”Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” (Heb. 6:1)
During a process in my life, as I, slowly but surely, started to understand the New Covenant and God’s grace in a new way, a question kept coming up in the back of my head: What about repentance?
Don’t we need to repent from sin? Shouldn’t people change their behavior, and shouldn’t that be our message?, I asked myself. The ministry of John the Baptist, for example, seemed to focus on that people must change their behavior. Throughout revival history, men like Jonathan Edwards, who preached about “sinners in the hands of an angry God”, and many others, had certainly preached a message that did not seem to line up with the so-called “grace message”.
I had many questions and concerns, and I didn’t accept the grace message immediately. It was an ongoing process for several years. In the center of my thoughts was this nagging question: What about repentance?
I decided to write a letter to a well-known preacher in Norway, who was used by God to introduce the grace message to many people in Scandinavia. At that time, he was leading a church of 3000 members, so he was a very busy man. I was not sure whether he would take the time to answer my questions. But thank God, after a few weeks I heard from him. The answer he gave me helped settle the honest concerns I had about the importance of repentance.
He took me to Hebrews 6:1 and showed me that one of the foundations of our faith is “repentance from dead works”. What then is repentance from dead works? It is simply repenting from believing that we can be saved by our own goodness or have a relationship with God based on our own performance. It is not first and foremost about behavior modification. However, the fruit of true repentance will be a changed behavior.
He further explained that a holy lifestyle is very important, and that there are times when we need to preach and teach about it. However, repentance in its core is to stop trusting in ourselves and what we have done, and instead only trust in Jesus and what he has done.
He also explained that when Jesus and his disciples, including Peter on the day of Pentecost, preached repentance, this must be understood from the perspective that they were preaching to the Jewish people, who was living under the law, trying to keep all the commandments. Repentance for the Jews was not to tell them to follow the law more. They were already living under the law and doing their best to keep it. Repentance for them was to stop trusting in their own ability to be righteous before God, based on the law, and turn away from that unto believing in Jesus and trusting in Him alone.
I am very grateful that this preacher from Norway took the time to answer me and explain these things. This has been very helpful when it comes to understanding the revelation of God’s grace and the New Covenant.
A holy lifestyle is very important, but maybe you have realized by now that we, in ourselves, are not able to repent from a sinful lifestyle. We can try by starting to do so called “good works”, but after a while we will discover that these “good works” are nothing but dead works, because we cannot change our nature by anything we do. To change our nature, we need a new birth – by trusting in Jesus and what He has done for us, rather than trusting in what we have done for Him.
We cannot make ourselves holy. However, when we believe in Jesus, He imparts His very life and holiness into our inner man, our spirit. As we renew our minds to who Jesus is, what He has done, and who we are in Him, we will eventually start living a holy lifestyle. As we walk in the Spirit, we will not do what the flesh desires (Gal. 5:16) but live a life that pleases God.