Summary: Paul clearly states that repentance is the first step in the salvation process but what level of repentance results in the new birth experience.
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” Acts 3:19 NIV
I. “Repent” is to feel sorrow for one’s actions.
In our text, Paul clearly states that repentance is the first step in the salvation process. True, or genuine, repentance always leads to salvation because this level of repentance comes only by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. Only the effectual call of the Holy Spirit can produce this level of contrition. Paul reminds us in Romans 8:30 that "Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. As we can plainly see God does not lose a single one in the salvation process. God not only never fails...He cannot fail. Casual “repentance” may produce apology, momentary tears, or some carnally based action....but no lasting change.
A case in point is Judas Iscariot. The Scripture says that he repented. His was the repentance of conscience, not repentance effected by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit which results in a person turning from sin to trusting the Savior. Judas turned to his own devices rather than turning to God.
Note: Then Judas, who had betrayed Him, when he saw that He (Jesus) was condemned to die, having repented he returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I sinned having betrayed innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? You see to it.” And having thrown the silver (coins) into the temple, he departed, and having gone away he hanged himself.” Matthew 27:3-5 (literal translation from the Greek New Testament)
Judas was remorseful when he saw the end result of his act. He “repented” (felt sorrow) for his dastardly deed, but he did not seek forgiveness nor mercy from God. His smitten conscience drove him to hang himself. True repentance is more than a smitten conscience; it is heartfelt remorse for one’s sins.
II. “Turn to God”.
This requires a “conversion or new birth” experience. Conversion or being born again, produces a complete and lasting change in an individual.
1. It produces a dramatic change in one’s total personality: from worldliness to godliness.
“Personality” is defined by Webster as “the quality or state of being a person”: “personal existence” “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away and all things are become new.” II Corinthians 5:17
2. It produces a change in one’s understanding: from spiritual blindness to spiritual sight.
“The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling and the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints...” Ephesians 1:18
3. A change in one’s natural tendency or disposition from spiritual rebellion to obedience.
The natural man’s inclination is to turn away from God as the Scriptures clearly teach. The Old Testament declares this truth in Isaiah 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”