Is Repentance for Today?
By Thomas Williamson
I was informed by a visitor to my home that repentance is not for today and that it should not be a part of gospel preaching today, because repentance is part of the Old Testament Law, and we are now under grace.
I knew from experience that my friend, like many others of his persuasion, would not accept any scriptural refutation I might have unless I quoted from the Apostle Paul, preferably from his later ministry. Any other New Testament citation I might give would be rejected as being "Not For Today."
So I referred him to Acts 26:19-20, which reads "Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision, but shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance."
My friend was stumped, saying that he would have to go home, read the verse in context, and figure out what Paul really meant to say.
Maybe as he reads, he will find that the message of John the Baptist was the same as that of Paul. John the Baptist preached, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand...Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance," (Matthew 3:3, 8).
This is an important point, since we are often taught that John the Baptist was not of our current Christian Dispensation, his gospel was not the gospel we preach today, his baptism is not the baptism we have today, etc. All these statements about John are untrue. He was not of the Old Testament dispensation. His baptism and his gospel (including repentance) are still for today. Jesus said, "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it." (Luke 16:16)
In Mark 1:1-4 we read: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: As it is written in the prophets, behold I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins."
There is that stuff about repentance again. It should be clear that John's Gospel, including repentance, was not a temporary message that has since been replaced. It was nothing other than "the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." If the gospel of Jesus Christ is still for today, then repentance is still for today. The Apostle Paul obviously thought so, long after the supposed change of dispensations in Acts 2 or Acts 9 or whenever.
In Acts 17:30, Paul told the Athenians that "God...now commandeth all men every where to repent. In Acts 20:21 we find Paul "testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul told the Romans that "the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." (Romans 2:4) He told the Corinthains that "godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation." (2 Corinthians 7:10) Just before his execution, Paul wrote Timothy "in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth." (2 Timothy 2:25).
At no point did Paul tell his hearers, "Okay, now we have passed into a new dispensation. Repentance is no longer necessary. Just ask the Lord into your heart, and you can still live like the Devil and be saved, too."
In closing, let us look at what some other new Testament writers had to say about repentance. The Lord Jesus said, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish," (Luke 13:3)
Mark tells us that the 12 disciples "went out, preached that men should repent," (Mark 6:12).
Peter tells us that "the Lord... is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance," (2 Peter 3:9)
The Apostle John condemned sinners because they would not repent, (Revelation 9:20-21, 16:9,11)
The notion that repentance is not for today is a fruit of the application of the teachings of dispensationalism, which relegates most of the New Testament to a past or future age, leaving us to obey only the parts that appeal to us. Naturally, the unregenerate man does not want to repent. He will be more likely to respond to a "gospel" message that leaves out conviction of sin and repentance. But having responded to such a false gospel, he will be unsaved still.
We have seen that John the Baptist and Paul both preached the same gospel, including repentance. We have seen that Paul was still preaching it just before the blade of the Roman executioner's axe sent him to glory, and that the Apostle John exhorted sinners to repent in the last book of the Bible.
We conclude, therefore, that repentance is for today and should be preached today. Let us preach what the Bible says about sin, and invite sinners to repent and be saved.