What Kind of Repentance Brings “Seasons of Refreshing”?
TO A crowd gathered in Solomon’s colonnade in the Jerusalem temple, the apostle Peter gave the call: “Repent, therefore, and turn around so as to get your sins blotted out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the person of Jehovah.”—Acts 3:11-19.
What did it mean for them to ‘repent and turn around’? How would it lead to “seasons of refreshing”? And does that apply to us today?
WHAT REPENTANCE MEANS
In Peter’s day, Jewish people spoke both Hebrew and Greek. In both languages the words conveying the idea of “repentance” refer to a change, a change in one’s mind, attitude or purpose.
For example, the Greek term me·ta·no·eʹo is formed of two words: me·taʹ, meaning “after,” and no·eʹo, related to nous, which means the mind, disposition or moral consciousness. So me·ta·no·eʹo literally means afterthought (in contrast to forethought). It is somewhat like our expression ‘to have second thoughts’ about a matter, those later thoughts bringing a change in our attitude. Often that change is accompanied by, or impelled by, a feeling of regret, remorse, dissatisfaction or even disgust over the matter about which we have ‘second thoughts.’
But this was no ordinary change of attitude that Peter was talking about. He previously had showed his audience that they shared guilt for the death of Jesus Christ, whom God had made “the Chief Agent of life.” Though they had acted in ignorance, as did their rulers, they still bore guilt because they supported and went along with those who resisted the truth, including the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures that foretold the coming of the Messiah.
So what kind of “change” was Peter calling on them to make? Simply to feel remorse over the death of an innocent man and resolve never to share again in responsibility for such crime? Was that all? By no means! The change was to be so penetrating that it would make them “turn around,” not just from one particular wrong act, but from a whole life course that was running contrary to God’s declared purpose. Repentance should make them turn from that course and take a different life course. Their course was leading them away from God. But now they were to turn to God through his “Chief Agent of life.” Peter further made clear that to fail to listen to that Sent One of God would mean destruction, whereas obedience to his message would bring blessings. Yes, by faith in him as God’s Chief Agent of life they could begin to enjoy “seasons of refreshing” because God would now forgive their wrong course, “blot out” their sins, and they would be freed from the burden of a guilty conscience. They would come into God’s favor, his face would turn toward them in approval and he would bless them and lead them to life everlasting.—Acts 3:19-26.
What does this show, then, is the real purpose of repentance? It is to enter into right relationship with God—not just temporarily but on a permanent basis.
This is made clear by what another apostle, Paul, stated to an audience in Athens, not a Jewish audience but one composed of Greeks, worshipers of many gods and goddesses.
ACCOUNTABILITY TO THE LIFE-GIVER
In the powerful speech he delivered on the Areopagus (or Mars Hill), Paul pointed his polytheistic audience to the one true God, the Maker of heaven and earth. The Greeks prided themselves on their logic and Paul demonstrated how illogical it was to “imagine that the Divine Being is like gold or silver or stone, like something sculptured by the art and contrivance of man.” Then he declared that, while God had allowed such misconduct to go on for a time, “yet now he is telling mankind that they should all everywhere repent.”—Acts 17:29, 30.
So, then, would it be enough for those Greeks to repent of their idolatrous use of statues and their worship of a great array of deities? Could they then go on living their lives in other respects the same as before? No, that was not what Paul was saying.
He had first solidly established the truth that all mankind owes its life, and the continuance of life, to God, the Source of all life. So all mankind is indebted to God—they are accountable, responsible to him. As the Creator and Life-giver, God has the right to require of all his creatures that they serve his purpose, live in harmony with his supreme will. Paul emphasized the need for these Greeks to consider seriously that responsibility by going on to say: “Because he [God] has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man [Christ Jesus] whom he has appointed, and he has furnished a guarantee to all men in that he has resurrected him from the dead.”—Acts 17:22-31.
This cardinal truth concerning the responsibility of all men to the one true God for the lives they live—this was a new teaching to the Greeks. It cast repentance in a new light. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. IV, p. 979) points this out, stating that “repentance” (me·taʹnoi·a) among the ancient Greeks “never suggests an alteration in the total moral attitude, a profound change in life’s direction, a conversion which affects the whole of conduct.”
Oh, those Greeks might “repent” (me·ta·no·eʹo) of a certain deed, speech, plan or project, rejecting such as unsatisfactory or regrettable. They might even go before the statue of one of their gods and express remorse about the matter. But the apostle Paul was showing them now that their whole life was owed to God. They were responsible to him for their entire life course. What a profound change “repentance” could mean in view of that teaching! If they now began to “seek God” as Paul showed them they could do, they would gain knowledge and, in the light of that knowledge, how many, many things they might find they had been doing contrary to the will and purpose of the true God, the Life-giver!
WHAT ABOUT TODAY?
Not just those Greeks hearing Paul, but “all” mankind, “everywhere” were, and are, in need of just such repentance. Most persons today, particularly in Christendom, have the idea that simply by being born they enter into a relationship with God as part of his family. The Scriptures show that this view is completely invalid.
True, all enter life in the relationship of debtors to God, having received life from him, but not as approved members of his universal family. As the apostle Paul clearly shows, by Adam’s sin all his descendants were sold into slavery and came under subjection to ‘King’ Sin and ‘King’ Death. (Rom. 5:12-14, 21; 7:14) Mankind as a whole has been alienated from God, in need of reconciliation with Him. That is why the apostle could say of the Gentile nations, who were outside God’s covenant with Israel, that they then “had no hope and were without God in the world.” (Eph. 2:11, 12) By the propitiatory sacrifice of his Son, Christ Jesus, God provided the means for reconciliation with himself on the part of all showing faith in that sacrifice. (Col. 1:19-23) The entreaty of the apostles, as ambassadors for Christ, therefore was: “Become reconciled to God.”—2 Cor. 5:20.
So, one basic reason for repentance on the part of all persons is that we are all inherently sinful. A second is that, if we have been going along with the world of mankind in its course, then we have been pursuing a course of opposition to God—for the simple reason that mankind as a whole has ignored and even fought against God’s will and purposes. That is why human history basically is but a depressing account of repeated acts of bloodshed, oppression, injustice and immorality. To refuse to see, recognize and admit one’s own responsibility in all this as a willing member of the world community would be to attempt a weak whitewash of oneself. As the apostle John puts it: “If we make the statement: ‘We have not sinned,’ we are making [God] a liar, and his word is not in us.”—1 John 1:10.
Rather than try to evade responsibility or justify himself, on seeing his true situation the sincere person will feel genuine sorrow and seek reconciliation with God. He will definitely reject his past course of willing conformity to a world at enmity with God, will have a heartfelt hatred of that wrong course and of all that contradicts God’s righteous standards. (Jas. 4:4; Ps. 119:104; Rom. 12:9) Truly repentant, he will “turn around” and will demonstrate that conversion by “works that befit repentance.” (Acts 26:20; Matt. 3:8) He will clothe himself with a “new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.”—Eph. 4:17-24.
Today, as in apostolic times, repentance and conversion lead to another step: baptism. Baptism, according to the inspired writing of the apostle Peter, symbolizes one’s “request made to God for a good conscience.” (1 Pet. 3:21) Yes, thereby one formally petitions God to be allowed to come into good relations with Him and enjoy the benefits of a good conscience toward Him. Having experienced the bad effects of slavery to ‘King’ Sin with death in view, such person now begs God to purchase him as His own slave by means of the ransom price lovingly paid by God’s Son.—Rom. 6:16-18; 1 Cor. 7:22, 23.
Have you made this vital change? Do you recognize your responsibility to the Life-giver to live your life in accord with his will? Do you feel impelled to do so out of love for him and for righteousness?
This calls for study of his Word. You must ‘open your eyes and ears’ receptively to Bible truth so that you can ‘get the sense of it with your heart.’ Of those who do, Jehovah says: ‘I will heal them.’ (Isa. 6:9, 10; Matt. 13:13-15) Doing this, you will experience “seasons of refreshing” and will be brought into “ways of pleasantness” and ‘roadways of peace’ as you enjoy a good conscience before God.—Prov. 3:17; 1 Pet. 3:21.