Repentance Unto Salvation :: By Bill Pierce

All forms of the word repent appear 112 times in the Holy Bible. In his 1828 dictionary, Noah Webster gives the following definition of REPENT: ‘To feel pain, sorrow or regret for something done or spoken… A person repents only of what he himself has done or said… To express sorrow for something past… To change the mind in consequence of the inconvenience or injury done by past conduct.’ Hopefully the next two studies on repentance will settle any controversy, and show clearly that God commands that every sinner must repent to be saved!


And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day” (Judges 21:6, 15). After the LORD spoke to Job (Job chapters 38—42], Job answered the LORD, and said, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). Solomon prayed for the LORD to forgive Israel and cause their enemies to show them compassion after the LORD had delivered them to be their captives. Solomon said, “Yet if they shall bethink [remember and consider] themselves in the land whither they were carried captives, and repent [regret what they had done], and make supplication unto thee in the land of them that carried them captives, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; And so return unto thee with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies…” (1Kings 8:46-53).


Illustration to the leaders of Israel — The Lord Jesus said unto the chief priests and elders of the people “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went” (Matthew 21:28-29). After he gave his first answer the first son regretted what he had said. So he changed his mind and decided to obey his father. Then Jesus said unto them: “For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him” (Matthew 21:32).

Israel’s exodus from Egypt — At the time of the exodus of Israel from Egypt: “it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent [change their mind and turn back] when they see war, and they return to Egypt” (Exodus 13:17).

The worthless and futile repentance of a devil — According to the Lord Jesus Christ, Judas “is a devil” (John 6:70). “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he [Jesus] was condemned, repented [turned] himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders” (Matthew 27:3). Judas did not repent and turn to God for forgiveness and salvation! He turned to the wicked leaders who sought the death of Jesus Christ!


God commanded Israel — “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” (Ezekiel 18:30); and, “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn [repent] from his way and live: turn [repent] ye, turn [repent] ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11). “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” (Ezekiel 14:6).

After he was tempted by the devil for forty days in the wilderness, Jesus came to Capernaum and “began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The Lord Jesus also declared: “for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). John the Baptist also commanded Israel, saying: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).

God commands all men to repent and believe — After the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, God “now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), because “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2Peter 3:9). “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).

On another occasion some reported to Jesus the account of two groups who died in different situations. The first were killed by Pilate (Luke 13:1), and the second died when a tower fell upon them (Luke 13:4). Jesus answered them—concerning both occasions, with exactly the same words of warning. He said: “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish [‘lost eternally’ Noah Webster, 1828]” (Luke 13:3, 5)! The context is clear. Jesus warned them of eternal destruction except they repent [turn] from their unbelief and believe on him for salvation (Acts 16:31). God gives men the choice either to receive his only begotten Son and be made an eternal son of God (John 1:12-13), or to reject Jesus Christ and his words, and be judged and eternally condemned (John 12:47-48).


Concerning the people of Jerusalem, the LORD said to Jeremiah: “I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned [they refused to turn to the LORD] to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle” (Jeremiah 8:6). Jesus upbraided “the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:20-21). Even after seeing the terrible results of the supernatural plague of locusts during “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7). John recorded the response of the wicked, and said: “Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts” (Revelation 9:21).


The LORD declared through his prophet Jeremiah: “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn [repent] from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them” (Jeremiah 18:7-10; 26:13). “If so be they will hearken, and turn [repent] every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings” (Jeremiah 26:3) “Thou hast forsaken me, saith the LORD, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting” (Jeremiah 15:6).

If the Lord wills, a future study will expand upon the many ways the LORD responds to men (2Samuel 22:26-27; Psalm 18:23-26). God repents of the eternal evil he has ordained to bring upon all sinners when any sinner repents from his unbelief and believes the gospel. The law of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7-8) cannot be broken. For example, God saw the works of the people of Nineveh, “that they turned [repented] from their evil way; and [therefore] God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (Jonah 3:10; 4:2). The Lord Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees: “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here” (Matthew 12:41).

With respect to the coming dreadful day of the LORD, Joel wrote: “Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye [repent ye] even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn [repent] unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?” (Joel 2:12-14).


Repentance and faith are necessary for salvation — In his letter to saved Hebrews the apostle declared: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God” (Hebrews 6:1). Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, testified “both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). The apostle Paul testified that he “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 [suitable] for repentance” (Acts 26:20). For example, those who believed the gospel in Thessalonica “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1Thessalonians 1:9).

The apostles also “went out, and preached that men should repent” (Mark 6:12). The Lord Jesus said that “joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:7); and that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10). The scriptures never declare that the angels themselves have joy or rejoice, but the Lord and his redeemed people have great joy when sinners repent.

The Lord gives repentance to Israel — When they were brought before the Jewish council, “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:29-32; Luke 24:46-48).

The Lord grants repentance to the Gentiles—When the apostles and brethren heard the things God had done at the house of Cornelius, when Peter preached the gospel to them, “they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18; 14:27).

God’s work to bring men to repentance — The apostle Paul wrote to the saints at Corinth: “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2Corinthians 7:9-10).

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18; 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2). Because of “the goodness of God” (Romans 2:4), and his will for “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1Timothy 2:4), he works to save those who rebel against his words, and who contemn [despise] “the counsel of the most High: Therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and there was none to help. Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” (Psalm 107:10-15).

Abraham’s testimony to the lost rich man — Righteous men are commanded to testify and witness the truth to other men, but no man will ever be saved without the reproof of “the Comforter [the Holy Ghost (John 14:26)]” (John 16:7-11), and without faith in the Holy Bible, which is “the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son” (1John 5:9).

When the rich man in hell asked Abraham to send Lazarus to testify to his five brethren, “lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:27-31). “For by grace are ye saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9), and “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17): and, “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6-7).

Seeing a man raised from the dead may lead some men to believe the truth of the gospel. When the Lord Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead many of the Jews believed on Jesus, but Caiaphas the high priest, and the council of the chief priests and the Pharisees determined that Jesus should die (John 11:45-53). Also “the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus” (John 12:10-11).

The free gift of God — Every one of the non-Christian religions of the world require some form of good works for men to achieve salvation, but the glorious truth of our salvation is that Lord Jesus Christ “entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12): and by the righteousness of Jesus Christ “the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans 5:15-18). “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23) Any sinner who repents and believes the gospel in his heart, shall be saved (Mark 1:15; Romans 10:9; Acts 16:31).