Studying Matthew 4:17: How to Truly Repent
By Xiaoyu, USA
In 2020, the COVID-19 virus swept the globe, plunging the world into panic. Also shocking were the vast numbers of locusts that swarmed over Africa. With the advent of plague and famine, increasing numbers of those who believe in the Lord have begun to sense that the day of the Lord’s arrival is near, and that the kingdom of God is about to arrive. The Lord Jesus once said, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). This is what the Lord asks of every one of us. Only if we truly repent will we be protected by God and brought into the heavenly kingdom before the great tribulation. So just what is true repentance, and how can we achieve it?
- ● Does Good Behavior Denote True Repentance?
- ● What Is True Repentance?
- ● Why We Have Not Achieved True Repentance in Our Belief in the Lord
- ● How to Achieve True Repentance
- ● Recommended: Christian Testimony Videos
Does Good Behavior Denote True Repentance?
At the mention of repentance, many believers in the Lord will say, “Now that we believe in the Lord, we don’t swear or fight, we are tolerant and patient toward others, we often pray and confess to the Lord, we work and expend ourselves for the Lord, and we do not even deny the Lord’s name after being put in prison. This good behavior proves that we have truly repented. When the Lord returns, we shall enter the heavenly kingdom with Him.” After we started believing in the Lord, we cast aside our evil habits; we became humble, tolerant, we helped others, and we became able to give things up and expend ourselves to spread theand testify to the Lord. There were indeed some changes in our behavior, yet it is undeniable that we have not rid ourselves of the shackles of sin, and still often live amid sin, unable to escape. For example, when someone says something hurtful to us which does not infringe upon our primary interests, we may be capable of forbearance, and we won’t call them up on it. But when someone says something that hurts our prestige and status and embarrasses us, though we may say nothing critical of them, there is resentment and prejudice toward them in our hearts, and we may even think of taking revenge. In many matters, though we may appear to not commit any great evil, our hearts often betray evil thoughts. Sometimes, we may be capable of forbearance and self-control for a time, but the moment it becomes too much for us, we are still liable to commit evil. When such things are exposed and manifested in us, and we have yet to escape the shackles of sin, can it be said that we have truly repented?
Let’s read a passage of God’s words, “Mere behavioral changes are unsustainable; if there is no alteration in people’s life dispositions, then sooner or later, their vicious sides will show themselves. Because the source of the changes in their behavior is fervor, coupled with some work by the Holy Spirit at the time, it is extremely easy for them to become fervent or to exhibit temporary kindness. As the unbelievers say, ‘Doing one good deed is easy; what’s hard is doing a lifetime of good deeds.’ People are incapable of doing good deeds throughout their entire lives. One’s behavior is directed by the life; whatever one’s life is, so is one’s behavior, and only that which is revealed naturally represents the life, as well as one’s nature. Things that are fake cannot last. When God works to save man, it is not to adorn man with good behavior—the purpose of God’s work is to transform people’s dispositions, to make them reborn into new people. … Behaving well is not the same as submitting to God, much less does it equal being compatible with Christ. Changes in behavior are based on doctrine and born of fervor; they are not based upon true knowledge of God or upon the truth, much less do they rest upon guidance from the Holy Spirit. Even though there are times when some of what people do is directed by the Holy Spirit, this is not an expression of the life, much less is it the same as knowing God; no matter how good a person’s behavior is, it does not prove that they have submitted to God or that they put the truth into practice. Behavioral changes are but a momentary illusion; they are but manifestations of zealousness. They cannot be counted as expressions of the life” (“The Difference Between External Changes and Changes in Disposition” in Records of Christ’s Talks).
God’s words show us that although our behavior improved after we began believing in God, this doesn’t mean there has been a change in our life disposition. Most good behavior is the result of fervor, it is behavior born of doctrine and rules, or else it is a practice arising from being moved by the Holy Spirit. It is not because we understand the truth, it is not because we have knowledge of God, and it is not a practice that comes naturally out of our desire to satisfy and love God. We have been corrupted by Satan profoundly, we brim with every manner of satanic corrupt disposition—arrogance, craftiness, evil, rigidity and viciousness. If these dispositions are left unresolved, then even though we may be able to abide by certain rules and we may seem pious on the outside, this does not last for long, and when we encounter something disagreeable, we are unable to stop ourselves from sinning. For example, controlled by our arrogant and conceited satanic nature, we always try to make others honor us, and when others don’t do what we say, we fly into a rage and start lecturing them. Directed by our deceitful nature, everything we do is in consideration of our own interests; when everything at home is going smoothly, we’re willing to give things up and expend ourselves for God, and we can endure any hardship. But when misfortune comes, we blame God for not protecting us. We might even start to regret what we’ve given up, and contemplate betraying God. The list goes on. This shows that if our corrupt dispositions are left unsolved, we cannot practice the truth or, and may even oppose Him. Take the Pharisees of two thousand years ago, for example. Outwardly, they didn’t appear to commit any evil. They travelled far and wide spreading the gospel, often expounded on the scriptures to people, and taught people to obey the law. Much of their behavior was good, but when the Lord Jesus appeared and began His work, because He appeared so normal and ordinary on the outside and He was not called the Messiah, and because everything about Him was at odds with their notions, their arrogant and conceited satanic dispositions were exposed. They flagrantly condemned and blasphemed the Lord Jesus, and ultimately, they conspired with the Roman authorities to crucify the Lord Jesus.
The above shows that although there may be changes in our external behavior, if there is no change in our inner life dispositions, we will still be ruled by our satanic corrupt dispositions and will be liable to commit sin and oppose God at any moment. Such people have also not truly repented and are fundamentally unqualified to enter the kingdom of heaven. Just as it is said in the Bible, “Whoever commits sin is the servant of sin. And the servant stays not in the house for ever: but the son stays ever” (John 8: 34–35).
What Is True Repentance?
So what is true repentance? The Bible records, “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14). “[Y]ou shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45). God is holy. He despises man’s sins, and so the standard for true repentance is when the various satanic dispositions in people—arrogance, craftiness, evil and rigidity—have been cleansed and changed, when they practice the words of God regardless of their surroundings, no longer commit sin or oppose God, but truly obey and revere God, and when they have been completely gained by God. Only such people have truly repented.
Why We Have Not Achieved True Repentance in Our Belief in the Lord
Some people may ask, “Why is it that we have accepted the Lord’s redemption and our sins have been forgiven, yet we are incapable of achieving true repentance?” This is chiefly because in the Age of Grace, the Lord Jesus did the work of redemption, which was not the work of changing people’s corrupt dispositions. Let us read another passage of God’s words, “Though Jesus did much work among man, He only completed the redemption of all mankind and became man’s sin offering; He did not rid man of all his corrupt disposition. Fully saving man from the influence of Satan not only required Jesus to become the sin offering and bear the sins of man, but it also required God to do even greater work to rid man completely of his satanically corrupted disposition” (Preface to ). This informs us that in the Age of Grace, the Lord Jesus only carried out the work of mankind’s redemption, the effect of which was to make people confess and repent. As part of the work of redemption, the Lord Jesus spoke the way of repentance, He taught people how to confess their sins and repent, to bear the cross and follow the Lord. So, too, must they love others as they love themselves, they must be humble, patient, and tolerant, and forgive people seventy times seven times, and so on. These were all requirements made of man based on people’s stature at the time; when people committed sin, they came before the Lord Jesus to confess their sins and repent, their sins were forgiven, and they were entitled to come before God and continue to worship God. All that was expressed by the Lord Jesus were truths that could be understood by the people of the time. But this did not involve changing people’s dispositions, and so regardless of how much we read the Bible, how we confess our sins and repent, or how we conquer ourselves, we remain incapable of ridding ourselves of sin and achieving true repentance.
How to Achieve True Repentance
So, how can we achieve true repentance? The Lord Jesus prophesied, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come” (John 16:12–13). “He that rejects Me, and receives not My words, has one that judges him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). “Sanctify them through Your truth: Your word is truth” (John 17:17). These words show us that because the stature of the people of that time was so low, during the Age of Grace the Lord Jesus did not express too many truths or give us a way to resolve our satanic natures. Thus did the Lord prophesy that He would return in the last days, that He would express more and higher truths, and that He would perform the work of judging and cleansing man, thereby allowing us to completely free ourselves from the shackles of sin, and be cleansed and changed, and only by accepting the work of judgment and cleansing upon the Lord’s return can we achieve true repentance.
Today, the Lord Jesus has returned: He is the incarnate Christ Does the Work of Judgment With the Truth).. Upon the foundation of the Lord Jesus’ work of redemption, Almighty God has carried out the work of judgment beginning from the house of God, He has expressed all truths necessary for the of mankind, and He has come to judge, cleanse, and perfect those who accept His salvation of the last days. Almighty God says, “In the last days, Christ uses a variety of truths to teach man, to expose the substance of man, and to dissect the words and deeds of man. These words comprise various truths, such as man’s duty, how man should obey God, how man should be loyal to God, how man ought to live out normal humanity, as well as the wisdom and the disposition of God, and so on. These words are all directed at the substance of man and his corrupt disposition. In particular, the words that expose how man spurns God are spoken in regard to how man is an embodiment of Satan, and an enemy force against God. In undertaking His work of judgment, God does not simply make clear the nature of man with a few words; He exposes, deals with, and prunes over the long term. These methods of exposure, dealing, and pruning cannot be substituted with ordinary words, but with the truth of which man is utterly bereft. Only methods such as these can be called judgment; only through judgment of this kind can man be subdued and thoroughly convinced into submission to God, and moreover gain true knowledge of God. What the work of judgment brings about is man’s understanding of the true face of God and the truth about his own rebelliousness. The work of judgment allows man to gain much understanding of the will of God, of the purpose of God’s work, and of the mysteries that are incomprehensible to him. It also allows man to recognize and know his corrupt essence and the roots of his corruption, as well as to discover the ugliness of man. These effects are all brought about by the work of judgment, for the essence of this work is actually the work of opening up the truth, the way, and the life of God to all those who have faith in Him” (The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God.
When Almighty God expresses the truth and carries out the work of judging and cleansing man in the last days, He does not simply tell us several ways to practice repentance, but expresses words of judgment, exposes our natures and substances which disobey and oppose God, and the truth of our corruption; He bestows us with various truths, such as how to be honest, how to obey God, how to love God, and so on, thereby giving us a path to practice in all the things that befall us. Through experiencing the judgment of God’s words, we gradually come to see how profoundly we have been corrupted by Satan, and that our natures and substances brim with the satanic dispositions of arrogance, craftiness, evil and rigidity. Living by these things, there is nothing human in what we live out, we are detestable to others and, moreover, we are detestable and loathsome to God. Amid God’s words of judgment, we see that we are ignoble and wicked, unworthy of living before God, and only then do we begin to detest our sins and wish to repent. At the same time, we come to know the righteous disposition of God that tolerates no offense and that if we do not practice the truth, then we will surely be detested and rejected by God. Only then is the fear of God born in us, we begin to forsake the flesh and practice the truth, we gradually come to have some of the reality of obedience to God, and we no longer rebel against and oppose God.
Experiencing the judgment and chastisement of God, we fully escape from sin, we are no longer shackled by our satanic natures, and we are free to practice the words of God and to obey and worship God. Only then can we be said to have truly repented and changed, and only then are we entitled to enter the heavenly kingdom. Clearly, accepting God’s work of judgment of the last days is the only way to achieve true repentance and change. At this point, I trust that you have now begun to see the way to achieve true repentance—so what choices should we make now?
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