"Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). A further warning is spoken in Mark 1:15, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel." These are God's commands, and He will never cancel them. God is a God of peace, and no person can have peace with Him until he has repented. Repentance means laying down our rebellion against God. Repentance alone does not save the sinner, yet no sinner can be saved without it. It is Christ alone who saves, but an unrepentant heart cannot receive Him.
Paul preached "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). Repentance must take place before the sinner can truly believe, for God "now commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 167:30).
God does not need to explain why He requires repentance. We have wickedly denied Him the love, honor, and obedience rightly due Him. We have refused Him His right to govern us, even though He made us. We have determined to please self, no matter what God says. We have said in our heart, "I'm going to have my own way regardless of God's claims upon me." Do you realize that you have lived like this?
You may regret your past, but repentance is not merely a regret for sin; regret may be only the result of the trouble sin brought. Repentance is not remorse, for hell is full of remorse. Repentance is not conviction, for many are convicted who never repent. It is not fear of hell, for many rush headlong into hell with their fear. It is not simply a sorrow for sin, for many are sorry but do not leave sin.
"For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, ye a what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (2 Corinthians 7:10, 11).
True repentance comes from the heart and is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a holy hatred and horror of sin, a deep sorrow for it, an acknowledgment of it before God, and a complete forsaking of it. It means an entire surrender to God and an honest intention to obey Him in all things. It means confessing sins as publicly as they have been committed. It means making all wrongs right as far as possible. It means giving up all sinful practices. It means giving up unbelief by trusting in Christ for pardon. Not until this is done will God pardon anyone. Judas experienced remorse and bitter regret, he confessed to the priests and restored the money, but he did not repent toward God. In unbelief he went out and killed himself.
"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). If you are merely a professed Christian and have sin in your life, or if you have never claimed to be Christ's, the message is "Repent or perish!" It is "Turn or burn!" Turn from the course of self-will and self-pleasing, turn in brokenness of heart to God and seek His mercy in Christ. Turn with full purpose of heart to please and serve Him, or burn forever in the lake of fire. Which shall it be?
The man who experiences "Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21) will want to be baptized and to unite with God's people. He experiences more than turning over a new leaf; he receives a new life—the divine life! He is "born again," and that newly born life shows itself in good works. Salvation comes first as a gift from God, without any merit of our own. Then the good works of the Christian follow as soon as this gift is received. "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19).