin. But if faith is directed to salvation from sin, there must be hatred of sin and the desire to be saved from it. Such hatred of sin involves repentance which essentially consists in turning from sin unto God. Again, if we remember that repentance is turning from sin unto God, the turning to God implies faith in the mercy of God as revealed in Christ. It is impossible to disentangle faith and repentance. Saving faith is permeated with repentance and repentance is permeated with faith.”
5. Application to evangelism
a. Helps us avoid a reductionistic gospel presentation which focuses solely on a change of propositions in a person’s thinking
· “Just pray this prayer and you will go to heaven.”
· Simply believing certain facts.
b. Keeps us focused on the transforming relationship with King Jesus
· People need to submit their lives to the King and turn from that which is “vanity.”
c. Conversion to Christ will involve some level of transformation
· Not perfection but noticeable.
· Not completion but a change of trajectory of one’s life.
· “To turn is to reorient oneself—including all of one’s hopes and desires—to God. It is act of a moment that changes one’s trajectory to and for life.”