ESV - 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
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The concept of repentance is commonly associated with a change of one's actions or behavior. However, that change cannot occur without a necessary prior change in one's thoughts or orientation from opposition to God (in which all humans initially live) to regret and remorse for one's actions, along with subjection to God and His will. That is the true or primary meaning of repentance, from which actions indicating that repentance will then follow.
The most obvious answer is that our Lord has specified repentance as one of the terms of our salvation, along with belief that the blood of Christ is sufficient payment for our sin and walking as His disciple all our remaining days, but I suspect your question is really asking why God would require repentance for our salvation. "Repentance", "sin", and "truth" are closely intertwined concepts in the Christian walk. R.C. Sproul once said, "There is not a sin conceived by man that did not have in it's genesis believing a lie to be the truth." The sin of Eve began with believing Satan's lies over God's Word, that God was somehow withholding her needs, or her good with His commandment. But this was a lie. To repent means "to turn away from". Away from the sinful behavior, yes, but even more important is to turn away from the lies we use to justify sinful behavior, toward God's truth. When we uphold "my truth", or "our truth", over God's truth, we are in essence calling God a liar, which is rebellion away from God. To ask God to take you into His kingdom for salvation without repentance, then, would be like asking God to open His door for you to enter into Life while running away in the opposite direction. Such a path can only lead to death. As a Christian, we will spend our lives continually repenting from the sins that plague our mortal life. Our walk should take us ever closer to holiness, even though we will never achieve perfection in our behavior while we live in this world. This walk toward holy behavior is called "sanctification". But what we can and must immediately be holy about is in believing God, that He is Truth itself. This is the difference between mistakes and human failure versus rebellion. And that makes all the difference.
Why do we need to repent? Because those who are sick need a physician. And we are all sick with sin! The universality of sin is spoken of by Isaiah the prophet after he tells us that sin is a sickness (Isaiah 1:5-6). He says, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is as a filthy rag. And we all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Isaiah 64:6) And, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4). We need Jesus, the Great Physician, to save us from our sins. That's why we need to repent. We need to repent and believe in Jesus alone for our salvation. I can't trust my own goodness. I cannot trust that my good deeds will outweigh my bad deeds. To enter heaven, I must believe in Jesus ALONE to save me. I repented of my sins at a Billy Graham Crusade in Tempe, Arizona, at Arizona State University's Sun Devil Stadium, to which my Grandma Mor Mor took me, many years ago.
Repent, from the Greek word μετανοέω, means to "change your mind", or "regret". Israel had to change their mind on who Jesus Christ was, their promised Messiah, and regret that they had Him killed. We today are saved by God's grace through our faith in what Jesus Christ did on the cross on our behalf (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), and nothing of ourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9). When the correct definition of "repent" is applied, it is understood that we, who Christ gave His life for, should "change our minds" about continuing to serve sin once we have placed our faith in Him, and to "regret" when we sometimes fall short. It also explains how even God (incapable of sin) repented throughout the bible (Amos 7:6, Jonah 3:9). The word "repent" is far too often used as a requirement (turning from sin) before salvation is possible. The grave error here is that we are then placing faith in ourselves to do something for our salvation and completely missing the point of Christ and His accomplishment on the cross on our behalf. Nothing of ourselves assists in what He completed on the cross for us. If we trust in ANYTHING of ourselves for salvation then we remain lost either by the burden of never being able to live up to God's standard, or lost through belief in our own self-righteousness, failing to submit to the true righteousness which is only found in God (Romans 10:13). God is no longer imputing sins to anyone today (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus Christ, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). All our sins, past, present, and future, were nailed to the cross so that we are no longer burdened with the anguish of being unable to live up to God's requirements. Jesus Christ was perfect on our behalf, and God was in Christ on the cross reconciling Himself to the world (2 Corinthians 5:19). Our job is to reconcile ourselves to God through faith in Jesus Christ, believing the gospel that saves today: 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV: "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:" When we believe this, we are sealed with the holy Spirit until the day of redemption, and thankfully not just until we sin again (Ephesians 4:30)…which we will most certainly do (Romans 7:22-25). Our faith in Jesus Christ makes us the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21)! Our sins were forgiven nearly 2,000 years ago (Colossians 1:14, 2 Corinthians 5:19), and salvation occurs at the moment of belief in this, the gospel. Nothing that we ourselves do in the flesh can assist in what Christ has already completed for us (Ephesians 2:8-9, Colossians 2:10). It's literally how we accept Jesus Christ as our savior from this present evil world (Galatians 1:4). If you're turning from sin for salvation, who's doing the turning? YOU are, but YOU can’t save YOURself. Only faith in Christ will work for salvation. When you obtain faith alone in Christ alone for your salvation, you now have the license to serve Him instead of serving yourself. You are now an ambassador for Christ and a minister of the Word of reconciliation between God and man. You will desire to share the TRUE good news that saves today when you finally let go of yourself and submit to God through faith in Christ. Jesus Christ was perfect for you, did all the work for you, took the punishment on the cross that you deserved, was buried but rose from the grave the 3rd day for your justification. Thank You God! Break the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1) and live in peace by accepting God’s free gift (Romans 5:18) through faith in Christ and His finished cross work (Colossians 2:14)!
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