Repentance and Forgiveness in the Bible

The Law accuses and shows us our sin, warns us of God’s wrath, and shows we are powerless to save ourselves. Here, Pastor Rigdon shares examples of how God calls His people to repentance and offers the gift of forgiveness.

An Illustration of Our Need for Repentance

Once when I was a child, I was playing with blocks. I loved blocks. The blocks on this occasion were not colorful, plastic, and hollow, but rather wooden, heavy, and thick, sanded down to a smooth finish. The blocks came in various shapes: square, rectangular, and circular. Some were shaped like bricks, and others were long beams. There were even a few in the shape of an arch. I appreciated the creativity of designing a house or building, beginning with one brick on top of another, step by step, not having a particular form in mind but rather letting it take its own shape.

I stacked the blocks too high, and my teacher instructed me, “Phil, don’t build those bricks so high.” I politely assured her I would not but continued to do so. Minutes later, she noticed my imposing tower and charged me again, only more vehemently. “Phil, don’t build those bricks so high.” I promised again I would not and then continued to do so. The third time, my construction got her attention. But it wasn’t because she saw it. I built the tower so high (and apparently not sturdily enough) that it came crashing down, startling everyone in the room. My teacher forbade me from playing with the blocks for the rest of the day and imposed an additional punishment that I cannot recall. She was entirely justified in her chastisement. She warned me twice, I ignored her, and there were consequences.

Jeremiah and Repentance in the Old Testament

Jeremiah was a prophet sent by God to lead Israel to repentance and warn them of the consequences of their sin. He told them to obey God and repent in Jeremiah 26:12–13:

Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will relent of the disaster that He has pronounced against you.

Despite God’s faithfulness and providence, the people disregarded Jeremiah’s warning and engaged in idolatry and took wives from pagan families. Through the prophet, God warned the people of invasion and subjugation by the Babylonians if they did not repent of this wickedness. Although a few did, most did not repent, and the Lord fulfilled His promise of punishment.

Repentance in the New Testament

Both John the Baptist and our Lord, Jesus Christ, preached repentance. In Matthew 3:1–3, John the Baptist says:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’ ”

In Luke 5:31–32, Jesus says:

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

Characteristics of Christian Repentance

It is important to note that Christian repentance is not just a feeling of remorse. Christian repentance includes two things: sorrow for sin and looking to Christ for forgiveness. Repentance is primarily being sorry for sinning against God Almighty. Indeed, every sin is an offense against God whether it involves another person or not. Christian repentance also looks to Christ for forgiveness. Repentance does not bring goodness, merit, works, suffering, or anything as an offering to the Lord in exchange for forgiveness.

John the Baptist warns against this in Matthew 3:9:

And do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.”

In Matthew 3:8, John notes, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

When we repent, there ought to be evidence. My evidence in building blocks should have been to stack them at a more reasonable height. For the people of Israel, it should have been fleeing from idolatry. At the same time, we should remember why we are forgiven. We are forgiven because Jesus Christ suffered the punishment of our sins on the cross, died, and rose again. Through faith created by the Holy Spirit, we receive the blessings of Christ’s work of redemption. So while our Lord expects a change in our behavior, such a change has nothing to do with why we are forgiven.

Repentance and Mercy

Calling sinners to repentance is indeed an act of mercy. God does not want any sinner to perish. Rather, He wants everyone to turn from sin and be forgiven. An even clearer and more poignant demonstration of God’s mercy is His solution to our sin. While there are earthly consequences for sin—loss of privileges, broken relationships, unemployment, and prison—God spares us from the eternal consequences. A just God does not merely overlook the consequences. Rather, He allowed Jesus Christ to suffer for us. Additionally, our heavenly Father sends His Spirit to convict us of sin and direct us to the saving Good News of the cross.

Scripture: ESV®.

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Phil Rigdon

The Rev. Dr. Philip Rigdon and his wife, Jamelyn, live in Kendallville, Indiana, with their two rabbits, Frankie and Buttons. He serves as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church and School in Kendallville. He enjoys writing, running, and playing guitar.

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