In a conversation with the chief priests and the elders, Jesus said:
But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 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 (Mt. 21:28-32).
Repentance is not easy. It begins with remorse over our sins. We consider how good God is even though we sin against Him (Rom. 2:4). This remorse is not just feeling sorry for ourselves or sorry we got caught, rather it is a “godly sorrow” that produces a change of our will (2 Cor. 7:8-11). This change in the will is repentance. It is turning to God and it results in a change of conduct. John required the Pharisees and Sadducees to bear the fruit of repentance (Mt. 3:8). The apostle Paul told those to whom he preached, “that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20). He wrote to the Ephesians, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28). Thus, a “repentance” that does not result in a forsaking of sin, a change in behavior, is not a genuine repentance. The one who stole cannot keep on stealing, nor can he keep that which he has stolen if he is to genuinely repent. As much as possible, he should attempt to make restitution. Zacchaeus understood this principle of restitution in his repentance (Lk.19:8).
Because of the difficulty of repentance, many choose not to earnestly attempt it. Some retreat to a cheapening of God’s grace wherein they assure themselves that they can willfully persist in sin and God will forgive them merely because they acknowledge Him, but God’s grace only goes with those who are willing to be taught and led out of ungodliness (Heb. 10:26-27; Titus 2:11-12).
In God’s eyes, repentance is a gift to us. Peter and the apostles said to those Jewish leaders that were responsible for Christ’s death, “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 5:30-31). When the church at Jerusalem heard of the Gentiles’ obedience to the Gospel they said, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:17). The proclaimer of God’s message must be one who is “in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). In repentance God is giving us the opportunity to change our relationship with Him, and when we do so there is great rejoicing in heaven (Lk. 15:7). Will you repent?
– Mark Day