Repentance Unto Salvation In the End Times
Before explaining what real repentance is, it is necessary to grasp why it is so important!
Simply put, no one can become a Christian, by biblical definition, without it. Now that is significant and all the more so when we realize that we are now living in the final era of God's Church and also the last days of a dispensation in which Satan's influence has pre-dominated on earth for six-thousand-years. The steps to repentance never vary. But now there is an urgency associated with living in the last era.
God has allowed Satan almost unfettered access to mankind since Adam and Eve rejected His way of living in favor of Satan's some six millennia ago.
If Adam and Eve had responded to God's way of giving, instead of Satan's way of getting, eternal life, represented in the garden of Eden by the tree of life, would have been theirs.
And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:8-9).
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. 2:16-17).
Satan, however, convinced them that they were already immortal. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5). Satan was actually telling them that as Gods, as Elohim, they could decide for themselves what is good and what is evil. They would pursue the way of get; the selfish way! God knew and Satan knew that this would set in motion a chain of events in which every man would do that which was right in his own eyes. Chaos would ensue. The selfishness of man, stirred up by Satan, would, through thousands of years of competition, violence and perversion, lead to Christ's prediction in Matthew 24:21-22. “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened [curtailed], there should no flesh be saved [alive]: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.” This is the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Satan wants man to utterly destroy himself. Why? Because Satan is jealous of man and angry at God for demoting him and for planning to raise mortal man to the God-level as part of His spirit-born family.
God, in contrast, has given man six thousand years to prove that Satan's selfish way does not work. It does not bring peace and harmony, but instead strife, sickness, disease, and violence, as typified by the pre-flood world, our world today and everything in-between.
So deeply entrenched is Satan's influence on man that the Gentile nations will fight bitterly to prevent Christ from returning to earth to establish His government (Rev. 16, 19; Zech. 14). Subsequently the earth's population will be greatly reduced. As stated in Isaiah 13:12, “I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.”
Protestant denominations are desperately trying to get people saved, because they believe this is their last and only chance. Billy Graham crusades have been on-going for decades, and yet when he completes his conventions, local church attendance is basically unaffected, although thousands have “given their hearts to the Lord.” “Churchianity” is divided and over half the earth's population is Moslem, Hindu, or atheist. It would seem that Satan has triumphed brilliantly and God has failed miserably.
So is God failing? Of course not! God never fails! He simply has a plan which few men have their minds opened to comprehend. This leads us back to repentance again. Those of us in God's Church understand God's plan because God called Herbert W. Armstrong and opened his mind to grasp it. He in turn explained it to us. Now this is where repentance and understanding come together.
Since mankind has collectively turned his back on God, the only way possible for any human being to understand God or His plan is for God to call him to such an understanding. But how can this be accomplished and for what purpose? Unlike the Protestant view that God is trying to get everyone saved now; in truth, God has called a few men and women during the first six thousand years since the creation of Adam and Eve, and has offered them salvation and rulership in Christ's millennial government. Today we understand that government is to be composed of 144,000 individuals described as firstfruits in Revelation 14. “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads” (v. 1). “These are they which were not defiled with women [false churches]; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb” (v. 4). The latter part of verse 3 says, “the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.” And the latter part of verse 4 states that they “were redeemed from among men . . . .” The Greek word translated “redeemed” in these verses means bought or purchased. As noted, they were bought or purchased from the earth and out of all humanity to be the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.
Now what was the purchase price? The life blood of the Lord Jesus Christ!
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so I know the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power [authority] to lay it down, and I have power [authority] to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father (Jn 10:14-18).
So Christ paid the purchase price for those being called in this present evil age. But what did His life blood actually buy? We find the answer in I John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” We have to be cleansed from all sin; for the wages of sin is death. Without Christ's voluntary sacrifice we would be sitting, as it were, on death row with no chance of redemption. To achieve our deliverance, our Creator had to live a totally perfect, sinless life in order to satisfy the Father that the debt of our sins was paid in full. None of us could have done this for ourselves, much less for all humanity. Then again are we worth it? Christ obviously felt so. Remember, He was the member of the God family who did the creating of the perfect physical creation. “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:16-17). Yet the creation of man, although physically perfect, was incomplete. It would only be spiritually perfected through Christ's sacrifice, which reconnected those called to God; they, because of God's favor, would steadfastly progress empowered by the Holy Spirit to eternal life in the first resurrection.
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross [stake], by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven (Col. 1:18-20).
Note: In respect to verses 20 and 21, relative to the word “reconcile”, apokatallasô, Bullinger in the Companion Bible, points out that,
In each case the force of apo prefixed to katallassô suggests and emphasizes the perfection of the reconnection. So that on God's side all is complete. Here again the graciousness of God is manifest. Who MADE PEACE by virtue of the blood of Christ, and thus gave access by means of Him `by one spirit unto the father', to those who were far off and to those who were nigh.
Colossians chapter 1 continues:
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached [proclaimed] to [in] every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister (Col. 1:21-23).
Christ's determination to enable those called unto perfection was achieved at the utmost cost. The burden of living a totally sinless life seems an impossible task when viewed from our perspective. In addition, He had to die a perfect death which involved the horrible Roman form of scourging. This literally flayed the flesh from the back and sides to expose the underlying bone structure. This indeed was prophesied in Psalms 22:14-18.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels [within me]. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs [enemies--implied] have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell [count] all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
Frequently this form of scourging led to death, even before the victim was nailed to the stake. Christ was able to endure it, because it too was for our benefit. It was an act of supreme love! He paid the penalty for our physical sins that have led to sickness and disease as well as the consequences of accidents such as broken bones. His death consummated on the stake by the thrust of a Roman spear, paid the price of our spiritual sins.
Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of [by] God, and afflicted [humbled]. But he was wounded [pierced] for our transgressions [rebellion], he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of [which procured] our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression [rebellion] of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul [Him] an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. . . . Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul [Himself] unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (Isa 53:1-10, 12).
“As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men” (Isa 52:14).
We all grew up in this society without any real appreciation of our Lord's sacrifice. It was all academic, just an ancient story which did not affect us to any degree. Our minds were closed, we felt nothing. It was all too remote and of little interest to us. Yet God and Christ endured it and also our lack of appreciation for it, even our ignorance about it, because They want to make us a part of Their family and to share Their eternal existence with us. Of ourselves we can never be worthy of Their loving sacrifice.
For when we were yet without strength [weak or impotent], in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that [because], while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified [set forth as righteous] by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Rom. 5:6-12).
This is only possible when we thankfully accept Christ's sacrifice for us. As verse 11 says, “through the Lord Jesus Christ . . . we have now received the atonement.” Reconciliation would be a better word here, because reconciliation is the end product of Christ's atoning sacrifice and this better conveys the meaning of the Greek.
Only when we accept Christ's sacrifice for us can we be reconciled to the Father. But why do some have an opportunity in this dispensation and others, the majority, have to wait for their opportunity at a later date? Quite simply because God and Christ are concentrating on bringing 144,000 individuals over a six-thousand-year period to be trained to rule in Christ's government. If they do not want us for that specific purpose, there can be no genuine calling. Remember John 6:44, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” Such people are described as the elect, (eklektos in the Greek) which signifies those picked out or chosen. This is the word used in I Peter 1:2, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.” Here we see that the Father has preplanned who He will call for governmental training and that such are sanctified or set apart for holy use through God's Spirit after having accepted Christ's atoning blood on their behalf.
The Bible tells us that God wants all men to be saved, but only 144,000 for Christ's government. Is this unfair? Not at all! Obviously, Christ has the right to select those who will make up His government. However, they must contend with the ever-present Satan to qualify for their positions, whereas the rest of mankind will not.
And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season. . . . And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are [were cast], and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev. 20:1-3, 10).
In chapter 5 of his first epistle, Peter conveys to the Church elders how formidable an opponent Satan is and the need to steadfastly resist him. “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:” (v.1); “Be sober [alert], be vigilant [watchful]; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (v. 8-9); “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (v. 6); “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect [spiritually mature], stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (vs.10-11).
With all this in mind, how can we be sure God is calling or has called us? Initially, He begins to help us gain a steadily increasing understanding of the scriptures. I remember being motivated to read our family Bible about six months before my first contact with the Worldwide Church of God. I read through the entire book and could not understand it. In fact there were portions I took issue with!
Six months later, as I listened to Mr. Armstrong on the radio and received literature from the Church, understanding began to develop rapidly. It was exciting to understand God's plan for humanity and the incredible potential in human beings which most are blind to now. How many people actually know why they were born; that there is one true Church and it can be identified; that we have been called to become God and to rule with Christ throughout eternity and that one day we will never ever have to contend with sin?
However, along with these exciting revelations came the understanding that to progress one has to repent of one's sins. But how is sin defined? The Bible has its own definition in I John 3:4, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” God's great spiritual law, the Ten Commandments, defines sin.
So there it was, plain and simple! Yet I didn't think I had seriously broken any of them. I didn't curse or swear; I hadn't committed adultery; I was truthful most of the time; I honored my father and mother; I didn't steal or bow down to images; I didn't think I coveted. I certainly was not guilty of murder; and it wasn't my fault that there were no churches keeping a Seventh-day Sabbath, that I knew of, in my little part of the world!
Overall, I certainly did not see myself as an evil person; and how did I deduce that? By comparing myself to such obviously perverted people as Hitler and Stalin, mass murderers, and serial rapists. Anyone can make themselves look good by such comparisons and that is what I did.
When I went to Ambassador College, Bricket Wood, England in 1968, I was almost totally blind to my true spiritual condition. Yet, I knew that I needed to repent, to be baptized and to receive God's Holy Spirit, through the laying on of hands by His true ministry (Acts 8:14-18).
I knew I wasn't ready and that point was driven home by a comment I heard Mr. Armstrong make numerous times. He said that he was a useless hunk of junk not fit to be thrown in the garbage. When I heard that I said to myself, “This man is God's apostle. If he views himself this way, there must be something I am not seeing about myself!” Thus began two years of frequent fasting, for two and one-half days at a time and praying on my belly for God to open my mind and show me what I was really like inside.
Looking back it seems ridiculous that it took so long, but gradually God opened my eyes to see how inherently selfish I was -- and still am. How that even the good things I did had a selfish motive behind them -- a desire to be liked, or well thought of. It is possible to do good, but from the wrong motivation.
Then came the realization that now that I was beginning to see myself as God saw me. Anything I thought righteous about myself was rubbish compared to the righteousness of Christ. Now, at last, I was making the correct comparison. It was my evil nature (which is what I am) that was responsible for Christ's death. I was guilty as charged. Now I wondered what could I do about it? Sincere appreciation surely demanded I become more Christ-like!
In considering repentance, it is important to look deeper than one's specific sins. It is our self-centered nature that spawns the evil thoughts, the lusts, and the angry words that we need to repent of. The sins are the effect; but our nature is the cause. Unless the cause is attended to, the effects continue unabated. It is this nature that Jeremiah is referring to in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked [incurable]: who can know it?” Tied to this is John's statement in Revelation 12:9, that Satan has deceived the whole world. Consequently one has to come to the following conclusions: (a) when people are deceived they don't know they are deceived. As a result (b) they cannot grasp just how evil they are. Saddam Hussein, an absolute monster, does not think of himself as evil. Neither did Mao, or Stalin, or Hitler. Neither do most of the mass murderers here in the United States who have been interviewed about their crimes. All have their excuses, but none see themselves as intrinsically evil. Most people believe that, although there is evil in the world, human nature at its core, is essentially good. They certainly don't regard themselves as evil; because, just as I did, they can always find someone to compare themselves with, who can make them look relatively good. Thus (c) it requires a miracle from God to open their minds to see the cesspool that they really are! What we are in our unconverted state can be summed up as: replicas of Satan himself!
The Ten Commandments define sin. However, their spiritual extension makes them impossible for us to keep perfectly. That would require mind control twenty-four hours a day. In Matthew 5, Christ lays it on the line. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (vs. 27-28). Here the sin is in the mind, before any action has been taken. To remain sinless would indeed require perfect mind control every moment.
So what can we do? After repentance, having received the Holy Spirit, we must continue to go to God in prayer asking for forgiveness and the spiritual power to overcome and Christ will take our prayer to the Father and intercede for us with the Father. Because of Christ, we will be forgiven and the sin forgotten. God has the capability to forget as He Himself points out in Jeremiah 31, just as He will do for His people Israel and Judah after His Second Coming; “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (v. 34b). For the growing Christian, repentance is always ongoing, because the carnal nature is always there. It will remain until we are changed to spirit. Repenting, and asking God for more of His Holy spirit, is our means to override and overcome our carnal nature and diminish its negative effect.
Again, how is it that people are so blind to their sinfulness? For the majority, those whom God is not calling, generation after generation have grown up in a blinded society. A world blinded by Satan, the prince of the power of the air, who beams his moods, attitudes and thoughts into their minds from infancy. Thus, this society is like a vast insane asylum in which the inmates, blinded to their own madness, regard those who visit them as the strange ones. Indeed that is how the world looks on those individuals God has called out of it to obey Him.
People remain blinded to themselves, because they classify sins and evils into specific categories. Everybody tells little white lies, but comparatively few in society become mass murderers. Those who cheat a little on their wives can compare themselves favorably with the Hollywood movie stars in that regard. So, as noted earlier, it is always possible to find behavior worse than our own, and so we can feel OK about ourselves. As Mr. Armstrong often said, “Human nature likes to look good, but not to do good.”
On the other hand, God does not categorize sins the way people do. To God a sin is a sin and the wages of sin is death. Death is what we get paid for sinning!
Although most people remain blinded to their sinfulness, I do know of some outside God's Church who are not totally deceived. I'm referring to those who have gone through the twelve-step program set up by Alcoholics Anonymous. The two men who set up that program had great insight into the carnality of human nature. For those individuals preparing for baptism or Passover, I would recommend reading A.A.'s twelve steps, because those sincerely involved in that program have to confront the reality of their actual condition, admit it and go to those they have hurt by their destructive behavior and apologize and strive to make amends. This takes courage. The effort they make and the lengths they are prepared to go to try to rectify the damage they have done to others is, I feel, an object lesson for Christians confronting their own sinfulness. They have to overcome one day at a time and so do Christians. They may be addicted to alcohol, but the truly repentant Christian must realize he is addicted to sinning. Both require honesty to overcome. There can be no repentance until sin is identified and confronted.
However, even with the knowledge gained in the A.A. program about certain aspects of human nature and going to those harmed to make amends; progress towards genuine conversion is simply impossible, unless God has decided to call an individual to train for Christ's government.
This is key and has taken on a greater emphasis now that we are actually living in the end times, than it would have say twenty-five years ago. Now we know that there are only 144,000 places in His government, selected over a six-thousand-year period and that the time to qualify is almost up.
So let me emphasize once more, being called in this dispensation to rule with Christ has everything to do with a decision made in heaven. Both Jeremiah and John the Baptist were selected before they were born, but the vast majority are not being called in this age. Once that decision in heaven is made, the individuals being called now will be made aware, at an appropriate time, of their sinfulness and the succeeding steps they must take to qualify for the positions God has prepared for them.
In Matthew 25:46, it says, “the righteous [shall go] into life eternal.” Eternal life is a necessity for those who qualify to rule with Christ. Yet, the Bible makes clear that we cannot make ourselves righteous. Paul states in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Verse 24 provides the solution: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Jesus Christ has already paid the penalty for our sins. The word “freely” here comes from the Greek dorean which means a gift. Christ's sacrifice is a gift, to us from a gracious God, which, when we accept it, enables us to be made just or righteous in the Father's sight. At this beginning point and throughout our lives as Christians, Christ goes before the Father to speak on our behalf if we confess our sins after having slipped and fallen spiritually, as we too often do. For His Son's sake, the Father extends His forgiveness to us.
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [an act of mercy] through faith in [by] his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Rom. 3:25-26).
Christ's necessary support for imperfect Christians is depicted in Leviticus 23. Here in verses 10 and 11, the first sheaf of the barley harvest is waved by the priest for acceptance. This first of the firstfruits represents the unleavened Christ. In verse 11, we note that it is offered to God on the morrow after the weekly Sabbath during the feast of Unleavened Bread. Today we would call this Sunday morning. This was the very day and time that Christ ascended to heaven to be accepted by the Father, after His resurrection on Saturday evening at sunset. Fifty days later, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon His disciples at the feast of Pentecost. In Leviticus 23, we see this depicted in verses 16 and 17. “Even unto the morrow after the seventh Sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord. Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the Lord.” It is important to note that on Pentecost two wave loaves baked with leaven were offered. The leavening represents sin; the loaves therefore represent imperfect Christians being offered up for acceptance to God. Now note verse 18, “And ye shall offer with the bread seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be for a burnt offering unto the Lord, with their meat offering, and their drink offerings, even an offering made by fire, of sweet savour unto the Lord”; and verse 20, “And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits for a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest.” This was a burnt offering, meaning everything was consumed in the altar fire. This symbolized God's satisfaction with the offering, and as verse 20 states, “they shall be holy to the Lord” because of their connection to the wave sheaf. Christ the wave sheaf, is the first of the first fruits. “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (I Cor. 15:20). “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming” (I Cor. 15:23).
Today, Christ is our mediator with God. He paid the penalty and He intercedes for us with the Father. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (I Tim. 2:5-6). There is no other name under heaven whereby men can be saved (Acts 4:12).
Almost everything is done for us through a series of gifts: (1) The gift of Christ's sacrifice which paid the price for our sins. This should be received with thankfulness and sorrow in recognition of how unworthy we are for Christ's suffering and God's forgiveness (II Cor. 7:9-10); (2) The gift of repentance through which the sacrifice is thankfully accepted. God actually gives us the clarity, the desire and the ability to repent. Paul says in Romans that God leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). In Acts 11:18, Peter states, “. . . Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted [given] repentance unto life.” Now how is it possible for the first step to take effect in the minds of such people who initially were cut off and hostile to God? Christ gives the answer in John 14:17, where He says God's Spirit of truth dwells with us before it enters into us after baptism, through the laying on of hands. It opens our minds to gain understanding of the scriptures and begins to soften our hostility towards God. It guides us towards appreciation and thankfulness.
Again, what specifically does it mean to repent? It involves God opening our minds to the awareness that we are sinful and that our sinfulness is the cause of Christ's death. This in turn leads to sorrow, as we individually recognize our responsibility for what happened to Him. Now that we can see sin for the evil that it is, there comes a desire to turn away from it, to fight it and overcome it because it is so hideous. The Greek verb translated “repent” is metanoeo and it means to change one's mind, always for the better and morally. The related noun metanoia involves a real change of attitude towards sin itself, not merely the consequences of it, but the inherent cause, our carnal nature. Remember, our nature is what we are! So repentance should affect our entire way of living and not merely a single act. Repentance involves a complete about-face, turning away from the way we were when God called us. Repentance is indeed the first step to eternal life and eternal life is necessary to be able to rule in Christ's government. (3) After genuine repentance comes another essential gift; the gift of God's Holy Spirit which is the down payment on eternal life to those God calls. This is made clear by Peter in Acts 2:38-39.
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost [Spirit]. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
It is through the Holy Spirit that we can develop the character of Christ. It gives us the power to clearly see and overcome our evil nature, and to become more like our Savior.
Then what is left for the Christian to do? The Christian is told to hold fast. As Christ said in Matthew 24:13, “he that shall endure unto the [very] end, the same shall be saved.” Those who do so are described in Revelation 17:14, as having been called, chosen and faithful. God calls, Christ chooses, but it is the responsibility of the Christian to remain ever faithful to the truth and to mature spiritually. Only the faithful will rule with Christ. Faithful, however does not imply perfection, although spiritual maturity is the goal. Only God and Christ are spiritually perfect or mature. Christians do slip and fall, but they must not give up or give in. For Christ's sake the Father is always willing to forgive us upon genuine repentance. Repentance involves a turning from sin and a turning to God and it has to be, as noted, a continuing process in the Christian's life. Other than Christ, it is impossible for any human being to live a perfect life. Christians, therefore, are not perfect, but they are forgiven, when they repent.
Brethren, God is so good to us! He has made it very difficult for us to fail. Our great danger lies in allowing our feelings of weakness and inadequacy to get us down to the point that we give up. That is what Satan will play on. Our best defense is staying close to God in daily prayer and Bible study, which along with outgoing concern for others, creates unity in the Church, and helps stir up God's Spirit within us. This is how the Christian can maintain a positive attitude, because then God will be working in Him and His Spirit is a spirit of power, the power to overcome and mature. In the process of replacing our human nature with God's nature, we become more and more Christ-like.
Remember, repentance is a must, initially and must continue throughout the Christian's life. Without it we cannot grow. To refuse to do it is to become a willful sinner. Willful sinning unrepented of, inevitably leads to the unpardonable sin and eternal death. Never be too proud to repent! It ensures that God's Holy Spirit will always be within us and that spirit is our downpayment on eternal life (Eph. 1:13-14).
But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption [sonship], whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature [creation] waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. . . . For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption [sonship], to wit, the redemption of our body. . . . Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. . . . For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:11-19, 22-23, 26, 29-35, 37-39).
To recap, please remember, one cannot be good enough to repent and be baptized or to be saved. We must realize that God leads us to see how evil we are and how much Christ's sacrifice is necessary to cleanse us from sin. It is Christ living in us through the Holy Spirit that makes us just in God's sight.
If we could be good enough of ourselves to satisfy God's standards of righteousness, then it would not have been necessary for Christ to die in our stead. We can never attain Christ's level of righteousness, and that is why He has to act as our mediator with the Father. Mediator, mesites in the Greek, is a go-between, one who mediates between two parties with a view to producing peace.
However, as W. E. Vine notes in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,
. . . more than mere "mediatorship" is in view, for the salvation of men necessitated that the Mediator should Himself possess the nature and attributes of Him towards whom He acts, and should likewise participate in the nature of those for whom He acts (sin apart); only by being possessed both of deity and humanity could He comprehend the claims of the one and the needs of the other; further, the claims and the needs could be met only by One who, Himself being proved sinless, would offer Himself an expiatory [to atone for, or to make amends for] sacrifice on behalf of men (emphasis ours).
Jesus Christ, we are advised, “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Part of real repentance is gratefully appreciating how much love it required on God the Father's part to give His only begotten Son, while we were yet sinners. Only an amazing out-going concern for His creation would prompt the junior member of the Godhead to jeopardize His glory and eternal position to become human and as a human be tempted in all points and yet sin not. That is what He put at risk in confronting the arch-demon, Satan the devil. Had Christ failed, there would be no hope for mankind, but only the wages of sin-eternal death!
Repentance involves acknowledging that we have no goodness in or of ourselves that can satisfy God, or induce Him to remove the death penalty hanging over us. “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isa. 64:6). Repentance also involves sorrow that our sins were the cause of Christ's death.
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Rom. 5:6-12).
Brethren, we are absolutely helpless! Only with Christ's intervention are we given hope! His sacrifice paid the price for our past sins (Rom. 3:25), and His continuing intervention with the Father for us insures forgiveness for any sins we repent of. Hopefully this brings deeper meaning to Christ's words in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls [your own selves]. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
We should be in absolutely no doubt of God's love for His human creation, for us, since as Paul states in I Timothy 2:4, He “will have [wants] all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge [an understanding] of the truth.” Further, in Romans 14:9, he points out, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived [lived again], that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
Finally in this regard, remember, once again,
. . . If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give [forgive] us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us (Rom 8:31b-34).
Indeed we have so much to be thankful for. The atoning sacrifice has been made on our behalf. Yet, to appreciate the wonderful blessing bestowed upon us, we must ask our Father in heaven to give us the ability to be thankful in a more profound way, so that our repentance can be genuine. This involves both understanding and emotion, engendered through mediation, prayer, study and fasting. For further information on this topic, please read Mr. Armstrong's booklet All About Water Baptism.
Once again, only God can give us repentance. It is not something we can “work up” on our own, apart from Him. Beyond that, God has given us every gift necessary to make our calling and election sure. Stay on the road of repentance unto salvation in these end times!
Other Important Articles:
Repentance Unto Salvation In the End Times
God's Church, Worldwide