by A.E. Knoch

REPENTANCE is entirely a matter of the mind. In Greek it is literally an after-MIND. It affects the spirit, not the soul. Regret (after-CARE) refers to the feelings. Repentance is not penitence or penance, and is always in contrast to the works which must follow it when it is genuine. It is an essential feature of God's evangel for His earthly people. Jehovah called upon Israel to repent. It was the burden of the heralding of our Lord and His apostles. It will be the key to blessing in the future (Rev.2:5,16,21,22; 3:3,19). Those who do not repent will be severely judged before the kingdom comes (Rev.9:20,21; 16:9,11). While it is not a part of the evangel for today, it is much needed among the saints (2 Cor.7:9,10; 12:21), especially by those who antagonize the truth, being in the trap of the Adversary (2 Tim.2:26).


Twelve groups of words combined with the word MIND nous are used in the inspired Scriptures, all of which denote some mental process or attitude. They, are: mind, apprehend -sion, -ingly (MIND-effect), admonish -ion (MIND-PLACE), provide -sion (BEFORE-MIND), consider (DOWN-MIND), hard to apprehend (ILL-MIND), thought (IN-MIND), notion (ON-MIND), comprehension (THRU-MIND), cogitation (THRU-MIND-effect), suspect, suspicion (UNDER-MIND), folly, foolish (UN-MIND), humor (WELL-MIND) and repent-ance, un-(WITH-after-MIND).

All of these are acknowledged to be clearly mental processes except the last. Because they insist on having a hand in their own salvation, the Protestants have changed repent to be penitent, for the reason that a man must feel his guilt. The Catholics go further, for they argue that a man must do something to merit salvation, hence they make it do penance. The same is seen in the popular gospel of today. All is directed to stir up soulish feeling, rather than provide spiritual truth for faith.


Paul, in connection with his kingdom heralding in the book of Acts, charges mankind everywhere to repent in view of the judgments coming on the inhabited earth (Acts 17:30). Before King Agrippa he said that he reported to Jerusalem, to Judea, and to the nations, that they are to repent and turn back to God, and engage in acts worthy of repentance (Acts 26:20). At Miletus he tells us what he said to the Ephesians when he was with them. He certified to both Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).

Paul tells us that repentance produces salvation (2 Cor.7:10). In his first epistle to the Corinthians he made them sorry because of their conduct, and this made them change their minds. We should always be ready to repent of our deeds when shown that they are wrong. Paul mourned for many who sinned and did not repent. Let us make sure that we repent of our sins after we have believed. There is much need for this even among enlightened saints.

In connection with the repentance of believers we read of salvation. This word is not confined to our experience when we first believed. The first and basic salvation should be followed again and again by a new one, whenever we find ourselves in need of deliverance. Paul speaks of our future salvation (Rom.13:11). He exhorts the Philippians to carry theirs into effect with fear and trembling (2:12). He speaks of things that may eventuate in salvation for himself (Phil.1:19). The Scriptures recognize salvation of many kinds in a variety of circumstances, in some of which repentance is helpful.


Why does Paul practically drop repentance in presenting the evangel in his epistles? With the background of present day preaching, one would expect to read much about it in Romans, which discusses this theme exhaustively. In dealing with the conduct of mankind he charges men with ignorance of the fact that the kindness of God is leading them to repentance. Yet, in accord with their unrepentant heart, they are hoarding for themselves indignation in the coming judgment (Rom.2:4-10). Later, however, when he comes to the exposition of the evangel in the sections on justification (3:21-4:25), and conciliation (5:1-8:27), he never mentions repentance. Why is this? There are two reasons: Judgment is not in view. Grace itself induces a change of mind far greater than is produced by repentance. The evangel today includes and outshines and supersedes repentance. It does not condemn it, for it is still necessary for the saints.


Judgment is not in view in the evangel today. God is conciliated to the world through the death of His Son (Rom.5:10). He is not reckoning their offenses to them (2 Cor.5:19). True, everyone has sinned and offended and come short of the glory of God. But it is the very heart of the evangel, its very essence, that these things are not in view for those who believe God. Faith brings the believer far beyond the place to which repentance led. That secured pardon or forgiveness, which might be retracted, but the present evangel dispenses justification from sin (Rom.8:1) and the forgiveness of offenses according to the riches of His grace (Eph.1:7). Faith does not merely change our mind, but vivifies our spirit and revolutionizes our thinking.


God's kindness should lead men to repent. But they are ignorant, and despise the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience (Rom.2:4). Like the law of God, which brings death instead of life, it is infirm through the flesh.

But grace demands nothing, not even repentance or regret, or the conduct which accompanies a genuine change of mind or feeling (though this is by no means working for salvation). A revolutionary change of mind will follow faith, but it is not a condition of salvation, as it was in the evangel of the kingdom. It leads to a renewing of our minds (Rom.12:2), a rejuvenation in the spirit of our minds (Eph.4:23), which far transcends a mere change of mind, as in repentance.

Although God called me through the reading of the book of Romans, I was later persuaded by my elders that damnation and repentance were essential elements of the evangel. But later, when I was convinced that my presentation of the evangel was not scriptural, I studied Paul's epistles afresh, especially Romans and Corinthians. I found that Paul, after presenting the just judgment of both Jew and the nations, does not call for repentance and "fruits meet for repentance" (Matt.3:8), for all men's doing has only made them subject to the just verdict of God. Nothing they can do can save them, not even repentance.

Men are, as a rule, more impressed by their practical experience and environment than by the Scriptures. Those who come to believe God through the popular preaching of judgment and repentance, followed by the gospel of Christ's sufferings and death for their sakes, and see many others moved by this method, have much to make them think that repentance is essential. Even those whom God calls through the evangel Paul preached to the Corinthians, that Christ died for our sins and was entombed and roused, according to the Scriptures (1 Cor.15:3), omitting repentance, are inclined to think their case was exceptional. Besides, their minds were radically changed, or rather rejuvenated, afterward.


The striking differences between Paul's course, as recorded in the book of Acts (where it is related to the kingdom of Israel), and his teaching in his epistles (which prepare for the present secret administration), although these cover the same time, should help us to see that this era was transitional. It included the closing of the kingdom and the commencing of the present grace. These overlapped. Paul wrote of these things to the saints in Rome long before he expounded the matter to the foremost of the Jews in Rome. As usual, the spiritual apprehension of this radical change in God's dealings outstripped its practical application. Let us not mix them or confuse them. Romans is for us, not Acts. The change was not instantaneous, but gradual. It took a whole administration.

During the period when Paul was penning his preparatory epistles, Romans, Corinthians and Galatians, and when he was firmly defending the evangel against the Judaizers, he himself was still preaching repentance, according to the record in Acts. He not only opposed the false evangel which demanded circumcision and law keeping (Acts 15:5-11; Gal.5:1-5), but withstood Peter to his face when he severed himself from those who did not keep the ceremonial law and the traditions. This was not a different "evangel," for it was not good news at all. Repentance was never denounced, even though it is ignored in Paul's evangel, for it continues to be a vital element of the kingdom heralding, and will be part of it in its future revival.

Justification is gratuitous by God's grace. The only thing that man can "do" is to believe. It is of faith that it may accord with grace. A change of mind without "fruits worthy of repentance" is a sham (Luke 3:8). Real repentance involves self-betterment and must be certified by works. This is contrary to the grace of the evangel for today. It would lead to self-justification, rather than divine justification. It has its place in the walk of the saint, not in the conciliation of the sinner. Like the law, it is good, but impotent through the flesh. Only after the spirit of God has been received, and the mind renewed (Rom.12:2), can the saint be transformed by repentance.

Of special interest for us at this time is the reference to repentance in Paul's second epistle to Timothy, for it is urgently needed (2 Tim.2:22-26). In these last days, when there, are innumerable divisions and stupid and crude questionings, it is of prime importance to heed his instructions. As to fellowship, we are to pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with all who are invoking the Lord out of a clean heart. This will keep us from destroying the unity made by God's spirit (Eph.4:3) by separating from everyone who does not see eye to eye with us on every doctrine, such as, for instance, the proper place of repentance.

We are not required to enter the lists against every antagonist, but are to avoid contention. Most of the debating about the Bible is stupid, composed of crude questioning. These we are to refuse, for they generate fighting. (I have been interrupted while writing this. A local radio preacher claims that he has challenged me again and again, but I am afraid to meet him. His continued reviling (1 Cor.5:11), together with this passage, gives me divine warrant for refusing. I will not engage in disgraceful defamation and fighting, even though I may be gifted along such lines). The slave of the Lord must not be fighting. If he does so he shows that he is the slave of another, not the Lord Jesus Christ. Our warfare is with the celestial spirit powers, not with flesh and blood. As soldiers we suffer, not fight.

Amidst the vast confusion of these last days, some will ask, "How can we know who is right, when both claim to cleave to the Bible?" The answer is simple, for the spirit which actuates each one is apparent from his conduct. The one who seeks to conform to the course laid down by the apostle in this passage is actuated by the spirit of God. The one who fights and insults his brother is in the trap of the Adversary. The soldier of Jesus Christ uses his sword against the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials. He does not wrestle with blood and flesh (Eph.6:12). He suffers evil himself (2 Tim.2:3). He does not inflict it on others.

But how can we help those who are trapped by the Adversary? First of all, not by futile debates, or by excommunication (unless other scriptures demand this), but by being gentle, by being apt teaching, by bearing with evil, by meekly training the antagonists, for at some time God may be giving them repentance to come into a realization of the truth. We should look beyond them, and sympathize with them, for they are caught in the trap of the Adversary. They will probably resent such a charge and seek to refute it by further challenges and debates and reviling, instead of following the course laid down by God for these last days. But this will only serve to prove beyond doubt, to the spiritual saint, if not to them, that they are serving the Adversary. May God graciously give them repentance!

Does not the history of the church show how error operates? When it lost the great truths of justification and conciliation, the church fell back to the kingdom evangel of forgiveness and pardon, and with it returned to the preaching of repentance. Luther and the reformers saw the error of indulgences and penance, and that faith, not works, is the basis of salvation, but they never saw the tremendous difference between justification and forgiveness. In fact Luther never really grasped justification or conciliation, so he could hardly get along without pardon. A lawyer would never seek to get a pardon for a man who is just, nor would he ask him to repent. A theologian might, who does not know that our righteousness is God's, not our own. God has proclaimed a temporary amnesty now, for those who believe it. No pardons are issued. Believe, and your mind will not only be changed but renewed.


One passage concerning repentance has troubled the saints unnecessarily (Heb.12:17). Esau despised his birthright and sold it to Jacob, but later on, when Isaac was about to die, he changed his mind, and tried to make his father give it to him nevertheless. There is no doubt that he repented, and the statement, "he did not find a place of repentance," could not possibly apply to him. The allotment blessing did not depend on his mind, but on Isaac's. He was the one who did not change his mind. Instead, he insisted that Jacob, despite his trickery, should get the blessing, and Esau could not change it. The American Revised Version reads "he found no place for a change of mind in his father." We might render this passage, "he did not find a place of repentance [in his father] even seeking [the blessing] out with tears." This is indicated by the grammar of the Original, but difficult to express in English.

One who has merely changed his mind may change it again. This seems to have been the case with some who were reached by the kingdom evangel. The essence of that good news was the nearness of the kingdom. It was near, but, being rejected by the nation as a whole, some individuals who had changed their minds on that account, changed it again when the kingdom did not arrive. It was impossible to be renewing those who fell aside to repentance (Heb.6:6). What a contrast to the present evangel! Some who merely repent today may fall aside also, but for all who really believe the evangel of grace there is no condemnation and no separation from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom.8:1,35)!

This article is an effort to help my fellow saints by teaching the truth without any attempt at answering opponents. It is written at the request of friends in a distant land, some of whom think that repentance is the Galatian apostasy, the different evangel which is not another, against which Paul directed his anathema, and that it leads to the worship of the Antichrist. I now see that I have chosen the wisest course, for, though I had no others in mind when writing, I am told that it is helpful also for those who think that it is essential for the gospel today--the very opposite extreme. In this way I hope to be helpful to all, without offending anyone. I have striven to present all the facts in their contexts, so that everyone who wishes to escape his own bias, may do so by believing what is written, and become established in the truth, and not carried about by every wind of teaching.

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