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." 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.
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