Is repentance necessary? It is strange and sad to think that many Christians do not view the doctrine of repentance as a necessary doctrine. They will be quick to say that it is ideal and even important, but it is not necessary. Others might say it is necessary, but they deny this by not teaching it or applying it. Why is it strange and sad? Regardless of what certain individuals propagate in their writings, sermons or interaction with others, the Scripture remains clear that the doctrine of repentance is necessary. It is necessary in one’s embracing of the gospel message and necessary in daily Christian living.
The Scripture has a lot to say concerning the necessity of repentance, but in this post I will limit myself to the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord Jesus Christ at the commencement of His public ministry proclaimed the necessity of repentance. We read, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (). From a pragmatic point of view, that would not appear to be the best theme for your opening message, especially if you want to attract a crowd. However, it was the theme of His message because Jesus was not interested in being popular, but rather He came to save the lost. Later on He declared, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (). Repentance is necessary.
On another occasion, when commenting on the two disasters (Pilate’s massacre and the fall of the tower of Siloam) which involved the loss of many lives, Jesus challenged His listeners by warning them, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (). Here Jesus makes it clear that repentance is not limited to a certain group, all need to repent.
This message of the necessity of repentance is something our Lord wanted His disciples to carry out in their evangelizing of the world. He said,
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” ().
In five of His letters to the seven churches in Asia, Jesus told them to repent of a specific sin. For the church in Ephesus, they were commanded to repent of leaving their first love (). The church in Pergamum had comprised by embracing unbiblical beliefs, which resulted in ungodly practices. Jesus demanded they repent (). The church in Thyatira sadly had become tolerant of sin, and this was to be repented of (). The church in Sardis was “dead” (3:2) and Jesus commanded them to repent (). Finally, the church in Laodicea was lukewarm in the Lord’s sight, and again He called for them to repent (). This reveals the necessity of repentance, even in the churches!
Why is repentance necessary? In attitude and action, we have sinned against our Creator’s Law. Our sin is unacceptable in His sight and is worthy of eternal punishment. Repentance, by God’s grace, is that changed mind that sees our sin and desires to come to Christ for salvation. As we repent from our sin we are to believe in Christ. Without repentance there is no saving faith for both them go hand in hand. J C Ryle states with clarity and conviction,
“We must know our sins, mourn over them, forsake them, abhor them, or else we shall never enter the kingdom of heaven. There is nothing meritorious in this. It forms no part whatever of the price of our redemption. Our salvation is all of grace, from first to last. But the great fact still remains, that saved souls are always penitent souls, and that saving faith in Christ, and true repentance toward God, are never found asunder. This is a mighty truth, and one that ought never to be forgotten.”
Repentance is necessary. We should be thankful to the Lord for this gift and opportunity. Repentance brings to the life of the individual a great freedom and we will discuss this in our next post in the series.
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works,
3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.