Chapter 3—Repentance

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How can a person be put right with God? How can a sinner be made righteous? Only through Christ can we find harmony with God and be made holy. But how are we to come to Christ?

Many people are asking this question. Crowds of people on the Day of Pentecost saw how sinful they were. They asked Peter and the other apostles, “What shall we do?”Acts 2:37.

Peter said, “Each one of you must turn away from your sins” (verse 38). A few days later he answered the same question by saying, “Repent, then, and turn to God.” Acts 3:19.

To repent means to be sorry for sin and to turn away from it. We will not give up sin unless we see how sinful it is. There will be no real change in our lives until we stop loving sin and decide to turn from it.

Many people do not really understand true repentance. Millions are sorry that they have sinned. They even change their ways, because they are afraid that their wrongdoing will cause them suffering. But this is not true repentance; it is not the kind the Bible tells about. These people are sorry that sin may make them suffer, but they are not sorry for the sin itself.

Esau was sorry to lose forever his father’s blessing and riches because of his sin. Balaam was afraid when he saw the angel standing in his pathway with a sword in his hand. He said, “I have sinned,” because he was afraid of losing his life. But he was not really sorry for his sin. He did not change his mind or feel terrible about his evil plan.

Judas Iscariot sold his Lord to those who planned to kill Him. Then he cried out, “I have sinned by betraying an innocent man to death!” Matthew 27:4. This confession was forced from his guilty heart by a terrible fear of punishment. He was afraid that he might have to suffer for what he had done, but he felt no deep, heart-breaking sorrow for selling the perfect Son of God to die. He was not sorry that he had turned away from Jesus, the Holy One of Israel.

When Pharaoh, king of Egypt, was being punished by God, he was willing to say he had sinned. He wanted to escape further pain and loss. But he turned against God again as soon as the suffering stopped.

All these men were sorry that sin had brought bad results, but they were not sorry for the sin itself.

When we yield to the influence of the Spirit of God, the conscience is awakened. We begin to see how broad and sacred is God’s holy law, and that it is the basis of God’s government in heaven and in earth. Jesus, “the light that comes into the world and shines on all people” (John 1:9), shines into the secret places of our mind and shows up the hidden thoughts. We see how righteous God is, and we feel afraid to come, guilty and unclean, before the Searcher of hearts. Then we see the love of God, the beauty of His holiness, and the joy of His purity. We desire to be made pure so that we can be friends with God again.

David’s prayer after he had greatly sinned shows us what true sorrow is like. His repentance was sincere and deep. He did not try to make his wrong act seem small. He did not try to escape the results of what he had done. David saw that his sin was great and that his heart was unclean. He hated his sin. He prayed not only for forgiveness but for a clean heart. He wanted the joy of holiness—to be brought back into harmony with God. He wrote: “Happy are those whose sins are forgiven, whose wrongs are pardoned. Happy is the one whom the Lord does not accuse of doing wrong and who is free from deceit.” Psalm 32:1, 2.

“Be merciful to me, O God, because of your constant love. Because of your great mercy wipe away my sins! … I recognize my faults; I am always conscious of my sins…. Remove my sin, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…. Create a pure heart in me, O God, and put a new and loyal spirit in me…. Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation, and make me willing to obey you…. Spare my life, O God, and save me, and I will gladly proclaim your righteousness.” Psalm 51:1-14.

Repentance of this kind is beyond the reach of our own power. It comes only from Christ, who went to heaven and has given us spiritual gifts.

Many people do not understand repentance, so they fail to receive the help Christ wants to give them. They think they cannot come to Christ unless they first repent. They believe that repentance prepares the way for the forgiveness of their sins.

It is true that a person must repent before he is forgiven, for only when one is truly sorry for his sin will he feel the need of a Saviour. But must the sinner wait until he has repented before he can come to Jesus? Must the need for repentance keep the sinner away from the Savior?

The Bible does not teach that the sinner must repent before he can accept Christ’s invitation, “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. Christ’s grace, His power, leads a person to truly repent. Peter made this clear when he said of Jesus, “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Acts 5:31, KJV. The Spirit of Christ leads us to repent and be pardoned by God.

Every right desire comes from Christ. He is the only one who can make us hate sin. Every time we feel a desire for truth and purity, every time we see our own sinfulness, we can know that the Holy Spirit is working on our hearts.

Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” John 12:32. Christ must be shown to the sinner as the Savior who died for the sins of the world; and as we see the Son of God on the cross of Calvary we begin to understand God’s plan to save us. Then the goodness of God leads us to repentance. When Christ died for sinners, He showed a love too great for us to understand. But as we see this love, it touches our hearts and affects our minds, and we become sorry for our sin.

Sometimes sinners feel ashamed of their sinful ways and give up some of their bad habits. They do this even though they do not know that they are being drawn to Christ. But whenever they try to change their ways because they have a sincere desire to do right, it is Christ’s power that is moving them. His Spirit is influencing their minds and helping them live better lives.

As Christ draws sinners to look at His cross and see that their sins caused Him to die, their consciences are troubled. Then they see how terrible their sins are. They begin to understand something of the righteousness of Christ. They cry out, “What is sin? Why did Christ have to die? Was all this love and suffering demanded to save our lives? Did He suffer all this so that we could have everlasting life?”

The sinner may resist God’s love and refuse to be drawn to Christ, but if he does not resist, he will be drawn to Him. He will learn about God’s plan to save sinners. He will come to the cross and repent of the sins that caused the sufferings of God’s dear Son.

The same God who controls nature speaks to the hearts of people. He gives them a great desire for something they do not have. The things of the world cannot satisfy this desire. God is telling people to find the grace of Christ and the joy of holiness. These alone can bring peace and rest.

Our Savior is trying all the time to draw people’s minds away from worldly pleasures to the wonderful blessings that Christ can give. To these people who are trying to find water in the dry wells of the world, He says, “Come, whoever is thirsty; accept the water of life as a gift, whoever wants it.” Revelation 22:17.

If you have a desire for something better than the world can give, this is God speaking to you. Ask Him to give you repentance and show you Christ in His infinite love and perfect purity.

The Savior’s life makes plain that the law of God is based on love to God and other people. To be unselfish, loving, and kind was what Jesus lived for. So, as we look at our Savior and light from Him falls on us, we see how sinful we really are.

We may feel, as Nicodemus did, that our lives are good and that we do not need to humble ourselves before God like a common sinner. But when the light from Christ shines into our hearts, we see that we are not pure. We see that we are enemies of God and that every act of life is selfish. When we see His righteousness, we shall know that “even our best actions are filthy through and through.” Isaiah 64:6. Only Christ’s sacrifice can take away our sins and make us clean. Only Christ can change our lives until we are like Him.

One ray of light from God’s glory shows every spot and weakness in our character. One brief view of the purity of Christ makes our lives look unclean. It shows plainly that we have evil desires, unfaithful hearts, and impure speech. We see that we are not obeying God’s law. As the Spirit of God searches our hearts, we feel unhappy about ourselves. We look at Christ’s spotless character and hate our evil ways.

The prophet Daniel was visited by an angel from heaven. Glory shone all around the angel, and Daniel was overcome as he thought of his own weakness and lack of perfection. He wrote, “I had no strength left, and my face was so changed that no one could have recognized me.” Daniel 10:8.

Any person who sees this glory from heaven will hate his own selfishness and self-love. He will search for purity of heart through Christ’s righteousness. He will want to keep God’s law and have a Christlike character.

Paul wrote of his own righteousness: “As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commandments of the Law, I was without fault.” Philippians 3:6. When he noted just the words of the law, then looked at his life, he could see no fault in himself. But when he looked at the deep meaning of the law, he saw himself as God saw him. He bowed down and confessed his guilt.

Paul wrote, “That is why I felt fine so long as I did not understand what the law really demanded. But when I learned the truth, I realized that I had broken the law and was a sinner, doomed to die.” Romans 7:9, TLB. When Paul saw how holy the law was, sin looked terrible. He no longer felt proud, but humble.

God does not look at all sins as equally bad. To Him, as to us, some sins are worse than others. But even if some wrong acts appear small to us, no sin seems small to God. Human judgment is often wrong, but God sees things as they really are. People dislike a drunk person and say his sin will keep him out of heaven. But often these same people say nothing against pride, selfishness, and greed. Yet these are sins that especially offend God because they are so different from His loving character. Unselfish love fills every heart in heaven.

A person who makes a big mistake and sins may feel ashamed. He may feel that he needs the grace of God. But a proud person feels no need, so he closes his heart against Christ and the wonderful blessings He came to give.

Jesus once told a story about a tax collector who bowed his head and said, “God, have pity on me, a sinner.” Luke 18:13. He thought of himself as a wicked man, and other people looked upon him in the same way. But he felt his need of a Savior and came to God with his load of sin and shame. He asked for God’s mercy. His heart was open for the Spirit of God to come in and set him free from the power of sin.

Then Jesus told about a Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other men. The Pharisee’s prayer showed that his heart was closed against the Spirit of God. Because he was a long way from God, he did not see how sinful he was. He did not compare his life with God’s holiness. He felt no need, and he received nothing.

If we see that we are sinful, we must not wait to make ourselves better. We must not think that we are not good enough to come to Christ. Can we expect to become better by just trying, in our own strength? “Can people change the color of their skin, or a leopard remove his spots? If they could, then you that do nothing but evil could learn to do what is right.” Jeremiah 13:23.

God is the only one who can help us. We must not wait for someone to beg us to change or for a better chance or until we gain control of a bad temper. We can do nothing of ourselves. We must come to Christ just as we are.

Our heavenly Father is a God of love and mercy. But we must not think He will save us if we turn from His grace. The cross of Jesus shows how terrible sin is. When people say that God is so kind He will not cast off the sinner, they should look at the cross. Only through Christ’s sacrifice can we be saved. Without this sacrifice we could not escape from the power of sin. Without it, we could not share heaven with the angels. Without it, we could not have spiritual life.

To save us, Christ took our guilt on Himself and suffered in our place. The love, suffering, and death of the Son of God show us how terrible sin is. They also tell us that the only way to escape from sin is to come to Christ. Our only hope for a life in heaven is to give ourselves to the Savior.

Sinners sometimes excuse themselves by saying of people who claim to be Christians, “I am as good as they are. They do not act any better than I do. They love pleasure as much as I do. They love to please themselves.”

In this way sinners make the faults of others an excuse for not doing their own duty. But the sins and weaknesses of others do not excuse anyone, for the Lord has not asked us to take sinful people as a pattern. The spotless Son of God has been given as our example. Those who complain about the wrongdoing of others should themselves show a better way of living. If they know how a Christian should act, is not their sin much greater? They know what is right, yet they refuse to do it.

We must not delay turning from sin and coming to Jesus. We must seek for a pure heart through Him. Thousands and thousands of people have made the mistake of waiting, and it has cost them eternal life.

Life on earth is short and not at all certain. We do not think often enough about the terrible danger of delaying to yield to the voice of God’s Holy Spirit. Delaying to obey God is really choosing to live in sin. And even small sins are dangerous. The sins that we do not overcome will overcome us and destroy us.

Adam and Eve let themselves believe that eating the forbidden fruit was so small a matter that it could not cause the terrible results that God had said would come. But this “small” matter was disobeying God’s unchangeable, holy law. Disobedience separated the human family from God and let sorrow and death come into the world. Century after century a never-ending sad cry has gone up from the earth. The whole world is suffering because man disobeyed God. Heaven itself has felt the effects. Christ had to die on Calvary because man broke the divine law. Let us never think of sin as a small thing.

Every sin, every turning away from the grace of God, hardens our hearts. It leads us to make wrong choices. It keeps us from understanding God’s love. Sin makes us less willing to obey, less able to yield to God’s Holy Spirit.

Many people know they are doing wrong, but they do not change their ways. They believe they can change whenever they choose. They think they can turn from God again and again and still hear His call of mercy. They follow Satan, but they plan to turn quickly to God if something terrible happens to them. But this is not easy to do. Sin changes a person’s desires and habits. After sin has molded the character, few people want to be like Jesus.

Even one wrong thing in the character or one sinful desire that we will not give up will finally stop the gospel’s power from changing us. Every time we give in to Satan, we turn more from God. A person who finally will not listen to or obey God’s word is but reaping the result of his own choices. In the Bible we read Solomon’s most wise but terrible warning about playing around with evil. He wrote, “The sins of the wicked are a trap. They get caught in the net of their own sin.” Proverbs 5:22.

Christ is ready to set us free from sin, but He does not force us to stop sinning and choose His way. If we do not desire to be free, if we will not accept His grace, what more can He do? We will destroy ourselves by turning away from His love. Paul wrote, “Listen! This is the hour to receive God’s favor. Today is the day to be saved!” “If you hear God’s voice today, do not be stubborn.” 2 Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 3:7, 8.

God said that people “look on the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7. In our hearts, with all their joys and sorrows, is much that is impure and dishonest. But God knows our desires. He knows what we want to do. We must go to Him, all stained with sin, and open ourselves to His all-seeing eyes. We should say, as David did, “Examine me, O God, and know my mind; test me, and discover my thoughts. Find out if there is any evil in me and guide me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139:23, 24.

Many of us accept God with our minds, but our hearts are not changed. We should pray, “Create a pure heart in me, O God, and put a new and loyal spirit in me.” Psalm 51:10. We must be honest with ourselves. We must be as sincere in this as if our very lives were in danger. It is a matter to be settled between us and God—and settled forever. Hope without action will not save us.

We should study God’s Word and pray. His Word teaches us about the law of God. It tells us about the life of Christ and how to be holy. “Try to live a holy life, because no one will see the Lord without it.” Hebrews 12:14. God’s Word makes us feel how terrible sin is, and it shows us how to be saved. We must listen to it and obey it, for it is God speaking to us.

As we see how terrible sin is we see ourselves as we really are. But we must not lose hope and become discouraged. Christ came to save sinners. We do not need to try to get God to be our friend and love us. He already loves us and is “making all human beings his friends through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 5:19.

God is drawing the hearts of His sinful children to Himself with His gentle love. He is much more patient with our faults and mistakes than are our earthly parents. He wants to save all His children. He gently and kindly invites the sinner to come to Him and the wanderer to return. All God’s promises, all His warnings, tell us of His eternal love.

At times Satan comes to us to tell us that we are great sinners. But when he comes, we must look to our Redeemer and talk of His power and goodness. As we look to Him, He will help us. We will tell Satan that we know we have sinned, but “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” 1 Timothy 1:15. We may be saved by His perfect love.

Jesus asked Simon about two people who owed money. One owed his master a small sum of money; the other owed a very large sum. The master forgave them both. Christ asked Simon which man would love his master most. Simon said, “I suppose … that it would be the one who was forgiven most.” Luke 7:43.

We have been great sinners, but Christ died so that we could be forgiven. His priceless sacrifice is worth enough to pay for our sins. Those who are forgiven most will love Him most. They will be closest to Him in heaven, and they will praise Him for His great love and infinite sacrifice.

When we fully understand the love of God, we most clearly see how terrible sin is. When we see how far He has reached down to touch us and save us, our hearts are made tender. When we understand something of Christ’s sacrifice, then we are truly sorry for our sins, and our hearts are full of love for Him.

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