It is a sad trend I see in the church, and I have personally witnessed it in churches I have previously attended, that repentance is rarely, if at all, mentioned. I honestly don't see how a church can claim to be preaching the gospel, if repentance is completely taken out of the mix. The message is stripped down to a simple A-B-C or 1-2-3 method and a two or three sentence dear-Lord-I-choose-You prayer—repentance lacking, of course. Where in the Bible is this method outlined or taught? I do not recall it being anywhere. The Scriptures hold the key to our preaching and hearing of the gospel, and repentance is certainly necessary for a conversion to take place.
In a nutshell, repentance is, according to Noah Webster, "a change of mind, or a conversion from sin to God." Notice that Noah Webster saw the importance repentance has on the conversion process. He actually used the conversion as the definition for repentance. In Thayer's Greek Lexicon, the Greek word, μετανοέω (met-an-o-eh'-o), is defined and explaind like this: "to change one's mind, i.e. to repent (to feel sorry that one has done this or that, of having offended someone)... used especially of those who, conscious of their sins and with manifest tokens of sorrow, are intent, on obtaining God's pardon... to change one's mind for the better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins." These two definitions are exemplified quite well by Paul in 2nd Corinthians 7:10, which says, "For godly sorrow works penitence to salvation not to be repented of, but the sorrow of the world works death." Godly sorrow, or compunction (a picking of heart; poignant grief proceeding from a sense of guilt or consciousness of causing pain; the sting of conscience), leads to a true salvation which lacks any regret.
The Scriptures refer to various forms of repentance throughout the Bible. What immediately comes to my mind is the first quote of Jesus Christ according to Mark's gospel: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). Also, at the beginning of the thirteenth chapter of Luke, Jesus rebuked some people who believed they were more righteous than some Galileans because of the sins committed by the Galileans by telling them, "unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5). In fact, He said that to them twice, each after giving an example to prove His point. He was trying to demonstrate to these people that they, as sinners, will also perish as the sinners from Galilee, if they do not repent of their sins. Finally, in the third chapter of Revelation, after Jesus rebukes the luke-warm church, he tells them, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Be zealous therefore, and repent" (verse 19). If anyone should set the example for presenting the gospel it would be Jesus, and He did not withhold repentance from His preaching.
Elsewhere, the Scriptures even mention the role and importance of repentance in the conversion process. For instance, Isaiah 59:20 says, "And the Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob." In other words, Christ will come to those who repent. In The Acts of the Apostles, Peter preached repentance as being necessary. In Acts 3:19, Peter was speaking to a group of people, and after preaching the Law's telling of Christ and the need of faith in Him, he said to them, "Therefore repent, and be converted, so that your sins may be blotted out..." (Recall back to Noah Webster's definition of repentance and see in this verse how it is consistent, and that repentance and conversion go hand in hand.) Also in The Acts of the Apostles, Paul gives light to the importance of repentance. In the seventeenth chapter, Paul is speaking on Mars-hill to some men of Athens who worship the "unknown god." In verses 30 and 31, Paul drives the point home by saying, "And the times of this ignorance God winked at, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he has ordained, of which he has given assurance to all men, in that he has raised him from the dead." Notice that Paul says that God commands repentance. With these few scriptures as examples, it is clear that repentance is very necessary for a soul's conversion. Not only is it essential for the conversion, but God also commands it.
Now, a possible argument that may arise is that people already know right from wrong and since they already know right from wrong, repentance doesn't need to be stressed. This mindset is not only contrary to the examples given in the Scriptures, it's also dangerous. The Scriptures are to be our guide and example, and if we claim this to be so, then the Scriptures show us the manner in which we are to preach. Isaiah preached repentance, Peter preached repentance, Paul preached repentance, and even Jesus Christ preached repentance—among many others in the Bible. They are our guides and examples; therefore, we should do as they have and preach repentance. I also mentioned that the argument is dangerous. To give an example, I will use the prophet Micah. In Micah 2:11, he speaks of false prophets coming and preaching "wine and strong drink." Micah is warning the people of the dangers of the preaching of these false prophets who preach what the people want to be preached. In other words, Micah is warning the people of those who come preaching to the satisfaction of the flesh, and that if they do not repent, they will have the reward of the false prophet. In reference, it says in Jeremiah 5:31, concerning the teaching of false prophesies, that, "…my people love to have it so…" Matthew Henry, a trusted Biblical commentator, made a bold statement concerning the teachings of false prophets. He said, "False teachers encourage men to expect peace and salvation, without repentance, faith, conversion, and holiness of life." Matthew Henry saw the importance of preaching repentance for the conversion of souls. Even though people have a sense of knowing right from wrong, that is no excuse for taking repentance lightly.
Now, I must explain the role of repentance in the conversion process. In a nutshell, in order to convert, a man must change, and repentance is that change of sinful ways to the godly lifestyle. Repentance can be better detailed than that. It begins with sin. Every person in the world is born into a sinful nature. It is at this point that a man is a spiritual corpse, or dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). If the course of his life remains as such, he will continue for all eternity as a spiritual corpse. Sin is the bondage which holds the man in his condition. It says in Jeremiah that, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). Furthermore, the man remains in his condition because, "men have loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). This applies to all of mankind and is given a term: Total Depravity. This can also be seen in Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Man is in a desperate condition, and if things are to change, help must come. God has set in order the things to come throughout all of eternity, even those who are called to salvation. He has, in effect, unconditionally elected, or adopted (Ephesians 1:5) His children; moreover, He allows His adopted children to participate in the calling of His other adopted children to salvation. But first, He had to pave a narrow way to salvation by offering His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross as the one sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:12). This offering was a universal act, but the gift is reserved for those who will believe, or the elect (John 3:16). This is known as the limited atonement. We are to preach this gospel to all the world (Mark 16:15) as the call to salvation to those who are chosen by God. It is through the hearing of this gospel of Christ that the Holy Spirit revives the spiritual corpse in a show of God's grace (for it is by grace through faith that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8)), to give the man the power to become a son of God, not by his own will (not by free will), but by the will of God (John 1:12-13). This power is what overcomes the sinful resistance of man against God's grace, which makes God's grace irresistible. This power allows the man to put off the old, sinful corpse of a man, and put on Christ into eternal life (Ephesians 4:22-24), for Christ is his strength (Philippians 4:13). This is that turning point of repentance when the conversion takes place, which was preached. The man has converted from a corpse to a revived spirit. Now, God will forever hold the man in His hand (John 10:27-29) and he will persevere to the end with Christ.
The process of conversion is purely monergistic, meaning that it is completely from God alone (Jonah 2:9). Even though the conversion of a man's soul is accomplished completely apart from his own works or the works of another man, repentance is still a critical aspect of that conversion, which must be preached. While the conversion is monergistic, repentance is still applied to the Christian walk as a response to God's grace. The need for repentance is seen through the preaching of the Law, which is in place "so that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Romans 3:19). It is only through a thorough preaching of the Law that we may see that sin is "exceedingly sinful" (Romans 7:13), for "the Law was our school-master to bring us to Christ, so that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).
God gives us, as His children, the opportunity to participate in His plans of redemption for the souls of men. To have this honor is not to be taken lightly. It is a very serious and weighty matter, and it would be an injustice to the privilege we have been given if we were not to follow in His example, through Christ's preaching of repentance.