THE ROYAL COMMAND
Scripture Reading: Acts 17:30-34
The Bible is filled with many of the commandments of God; the best known of which are called the "Ten Commandments". These are recorded in the Old Testament book of Exodus, and are often taught to youngsters in their Sunday Schools. But today I want you to notice a very significant and timely commandment in the New Testament book of Acts, chapter 17 and verse 30, where we're told that "God ... now commandeth all men everywhere to repent."
We want to look at the following questions relative to this New Testament commandment. WHO gives the command? WHEN is it given? TO WHOM is it given? WHAT is the command? WHY is it given? WHAT IS THE RESPONSE TO THE COMMAND ?
In Acts 17:30, we notice that the command is given by "GOD". Friend, when God gives a command, it is intended that His royal command be obeyed. Suffice to say, with this solemn fact in mind, I would strongly suggest that you pay strict attention to what God has to say. And don't forget that even now, God has your every breath in His hands.
We also notice that the command is given by God "NOW". This tells us that there is no guarantee that a response will be accepted tomorrow, or at any other time in the future. How often, especially in the matter of salvation, people seem to think that they will have plenty of time to think about, and to make preparations for, the salvation of their souls. Yes, and there are millions of souls in Hell today who thought that they had plenty of time to get saved "someday", but their "someday" never came.
Friend, you have no assurance whatsoever that you'll ever see the light of another day. Today's date may be on your tombstone as the date of your death. In Proverbs 27:1 we read, "Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." Again in II Corinthians 6:2 we're told, "Behold, NOW is the accepted time; behold, NOW is the day of salvation." Yes, God expects you to obey His command "NOW", not tomorrow, next week or next year - but "TODAY", right "NOW".
The next thing we notice about God's command is that it is given to "ALL MEN EVERYWHERE". And the reason for that is simply because we are all sinners in the sight of a Holy God. In Romans chapter 3, we have the 14 indictments given by God against all mankind, and the summation is clearly stated in verse 23, "For ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Yes, some of us may be bigger sinners than others, but that doesn't change the classification. In this respect, sin is just like cheese; because no matter how thin you slice it, it is still cheese. And so it is with sin !
We've barely touched on the introductory words in our "Scripture Reading", because I want to emphasize and to spend more time on the royal command given to all of us, and that is "TO REPENT". Yes, the royal command from God is "TO REPENT".
I believe that repentance is one of the most fundamental doctrines found in the word of God, yet it is one of those truths that so many people today fail to understand. Can you remember the last time you heard anyone speak on the subject of repentance? I believe that there are more people in the dark today concerning repentance, regeneration and atonement than on many other scriptural doctrines we've heard about since our youth.
As far as repentance is concerned, I believe that no person is ready to believe, or receive the Gospel, until that person is ready to repent of their sins. Until John the Baptist met Jesus Christ, he had but one message-"Repent ye; for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Now if he had continued to preach repentance without pointing the people to the "Lamb of God", the Lord Jesus Christ, he would not have accomplished much. But he was leading up to the time when the Son of God would commence His public ministry. Yes, he was pointing forward to that One, Whose blood alone, could cleanse a person from all sin.
And when Jesus Christ did come, He took up that same cry of John the Baptist, for we read His words in Matthew 4:17, "Repent: for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand." And when our Lord sent out His disciples, it was with that same message as we read in Mark 6:12, "that men should repent." Friend, even after the Lord Jesus Christ had been glorified, and when the Holy Spirit came down, we find Peter on the day of Pentecost raising the same warning in Acts 2:38-"Repent". And now in our "Scripture Reading" today, we hear the Apostle Paul, standing on Mars' Hill, in the religious, cultured, educated, and philosophically- saturated city of Athens, Greece, and uttering the same cry, "God ... now commandeth all men everywhere to REPENT."
Now friend, before I tell you what repentance is, let me briefly tell you what repentance is not! Repentance is not fear. Many people today are confusing the two. They believe that in order to repent, they have to be terrified, and so they wait for some sense of fear to come over them. True, a person must be convicted by the Holy Spirit and word of God, and when they are, there is a fear of God's eternal wrath; but fear, in itself, is not repentance. Why even the demons fear God, but that fear is not repentance.
You might think that Pharaoh would have repented when God sent the terrible plagues of judgment upon his land; but it was not repentance at all. No, the moment God's hand of judgment was removed, Pharaoh's heart was harder than ever before. He didn't turn from a single sin, for he was the same evil man with a heart that was desperately wicked. So even though Pharaoh may have feared God's power, his fear was not repentance.
Quite often when death comes into a household, it appears as if the event might lead to the conversion of some in that family who are still unsaved. Death has displayed its power, and fear enters the heart of those still outside of Christ. They start to attend church more regularly. The coin which once clattered into the collection plate has now blossomed into a graceful dollar bill. The nightly visitation to the local tavern for "rock and roll", or "rock and rye", is now replaced by a quiet evening at home. The world of public entertainment must do without their presence, because there is fear in the heart. But in a very short period of time, all is forgotten. Yes, when God's hand was heavy upon them, it looked as though they might repent, but the trial is soon forgotten, and back they go to their wallowing in the muck and mire of open sin. No, my friend, repentance is not fear.
Then again, repentance is not feeling. Many people are waiting for a certain feeling before they repent. They say that they would like to get saved but they are still waiting for the "right feeling". These people usually drop off into an eternity in Hell, where they experience a feeling alright, but not the one that they had been hoping for. Friend, God doesn't ask you to trust in feelings, because feelings are dependent upon certain conditions, including one's physical, mental and emotional makeup. Yes, a great many people temporarily fear God, yet they do not repent. Likewise, many people may feel like sinners, and yet not repent of their sin. No, repentance is not feeling.
Furthermore, repentance is not fasting. A person may fast for days, or even weeks, and yet not repent of one sin - apart from the sin of gluttony! Friend, depriving one's body of an abundance of food may be a good idea, hygienically, but this physical depravation has no part in repentance for one's sins. No, repentance is not fasting.
Neither is repentance a synonym for remorse. Judas, you may recall, was terribly remorseful, enough to make him go out and hang himself, but that was not repentance. He, like so many people today, went to the wrong priests. He confessed his sin to mere men, and they couldn't care less, so he went out and committed suicide. Yes, a person may do all sorts of penance, but penance is not repentance. Friend, you cannot meet the claims of God by offering the fruit of your body for the sin of your soul. No, repentance is not remorse.
Now listen to this, repentance is not conviction of sin. This may sound strange to some of you, but friend, there are souls in Hell today who, when they were alive here on earth, were under such deep conviction of sin that they couldn't sleep at night. They couldn't eat their meals without thoughts of eternity. And regardless of where they were, or what they were doing, their sins loomed large before their eyes. They may have gone on like this for a long time, but they were never converted, and they did not repent of their sin. Remember this, you can be convicted without repenting, but you cannot repent without being convicted. No, repentance is not conviction.
Repentance is not praying. I've met many people who, when they became anxious about their soul's salvation, decided to "pray it through" and to read their Bible until they, hopefully, "get their answer". These people honestly believe that this is repentance. Others believe that if they raise their hands and look Heavenward, shout and sing, rant and rave, roll on the floor, or handle reptiles - surely this is repenting of one's sins. Friend, nothing could be further from the truth! No, repentance is not praying, nor is it a disorderly, non-scriptural demonstrational display of emotion.
Still others believe that repentance is reformation. They believe that if they break off from some one gross sin, then they are repenting. A lot of people make this same mistake. An habitual drunkard signs a pledge card to stop drinking, but this, in itself, is not God's definition of repentance. A profane man may stop swearing, but if he continues to use harmful narcotics, he has not repented. Forsaking one vice is like breaking off one limb of a tree when the whole tree has to be destroyed. Friend, when the Holy Spirit of God goes to work on an individual, He cuts down the whole tree, kills the roots, and all with one swipe of the axe. Reformation is by the will of man, but regeneration is by the Holy Spirit and word of God. No, repentance is not a gradual reformation, but rather an immediate regeneration.
"Well then," you ask, "just what is repentance?" Very briefly, repentance is "right about face". Another definition could be, "a change of heart, mind, body and soul." "It is a change of mind regarding the sinfulness of sin, and the holiness of God." "It is also an outward expression of Spirit-led deliverance from sin." "It is the complete surrender of the individual to the will of God."
In Matthew chapter 21, the Lord Jesus Christ tells us about a son who was told by his father, "Son, go work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he REPENTED, and went." Friend, this was the Lord Jesus Christ's definition of repentance.
If an individual can truthfully say, "By the grace and help of God I will, henceforth, forsake my sin, and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour, and seek to do the will of God", then that would be repentance. Friend, the unsaved have their back towards God and their face towards destruction, but when a person truly repents of their sin, they have their back towards destruction and their face towards God. In II Corinthians 5:17 we're told, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
Perhaps someone is wondering how long it takes to repent. I'll answer that question with another question, "How long does it take to turn around or to change your mind?" Well, that's how long it takes to repent. One moment you're lost and on your way to Hell; and the next moment you're saved and on your way to Heaven. Yes, one moment you're a child of the Devil, and the next moment you're a child of God.
Listen friend, every conversion recorded in the Bible was instantaneous and simultaneous. Repentance and faith came "hand-in-hand." The moment a person purposed in his heart to repent, God gave him the power to do so. God doesn't ask mankind to do the impossible. He would not "command all men everywhere to repent" if it was impossible for mankind to do so. No my friend, if you do not repent of your sins, and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your own and personal Saviour, you'll have no one to blame but yourself when you end up in Hell.
God has done all that He can! In love for our souls, He has sent His dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, into the world to die on the cross of Calvary for our sins. God has also given us a mind with which to think and to make decisions. In Luke's Gospel chapter 5, verse 32, the Lord says, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." In II Peter 3:9 we're told that God is "longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." In Luke chapter 13, and in both verses 3 and 5, the Lord Jesus Christ warns, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
Well, there you have the choice before you. It is either "repent", or "perish". Yes, it is either "turn", or "burn". Which is it going to be? Are you going to continue depending upon your so-called "good works" or "religious rituals" to get you into Heaven? Are you going to continue on the broad road leading to the place of eternal torment which Jesus Christ calls "Hell"? Or are you going to admit that there is nothing you can do to either merit or inherit eternal life, and that you're going to repent of your sins and trust only in the precious blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse you from your sins? Friend, God declares in Deuteronomy 30:19,"I call Heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live." Friend, you can't say that you've never been warned!
Now looking briefly at the question as to "WHY is the command given?", we have the answer in Acts 17:31, "Because He hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness ..." Friend, the judgment for your sin will be both sure and solemn. God tells us that His judgment is as sure as was the resurrection of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who now sits enthroned at God's right hand in Heaven. In Hebrews 9:27 we read that "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the JUDGMENT." And that judgment will be based on what you have done with God's Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is further evidenced by what we read in Acts 17:32,33. Here we have the "RESPONSE TO THE ROYAL COMMAND". We're told that "some mocked". Yes, they rejected the command. We're also told that some said "We will hear thee again of this matter." Yes, they neglected the command. But, thank God, we're also told that some "clave unto him and believed." Yes, they accepted the command to repent, and today they are in the presence of God, Who gave the royal command.
Friend, are you going to reject, neglect or accept the royal command of God to REPENT? The decision is now entirely up to you. No one else can make it for you. So I plead with you, in love for your soul, and in view of eternity, to repent of your sin and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your own and personal Saviour. And Friend, if you do, you'll be saved for time and for all eternity - AND REMEMBER, MY FRIEND, THIS IS FOR ETERNITY !
Evangelist: Minor C. Hawk