Repentance, a work of belief, is a phenomenon that is overlooked in the churches that claim to be of Christ. The need for it and its existence is very well accepted, but the experience of it is not present. It is noticed from the works, beliefs and teachings the members of the church possess both individually and collectively. Since the preachers of the word often associate repentance with baptism, the churches assumed to have experienced or received it by fulfilling the act of baptism. While it is true that baptism cleanses all sin, being baptized without first experiencing repentance does not result in the cleansing of all sin. It is commonly understood that hearing the word of Christ is necessary for possessing even the smallest of faith in God. Faith is produced by hearing the word, since the Christ in the word ruptures the conscience of the hearers and they realize their sinful condition. It means repentance is being worked out by belief. This has only become possible, since God has created man with a conscience to choose and react. When some do not choose to heed the word and react, they consciously choose to harden their conscience to acknowledge the truth. Therefore, in their case, the statement ‘faith comes by hearing the word of Christ’ has failed. In other words, they do not possess Christ. It has failed, because it was not allowed to bring forth repentance. Though Christ in the word knocked at their door, they are unwilling to open. If there is one aspect not present in the men who consciously choose to reject the word, but present in the men who consciously choose to believe the word, it is in the phenomenon of repentance. For this reason, repentance has become an essential aspect to enter into Christ.
By definition repentance means to be sorry. Yet, in order to be sorry one must turn back. To be sorry one should know from what he or she must turn back. To have such knowledge they must first receive instruction regarding the need to turn back. Turning back is possible only when the word is instructed in such a way that Christ ruptures their conscience to acknowledge the truth. Two things are must to receive repentance. First, to turn back from the sinful way you are going and second, to be sorry for walking in it. To have received repentance means that you are no longer walking in the way you once walked. This is the response (confession) of a people who truly repented before God. “For after I turned back, I repented; And after I was instructed, I smote on my thigh; I was ashamed and also humiliated because I bore the reproach of my youth” (Jer. 31:19).
There are quite a few aspects present in this confession – turning back, repent, instruction, smite, being ashamed, humiliated and bearing reproach. All are equally necessary for true repentance. If either one of them are left unfulfilled, he or she has not experienced repentance. It is unlike baptism. It is a work performed by God on our conscience by our response to His instruction. Therefore, repentance does not come with or through baptism, but is a phenomenon that must be produced in a person by Christ for baptism. To be ashamed and humiliated of our sins and the futile works of our flesh is a prerequisite of repentance. This humiliation is brought forth in us by the Christ in the word, and happy are those who are willing to be humiliated by Him regarding their sin to be saved. No human desires to face humiliation by another, since it causes great sorrow. For this reason, at all times each one tries to speak and work in a manner that humiliation is averted. Nevertheless, due to the weakness of the flesh, lack of wisdom or suffering, all men face some sort of humiliation in their life that cuts through their inner most feelings. This leads them into becoming either good or bad. On the contrary, God who created all men in His own image and who does not possess sin does not humiliate His people for bad. He humiliates them to such an extent that they may realize their sinful path, turn back and repent to be His people. This is the discipline of God toward those He loves.
There are many Christians today that are in need of such discipline. They are satisfied to be entangled in the works of the flesh. They are satisfied with the teachings done according to their achievements in the flesh. These are benefitting them to live according to the flesh and still call themselves as Christians. It would be worthy to apply more prudence. To heed the instruction of the Lord and be humiliated now for the sake of repentance is much better than being put to shame in the end. For the Spirit says, “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12). A teaching of the Lord such as this is to produce belief wherein Christ ruptures our conscience for repentance and to correct ourselves. How precious is the wheat to a farmer who worked hard for it! He gathers it, because it gives him greater joy. Even so Christ rejoices in those He worked to produce repentance leading to salvation. This repentance becomes the key to understanding the word of God for what it is meant. Those who possess baptism or other works without the knowledge of repentance are like the chaff that will be burned. They have grown along with the wheat, but have not attained the status of the wheat. They were instructed just as those who were gathered to the barn that they may be humiliated, be ashamed of their sin and turn and repent. Yet, they did not repent. They chose to harden their conscience toward acknowledging the truth of the word. For this reason also, it is written: “Moses said, THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you. And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:22 23).
Dear brethren, the Lord God already raised a prophet like Moses and we all know His name. It is in His name that every living being is able to live. He is the one with all authority. There is nothing created that is not under His authority. It is in His name we call ourselves Christians. How imperative it is that we give heed to everything He has said! Everything excludes the notion of some things. Whatever He said concerning faith, repentance, righteousness, baptism and the Spirit must all be understood as He meant for us to understand. This happens only when we allow Christ to achieve repentance in us. The functioning of the church and the roles of each person in church must all be understood according to His word. Yet, the churches of Christ have neglected the words of the Prophet. They have divided His word as those that divided up His garments by casting lots. Each one has assumed authority on a doctrine and claimed to have unlocked a hidden mystery. In doing this, they brought forth many doctrines and have separated themselves from the church that Christ built and is building. While they are saying truth, truth by unlocking their carnal minds, they forgot the Christ necessary for repentance, and repentance that leads to accepting His word. They have made the Spirit of God numb toward them. They have rejected the Holy Spirit working in any manner other than which they presumed to be true. When the Holy Spirit through whom Christ works is rejected, they do not have the repentance necessary for salvation. Therefore, they are without Christ. They do not know how to seek the Lord, since to this day they stumble upon whom their prayers should be offered. Many are their doctrines that brought disgrace to the church and its head, Jesus Christ. They did not come to the knowledge of this truth: “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:22).
What does the above verse indicate? First, it indicates the absolute power and authority that Jesus Christ possesses. Second, whatever the church needs and possesses all come from Christ, since He is its head. Yet, the churches have rejected Christ filling them with His Spirit. Further, it means no one that does not heed His word can escape Him. It means that He has all authority, power and ability to destroy anyone who pries with His instruction, will and promise. Whatever the church possesses according to His will, even as it did in the first century, He is the head of them. It might seem justifiable for some to argue for the doctrines they possess, but as long as the Spirit of Christ is working in those who believed, their work is like the chaff that will be burned. Or do they suppose, since they are able to interpret the Scriptures by the strength of their mind, they would attain to eternity by speaking against the works of the Spirit, the will and the mighty works of God for His people? Know that God has already put all things in subjection under His feet wherein the wisdom present in the word has been revealed to those who believe. Therefore, fear Him for understanding, for belief and for repentance. That which was said about Christians must also be true in you. Expel the carnal thoughts blossoming in you and it shall be said of you just as it was said of them. “For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth” (3 John 1:3).
If you are of the truth, it will set you free and will receive the appropriate testimony. When you are of the truth, it will free you from the fear of men. It will free you from the fear of reputation. The more you believe in the word of Christ, the easier it becomes to overcome all fear. As long as you fear men and their reputation you are nonetheless, not freed! The gospel was of no advantage to you. The things you are afraid of now, if you do not set them aside by confessing the word of the Lord, they will be the cause for your sorrow. When Jesus preached the kingdom of God, many believed in His words, but did not receive Him for the fear of losing their place in the midst of reputed people. “Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue” (John 12:42). It is this fear that is causing many in the churches of Christ and of God to disregard the truth. Consider it gain brethren, if you are cast out of fellowship by those who do not desire to be in the truth. If we have Christ, it is enough. It is He who will provide for us, since we have chosen Him over all else.
For what do those churches and their fellowship benefit you when they do not heed Christ? What did those rulers benefit? Nothing! Rather, they suffered loss. If they had not realized it then, they will realize it at the coming of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, you consider this with patience, “especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently” (Acts 26:3). Yes, as you are experts in all customs and questions in the churches of Christ and of God, I plead you to listen to me patiently.