About Jesus Steve Sweetman
Prerequisite To Forgiveness
For various reasons there
are a number of good Biblical words that have lost their original
meaning, or have fallen into disuse.
The word "repent" is becoming one such word.
If you fail to understand Biblical repentance, you will fail to
Did you know that God can
repent? If you think He
can't repent, you don't fully understand Biblical repentance.
Jeremiah 18:8 and 10 in the KJV tells us that God does repent at
times. The NIV uses the word
The Greek word "metanoeo"
is translated as "repent" in our English New Testament. "Metanoeo"
consists of two Greek words, "meta" and "noeo".
Repentance, or changing
one's mind, can look different from person to person.
Some people in the Bible repent with great agony and sorrow.
Others simply make the decision to repent with little or no
emotion. It's not how you
repent that is important. It's
that you repent that is
important, because repentance in Biblical terms is the prerequisite to
forgiveness of sins and salvation.
There are different
aspects to repentance which I won't elaborate on here. The
aspect of repentance I'm addressing now is what I call "initial
repentance". That's the
changing of one's mind when one first meets Jesus and finds forgiveness
and salvation. The main
thing we need to repent of, or change our minds on at that point, is the
direction in which our lives should take.
Simply put, we acknowledge our failure to live as God wants us to
live and so we decide to let Jesus direct our lives. The
working out of this decision takes a life time of changing your mind on
individual issues as they arise.
When I say Biblical
repentance is the prerequisite to forgiveness, some people suggest that
there are two Biblical passages where this isn't the case.
This is what I'd like to address in this article.
The first apparent
exception is found in Luke 23:34 where Jesus said, "Father, forgive
them, for they do not know what they are doing." We
need to know a couple things here. Who
does Jesus want forgiven, and did they get forgiven without repenting?
word "they" in the phrase "for 'they' do not know what
'they' are doing" refers to Jesus' killers, and those who were
legal witnesses to His death. If
you don't take time to think about this, you might think God forgave
these people based on their "ignorance".
I don't see it that way.
God forgive Jesus' killers, and did "they" repent?
I think Luke 23:48 clarifies this for us. Because
of the events surrounding Jesus' death, the people Jesus wanted forgiven
"beat their breasts". I
interpret the beating of breasts as a gesture of repentance. Jews
had a number of symbolic gestures to express certain emotions, like
sorrow, disgust, or anger. Ripping
one's clothes and shaking dust off one's sandals are two other examples
of expressing emotion. If
I'm right on this point, these people repented.
Therefore, God answered Jesus' prayer and forgave them, but
only after they repented.
7:60 is a similar situation. Stephen
asked the Lord not to hold his murderers accountable for their sin.
Did Jesus forgive Stephen's killers?
The text says nothing more about Stephen's request, except in the
case of Paul, and that's two chapters later. Jesus
went out of His way to help Paul repent.
He actually got physically violent with him as seen in Acts 9.
No one disputes the fact that Paul had a change of heart and mind
concerning the direction his life should take. He
did repent, and it was dramatic. God
answered Stephen's prayer, at least in Paul's case, but only after he
Bible says nothing about the other people who witnessed Stephen's death,
but I'm sure God did His best to help them repent too.
He would not have ignored Stephen's prayer, as He had not ignored
Jesus' prayer. I don't think God ignores the prayer of any righteous
person. That's a lesson for
us all to learn.
one thing I'd like to say at this point.
In Acts 5:31 and elsewhere, the Bible states that God
"grants repentance". This
means God gives us repentance as a gift.
But how do we reconcile repentance being a gift from God, when
the Bible clearly tells us we must do the repenting?
Is repentance a gift from God, or is it something we have to do
on our own? It's both.
Like most things in our lives as Christians, repenting is
something we need help with. Our
minds are so depraved that we can't repent on our own.
At the same time, God won't make us repent, but He will provide
ample opportunity and help us repent, as He did with Paul.
Repentance is a joint effort between us and God.
That's why we need to be in serious prayer for our unsaved
loved-ones. They cannot find
salvation on their own. They
need the Holy Spirit to help them. It's
our place to pray to this end.
Notice Acts 17:30.
It says, "in the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now
he commands all people everywhere to repent."
It can't be any clearer. I
conclude that repentance is a prerequisite to forgiveness, and the two
apparent passages found in the New Testament that seems to suggest
otherwise, really don't suggest otherwise after-all.