The Repentance That Leads To Life

[all Bible quotes NASB unless otherwise indicated]

Repentance is a concept that matters a great deal to God. In NASB the word is used in some form 70 times, and Jesus uses some form of the word over 20 times. The first recorded words of Jesus in Mark’s gospel are these, Mark 1:15; “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." In the first gospel sermon, Peter used the word when people realized their guilt and asked what to do about it; Acts 2:38 “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The word “repentance” comes up in a passage where Peter defends his actions; Acts 11:1-18 “Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, "You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them." But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, "I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat.' But I said, 'By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' But a voice from heaven answered a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.' This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man's house. And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, 'Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.' And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

In this lesson let us consider a few things we may learn from Acts 11:18 about repentance.

God has graciously granted mankind a satisfactory means of repentance. By this, I mean that God has granted a method or system of repentance that will satisfy His righteous and holy nature and requirements. I found it interesting that NASB says “THE repentance that leads to life;” few other versions do. Therefore, I checked Young’s Literal Translation, and it says “to the nations did God give THE reformation to life.'’ That word THE indicates uniqueness, as in ONE AND ONLY ONE repentance that leads to life. YLT helps us understand “repentance” by using the word “reformation.” Reformation is defined as “a return to moral conduct by abandoning vice,” and that is a large part of repentance.

This ONE AND ONLY ONE repentance that leads to life is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us look back at Acts 10:34-48; “Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)-- you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Cornelius and those with him responded to this message concerning Jesus Christ, by believing it and obeying it. By the way, this is the only instance I find in Scripture of anyone ordering baptism to be administered; I am sure it is because of the shock the Jews accompanying Peter were dealing with concerning Gentile faith. But don’t be confused, Cornelius was eager to do whatever God wanted done; Peter ordered his companions to administer baptism to as many Gentiles as were willing. God will not compel you to believe or repent, and no one in an assembly of a church of Christ will compel you to be baptized before you leave; but I pray you are as eager as Cornelius to do the will of God once you do believe!

This repentance is granted to, and meant for, all mankind, Jew and Gentile. No human or category of humans is excluded. Those interrogating Peter in Acts 11 knew the Jews had been granted this repentance; they glorified God when they realized the Gentiles ALSO had been granted this blessing. Gen. 10:5 is the first scripture that uses the Hebrew word translated “nations” or “Gentiles.” Every human from Gen. 10:5 on is classified as Jew or Gentile; and since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23) every human is in dire need of the repentance that leads to life.

And indeed, Paul tells us in Acts 17:30-31 “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." Don’t let that word SHOULD fool you into thinking repentance is optional; Jesus said of repentance, “unless you repent, you will all perish.” (Luke 13:3, 5)

Also Jesus tells Christians in Rev. 3:19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.”


This repentance granted, approved, and commanded by God leads to life; all other kinds lead to death. Humans may devise their own methods of expressing and/or demonstrating remorse for past wrong conduct and changing their ways, but God is not pleased with such methods and will not bless them. Human repentance may improve quality of life in this world, but unless God is obeyed in this matter eternal life will not be the result.


It is possible, for example, to realize that God is not pleased with liars and thieves and to repent of such sins and abandon such sins; and yet continue in sexual immorality without the least amount of regret or repentance! Can we say such repentance leads to life? It is even possible to repent of righteous living and adopt wickedness as a way of life. Will such a person be saved by that kind of repentance?


In Acts 11:18 “repentance” is used as a figure of speech called metonymy, where part of something stands for the whole thing. If you have 50 head of cattle, you hopefully have more than just their heads! If you buy a 500-acre farm ‘lock, stock, and barrel’ you get the land and the fence and the barn too! That’s metonymy; part of something represents the whole thing.


Repentance is absolutely necessary to please God and be saved; but it is absolutely not the only thing required for salvation. We know from Acts 10:33 and Acts 11:14 that hearing the word of God is necessary; we know from Acts 10:43 that belief is required and forgiveness of sins is required; we know from Acts 2:38 that Peter said repentance and baptism were necessary for the forgiveness of sins; which explains what we know from Acts 10:48, that Cornelius and the others were baptized that day. Jesus said in Matt. 10:32 that confession of Christ as Lord is necessary, and Jesus said in Rev. 2:10 that a faithful life of obedience is necessary to be saved once you are a Christian. All these things constitute “repentance that leads to life.” Don’t obey MOST of these things but not ALL these things, or you will not be saved!


Why do I say this? Less than complete obedience is dangerously deceiving; it soothes us into thinking we are right with God when we are not, yet! Many people believe God exists but this belief does not lead them to consider or change their ways. Many people have enough faith in God to make the effort to repent and please Him to some degree, and many people call or confess Jesus as Lord, but they still please themselves in many areas and disregard God’s will.


What if I know what to do and obey MOST but not ALL I know to do? Deut. 5:1 “Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully.” Deut. 6:5 Moses said “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us.”

Ezekiel 20:21 God said, “The children rebelled against Me-” HOW, LORD?- “they did not walk in My statutes, nor were they careful to observe My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live.” Hebrews 4:11 “Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.” 2 Peter 1:10 “Be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.”


Jesus said this in Matt. 7:21-23; “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” Jesus here makes plain that incomplete obedience is the same as LAWLESSNESS, and will be condemned!


Jesus also said this in Luke 6:46-49; “Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great."


We may need to “quiet down and glorify God” rather than reject those who repent. Those with Peter in Acts 10:48 were ordered to baptize the Gentile believers, doubtless due to the need to be compelled to act and overcome all they ever had known concerning Gentiles. Those in Acts 11 had to interrogate Peter before accepting what they never considered possible.


How does this apply to us? People can do horrible things and live despicable lives, but their sins are no more and no less worthy of damnation than our nice clean sins! Yet we can very easily categorize sinful behavior as “weaknesses” (if they’re MY sins) or “abominations” (if they’re YOUR sins), and in doing so we make ourselves judges without the right or authority to do so! Shall we dare say that anyone is beyond salvation? Shall we say that not everyone can repent, that some are too far gone to bother with?


I know a preacher who preached in his hometown, and mentioned to his mother that a door-knocking campaign should take place in a rough neighborhood. She was aghast and said, “Why, son, if you do that, you will fill the building with SINNERS!” He said, “What would you rather it be filled with?” And she learned a lesson all of us may need to have in mind; we also may need to be more willing to deal with people who may have a long way to go to arrive at the repentance that leads to life, and overcome any wrong attitude by which we might hinder someone who desires to obey God and be saved, lest we cause some who try to turn to God to give up and return to sin.


God has graciously granted all mankind a means of repentance by which we may be saved. This repentance is the only one that leads to life, and must fully conform to God’s commands and conditions. Will you repent and believe in the gospel? Will you confess Jesus as Lord and obey His gospel? Will you be baptized and live as faithfully as possible? I pray you do; it leads to LIFE!