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Repentance from Dead Works (from Foundations)

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Repentance is not a popular subject, but it is central to the Christian life. The Bible teaches that repentance precedes forgiveness of sins:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name

of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive

the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

Jesus said that without repentance man will perish in his sins(Luke 13:3).

The Meaning of Repentance

In the Old Testament, two words are translated “repent”:

And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. (Genesis 6:6, KJV)

God did not “repent” in the same way a sinner “repents.” Instead, He “regretted” that He had made man. He was grieved.

Therefore say to the house of Israel, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” (Ezekiel 14:6)

In the New Testament, to repent means to change one’s mind. For example:

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, (Acts 3:19)

So, the following definition harmonizes the meanings of the word in both

testaments: to “repent” means to regret your way of life, to change your mind about it and to turn away from it and towards God.

For the sinner to “repent” means that he makes an inward decision to turn the course of his life from dead works to serve God (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

The True Gospel Always Includes the Preaching of Repentance

John the Baptist was Jesus’ forerunner, and he preached repentance (Mark 1:2-4). Jesus preached repentance:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

Jesus’ disciples preached repentance! (Mark 6:12; also Luke 24:46-47)And Paul’s message was one of repentance:

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (Acts 20:20-21)

God, Himself, “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30)!

Without true repentance, any profession of faith will be empty words. Any gospel

that leaves out repentance is a false gospel. Any “faith message” that does not equally stress repentance will never work.

Repentance Is More Than Feeling Sorry

A common misconception about repentance is that it is primarily an emotion. Repentance does involve regret because if you do not regret your sinful way of life with its consequences of death and alienation from God, you will never truly turn from it. However, repentance is more than regret. Repentance is an inward decision to change which results in outward actions of change.

After he betrayed Jesus, Judas regretted his sin(Matthew 27:3). Nevertheless, Judas did not truly repent, and he was lost eternally (Acts 1:25).

It is possible for people to shed tears when they are under conviction of sin, when they are caught in their sin, or when they receive the bad consequences of their sin, but never actually to change their mind about their life and receive salvation. True repentance involves change. Repentance is not primarily an emotion but a decision: a decision to turn from sin to serve Jesus.

Paul spoke of the relationship of “godly sorrow” to true repentance in 2 Corinthians 7:10, and the difference between that and false “worldly sorrow”:

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

True Repentance Will Result in Works of Righteousness

Repentance is an inward decision that produces outward change. Without the outward change there is doubt the inward decision was ever real. John the Baptist told those coming to him for baptism to, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). In other words, John told them first to prove that they had repented by their good works, and then come to his baptism. Outward works prove the genuineness of inward repentance.

Paul preached the same kind of repentance – a repentance that is not just words but one that results in works (Acts 26:20).

A Picture of Repentance

The parable of the prodigal son is a wonderful picture of repentance. Read Luke 15:11-32. After the son had wasted all his substance and been reduced to the

humiliation of the “pig pen,” he made a quality, inward decision to turn in a different direction:

I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. (Luke 15:18)

That inward decision then resulted in outward action:

So he got up and went to his father… (Luke 15:20)

And his father responded graciously to his true repentance:

…But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

This is a wonderful picture of the sinner’s true repentance and turning to God, and God’s resulting acceptance of Him!

Repentance Is a Gift from God

The Scripture teaches that repentance is a gift of God:

God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. (Acts 5:31; see also Lamentations 5:21, Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:24-25)

From your side, however, you should not wait until you feel that God has given you the gift of repentance, but you should repent as soon as you see the need to do so. From your side, there is nothing stopping you from repenting. The Scripture teaches that “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).


(God) commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)

That means you are responsible to repent and to get right with God. After

you do repent you will look back and realize that God gave you repentance,

but at the time, you were only doing what you chose to do.

About Foundations, by Malcolm Webber:

The purpose of Foundations is to establish the new believer – or the older believer – in the basic “foundational” truths of Scripture, by dealing with the truths that Paul considered “the elementary teachings about Christ” (Hebrews 6:1): Repentance, faith, water baptism, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. In addition, Foundations gives an introduction to the Word of God, studying how the Bible was established and the authority and ministry of the Word.

Written in a form that makes essential truth accessible to anyone, Foundations has helped thousands of believers in many nations establish a solid biblical basis for their faith. Recommended for new Christians, old Christians, self-study, and small group study or family devotions.

Foundations is available for purchase as a physical copy or an e-book. To purchase more of our books, visit

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