Repentance has 5 R's

One of the most climatic moments in the entire Bible is described by Luke in the book of Acts. After an incredible three years of ministry Jesus is executed on a Roman cross and miraculously resurrected.
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One of the most climatic moments in the entire Bible is described by Luke in the book of Acts. After an incredible three years of ministry Jesus is executed on a Roman cross and miraculously resurrected.

He appears to His disciples for 40 days and instructs them to go to Jerusalem to await the empowering of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes upon them with great force and they all begin to speak in languages previously unknown to them.

This great sign draws a large crowd and sets the stage for Peter's first sermon following the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Peter argues that the miraculous sign that the people have just seen testifies that their witness is indeed true.

And their witness was that they had seen Jesus resurrected from the dead with their very own eyes. Peter goes on to say that this witness was proof that Jesus was indeed the divine Messiah, just as Scripture described.

At this point he delivers the conscience crushing blow by declaring that this very same Jesus was the person they had recently put to death. Luke records in Acts 2:37 the anguished reply of the people when they said, "Brethren, what shall we do?"

In this question lay the pained response of every person in history whose heart has been laid bare by the light of the gospel. It's the question of all questions:

  • What shall I do about my terrible sins?
  • What shall I do now that I've wasted my life?
  • What shall I do to return to God after all these years?

Peter answered this question with the simple response originally taught to him by Jesus and now brought to mind by the Holy Spirit so there would be no mistake:

Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- Acts 2:38

In the churches of Christ we have consistently taught that this and only this is to be the proper response to every sinner who comes to Christ seeking forgiveness. And when quoting or teaching on this verse we have been especially careful to focus on baptism because there had been such neglect and confusion concerning this practice.

We have maintained that the biblical form of Baptism was as follows:

A. It was by water.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:5 that there is only one baptism and in the book of Acts all those wanting to become Christians are baptized in water as part of the process (Acts 8:36).

B. It was by immersion.

The word baptize comes from the Greek word baptizo, which means to plunge or immerse or bury.

C. It was necessary for salvation.

In almost every instance that it is used in the New Testament, it is used in connection with salvation.Jesus actually commanded it (Mark 16:15-16) and so does Peter when he responds to the people looking for forgiveness in Acts 2:38.

We taught and established these biblical ideas about baptism very well, almost to the exclusion of the other command contained in this passage, to repent.

This morning I'd like to balance this out and talk to you about biblical repentance and what this spiritual experience requires of us.

Why Don't People Repent?

Some Christians complain that it's hard to get people to accept baptism, it seems that folks have an aversion to water. You explain the way to be baptized and how it is necessary for salvation but they balk at it.

My contention is that people's real problem is not baptism, it's repentance, this is what they're putting off. There are several reasons for this:

1. Ignorance - Romans 6:23

People don't realize that sin will cause them to be condemned to hell. They don't know this because they haven't been taught or in their ignorance they simply don't pay attention to this reality.

2. Enjoyment - John 3:19

Sin is enjoyable and even though people know that there will be consequences, they'd rather play now and pay later.

3. Procrastination - Acts 22:16

Repentance is unpleasant at first and people naturally want to put off what they don't like to do. (Even Saul, at first.) Some people think that the time to think about the next life is at the end of this life, this is foolish because the end sometimes comes sooner than you think. You might be one step away from the next life and not know it.

4. Skepticism - Matthew 11:21

Jesus rebuked cities where most of His works were done because they still doubted and would not repent. If people do not believe, they will not repent.

5. Pride - Matthew 14:6-8

Some are too embarrassed to admit their sins and failures to God. It takes humility to admit we've been wrong and need to change.

6. Fear - Genesis 3:10

Sometimes we have a wrong concept of God (unfair, angry, hard) and we are afraid to repent thinking He won't want to take us back.

7. Perfectionism - Luke 15:11

Some people confuse repentance with perfection. They think that to repent is to decide to become perfect. This thought makes them feel unworthy, leads them to see Christianity as something beyond them and eventually consider Christians as hypocrites.

Usually a proper understanding of what repentance is helps dispel some of these false notions and also assists us in experiencing the blessings that accompany this spiritual experience.

Biblical Repentance

Repentance is as important as baptism or belief or confessing Christ because each of these is commanded by the Lord.

It was not a new command (like baptism) but one that the prophets had been making of the people throughout the Old Testament all the way to John the Baptist. The actual word itself meant to "turn".

For example if you were going down a one-way street and were told to repent, you would "turn around" and go completely the other way. This "turning" that one does is coming to Christ has several requirements that distinguish it as true biblical repentance:

1. Repentance Requires Recognition

In repenting we must recognize that there is sin in our lives, the thing that God hates. There is no real turning if we don't correctly identify the things we are turning from are evil and unholy in the sight of God. Not just a change of religion, but a realization that the things we have done are wrong in the sight of God.

Sin causes condemnation and death and so repentance requires a repudiation of sin as the cause of our separation from God and damnation (Romans 6:23). Repentance says, "It's sin's fault that I am going to hell and I now repent it."

2. Repentance Requires responsibility

Repentance is the moment we acknowledge that we are responsible for sin, we are accountable for what we do. There may be extenuating circumstances in our lives (bad childhood, social pressure etc.) but in the end we are the ones who actually commit the sins.

For example there was a point where David finally acknowledged his terrible sins of adultery and murder to God (Psalm 51) in order to be forgiven. God can't forgive us our sins if we blame them on someone or something else.

3. Repentance Requires Regret

Regret for sin is the sign that we truly understand and now feel the damage it has produced in our lives, the lives of others and especially the life we have with God. The prodigal son was moved to go home when the effects of his sins became apparent and he regretted what he had done.

  • Against himself - starving
  • Against her father - dishonored
  • Against his God - disobeyed

If we don't feel the pain of our mistakes, we rarely are moved to do anything about them.

4. Repentance Requires Reformation

Jesus tells the parable of the two sons who were asked to work in the vineyard by their father (Matthew 21:28).

  • The first said he'd go but neglected to do so.
  • The second refused to obey but repented afterwards and went to work in the vineyard.

Among other things, Jesus is showing here that true repentance in one's heart is seen in a change of behavior.

Repentance requires a change in ones attitude.

  • Toward God - From disobedience to obedience.
  • Toward others - From selfishness to love.
  • Toward self - From pride to humility.

You can fake a baptism but you can't fake repentance, the change is there for all to see, especially God.

5. Repentance Requires Restitution

Now the gospel teaches that everything I owe to God for my sins has been paid by Jesus on the cross (Colossians 2:14). However, my sins have also hurt people, and true repentance demands that as far as I am able I should try to make right the things that I have done wrong towards others.

Not to save my soul, but rather to give a witness of my faith to others and for justice's sake. That's why Christians in jail need to serve out their sentences; that's why rude behaviour needs to be apologized for; that's why Christians who are divorced should make their alimony payments and cooperate with their former spouses in family matters, etc.

Our sins have cause suffering in others and although we cannot always repair the past, we can show that we are sorry and do our best to comfort those we have damaged. God provides grace to forgive our sins we can provide kindness and restitution to help others forgive us as well.


Unlike Baptism, which is a one-time event, repentance is an on-going experience in the Christian's life. It is on going because sin is on-going in our lives as well and for this reason we must practice the spiritual exercise of repenting all the time.

This lesson was not just to encourage non-Christians to understand what they must do as they contemplate baptism, but also to train Christians in how to grow in their ability to repent.

I mentioned the 5 R's that create repentance:

  • Recognition
  • Responsibility
  • Regret
  • Reformation
  • Restitution

When these are put together to form repentance two more R's come forth:

1. Restoration

When there is repentance a sinner is ready to be buried with Christ in baptism; or a Christian is ready to ask for forgiveness and in doing so that person is restored to a right relationship with God.

2. Rejoicing

There is no rejoicing on earth or in heaven without forgiveness; there is no forgiveness without true repentance. If your heart is asking "What must I don to be saved, what should I do to be restored" come now and repent.

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