One of the most annoying and frustrating things about the discussion is that those who say that repentance does not mean turning from sin constantly misrepresent the position of those of us who say that it does. They always say that we mean by "turning from sin" that a person has to quit all his sins. This is not what we mean and never has been. When we say that one must turn from his sin, we are talking about a turning of the heart. Stated another way, we are saying (or at least this is what I am saying) that the person must be willing for God to change his life. This is only logical, for if a person receives Christ, his life is going to change (II Cor. 5:17; etc.; etc.). Therefore, if one is to receive Christ, he must be willing for this change to take place (else he wouldn't receive Christ at all). This is the sense in which one "turns from sin", not by quitting all his sins.
One of the favorite arguments of the folks who say that repentance does not involve turning from sin is this: "Repentance cannot mean turning from sin because the Bible tells us that God repented. Therefore to say that repentance means turning from sin would be to say that God turned from sin, which isn't possible since God is perfect and has no sin to turn from."
Now on the surface this appears to be a very convincing argument, but when examined more closely, we find that it is really no argument at all! It is nothing more than a straw man; it is a clever way of confusing the issue. It is similar to the following argument which is sometimes used by those who do not believe in water baptism: "The Bible tells of the Holy Spirit baptizing people, and that had nothing to do with water. Therefore baptism does not mean to be immersed in water." This sounds good, but it actually proves nothing. Just because the word "baptize" (the basic definition of which is "immerse") in the Bible sometimes refers to immersion in something other than water does not change the fact that it normally means to be immersed in water. And in the same fashion, just because the word "repent" (the basic definition of which is "a change of mind") is sometimes used of God changing His mind and thus turning from some purpose that He had planned, does not change the fact that when the word is used about a sinner being saved it refers to the sinner changing his mind about his sin so that he turns from it to the Lord Jesus Christ. And when I speak of a sinner turning from his sin, I do not mean that he quits all of his sins (which is impossible in any case); I simply mean that he is willing to let God change his life.
All Bible students are aware of the fact that the technical definition of the word "repent" is "a change of mind". Therefore, in a general sense, one repents if he changes his mind about anything. If I plan to eat a hamburger and change my mind and decide not to do so, I have repented insofar as the basic definition of the word is concerned. But it should be rather obvious that when Jesus says, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish", He is not talking about someone changing his mind about eating a hamburger or something of that nature. He is talking about them changing their mind about their sin so that they turn from it to Himself. He is talking about the same thing that Paul spoke of in I Thess. 1:9, where he referred to the conversion of the Thessalonians and said: "ye turned to God from idols". This is the type of repentance that results in salvation. It is called in Acts 11:18: "repentance unto life". Preachers of 100 years ago referred to it as "evangelical repentance". You see, when a person turns to God, he is turning from something. The turning to God is faith, the turning from idols (or whatever) is repentance. It is not 2 separate steps; it is the same step considered from a different perspective. It is 2 sides of the same coin. One who truly repents (in the sense of "evangelical repentance") also puts his faith in Christ, and one who truly puts his faith in Christ also repents. But before one will truly put his faith in Christ, he must reach the place where he is willing for God to change his life (for God is going to do so if the person trusts Christ). This place of willingness to be changed (or stated another way, this turning of the heart from sin) is repentance.
I knew how to be saved for 3 years before I actually received Christ and got saved. I wouldn't be saved because I knew that if I did get saved, my life was going to change, and I didn't want to change. I loved my dope, my immorality, etc. Before I would trust Christ as Savior, I had to reach the place where I was willing for Him to change me. That place of willingness to be changed is repentance, & it is absolutely essential to salvation.
I have been more and more amazed lately in studying the doctrine of repentance that every preacher of any credibility (until 25 years ago) preached repentance (and, incidentally, defined it in the same way: as a change of mind which resulted in a turning of the heart from sin). When credible men of God throughout the ages have held to the same position on an issue, this should carry some weight with preachers of today (particularly when one of them is Jesus Christ Himself). I address this questions to all the preachers reading this. The following preachers preached on the doctrine of repentance; preacher, do you?
1. Jesus preached on repentance (Luke 13:1-5). Do you?
2. John the Baptist preached on repentance (Matt. 3:1-2). Do you?
3. Peter preached on repentance (Acts 2:38). Do you?
4. Paul preached on repentance (Acts 17:30). Do you?
5. Charles G. Finney preached on repentance (see book Lectures on Revival). Do you?
6. Charles H. Spurgeon preached on repentance (see book The Soul Winner). Do you?
7. Dwight L. Moody preached on repentance (see book Bible Studies at Northfield). Do you?
8. R.A. Torrey preached on repentance (see book What the Bible Teaches). Do you?
9. Billy Sunday preached on repentance (see book The Best of Billy Sunday). Do you?
10. J. Frank Norris preached on repentance (cassette tape sermon "Except Ye Repent"). Do you?
11. H.A. Ironside preached on repentance (see his commentary on the Gospel of Luke). Do you?
12. Bob Jones Sr. preached on repentance (see book Bob Jones Sermons). Do you?
13. John R. Rice preached on repentance (see tract What Must I Do To Be Saved?) Do you?
14. Oliver B. Greene preached on repentance (see his commentary on the book of Acts). Do you?
Preacher, I don't know about you, but I believe that I'll line up with these preachers (including the Lord Jesus Christ) who through the ages have preached on repentance.Dr. DeWayne Nichols