God Commands Everyone Everywhere to Repent

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it seems as though we have adjusted to the idea that there is a killer virus affecting an increasing number of people. The CDC has an elaborate, well-organized, and easy to navigate website with all the information necessary for COVID, including help for those who have become sick (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/). How many folks have looked at the page and how many others assume they already know enough to be “okay?” Perhaps if you aren’t going anywhere (at all) or interact with no one outside your immediate household (no one), you may not need help. How many of us are doing that or even want to? It’s easy to overlook someone’s ignorance at the beginning of a new crisis, but as the trauma takes on a long-range character, ignorance is inexcusable. Not knowing what to do about my child’s failing grades, my newly discovered cancer, our inability to pay our bills due to work loss, or my grief over a family member’s death is understandable in the beginning. But, as time goes on, the pressure builds to have a resolution or an approach that might lead to a solution. When I think of how we are managing during the 2021 extension of the pandemic, I also think of how we are handling our spiritual needs. We all need a greater hope, a better future, and a goal or objective to aim for if we want to operate at our best possible potential. We don’t give up if we are committed to a life of intentional integrity. And God never gives up on us as we seek his help and glory. Unbelievers do not have the Holy Spirit’s help, so God commands all people to repent, to find their hope in Christ—not a vaccine, a cure for cancer, the educational approach that will work, or the job that will guarantee financial independence. Most people within reach of the internet have heard the truth of God’s Word and the name of Jesus Christ for salvation. What is God doing now for the unrepentant? He’s doing what he has always done, commanding them to repent. “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31) 

God overlooked ignorance before Christ’s incarnation but now commands repentance in light of Christ’s atoning work and future judgment. “Paul’s address begins in verse 22. It is a classic…He has a short but brilliant introduction, followed by four clear points: (1) God is the Creator of all things; (2) God is the sustainer of all things; (3) God is the ordainer of all things; and (4) we should seek him. Paul concludes that we should repent since we have not sought God as we should…We can see why Paul calls for repentance. He has not spoken of the gross immorality of the Athenians, though he could have. He has not spoken of the intellectual arrogance of the philosophers, though he could have. There was a sense in which the Greeks did not know any better in these areas.” (1) God is the one doing everything to bring the Greeks and us to repentance. In the past, he overlooked ignorance of the gospel, he fixed a day for judgment, and he raised Jesus from death, giving us assurance of a resurrection. In the future, he will judge the world. At this present time and throughout the church age, he commands everyone everywhere to repent. Except God is the only One “mighty to save.” (Isaiah 63:1) “By the words ‘to save’ we understand the whole of the great work of salvation, from the first holy desire onward to complete sanctification. The words are multum in parvo [much in little]: indeed, here is all mercy in a word. Christ is not only ‘mighty to save’ those who repent, but He is able to make men repent. He will carry those to heaven who believe; but He is, moreover, mighty to give men new hearts and to work faith in them. He is mighty to make the man who hates holiness love it, and to constrain the despiser of His name to bend the knee before Him. And this is not all the meaning, for the divine power is equally seen in the after-work…He is mighty to keep His people holy after He has made them so, and to preserve them in His fear and love until He consummates their spiritual existence in heaven.” (2) God’s saving grace is irresistible, so his command to repent will not fail for the elect. “Though God only is the author of conversion, it is of great importance to stress the fact, over against a false passivity, that there is also a certain co-operation of man in conversion. The New Testament represents conversion as a deed of man 26 times, and speaks of it only 2 or 3 times as an act of God. It should be borne in mind, however, that this activity of man always results from a previous work of God in man, Lam. 5:21; Phil. 2:13. That man is active in conversion is quite evident from such passages as Isaiah 55:7; Jeremiah 18:11; Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11; Acts 2:38; 17:30, and others.” (3) What the Lord plans, he does, without fail.

The Lord is no longer overlooking the excuse of ignorance, so we should make our concern for the unrepentant a priority. We are to pray for and witness to those who are unrepentant because of Christ in us. Acts 14:16-17 offers some insight into the “ignorance” that God overlooked. “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” “Until the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s special redemptive revelation was addressed almost exclusively to Israel, leaving the pagan nations largely in ignorance (except for the general revelation throughout the cosmos, that left them without excuse, Rom. 1:18-25). God did not impose on the Gentiles the judgment they deserved, and now He has sent Paul to proclaim His truth to all people everywhere, calling them to repentance.” (5) “We need the message of repentance for our generation too, though we are far guiltier than the Greeks. Besides, we need it for ourselves if we have not yet repented. Christianity does not begin by saying, ‘You’re a very good fellow’ and ‘everything is going to be nice for you if you will just get in touch with God.’ Christianity says, ‘You have failed to seek after God. You have gone your own way. You are willfully ignorant. Therefore, God commands that you repent of that ignorance.’ As we repent, God holds out the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.” (6)

‘He will judge the world’ (v. 31) means that God holds people accountable. Later, in Acts 18:5-6, we learn that “When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’” “Your blood be on your own heads reflects Ezekiel’s words about God’s prophetic watchman (Ezek. 33:1–7). ‘Blood’ means ‘the responsibility for your judgment by God.’ Paul had faithfully discharged his responsibility, so that at the final judgment no part of these Jews’ failure to believe could be attributed to his failure to tell them about Christ.” (7) “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26) The best good news during the pandemic, and in any season of life, is that “If a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:21-23) God never commands what is impossible, by his grace. Should this not encourage us to testify to those who claim to be ignorant?

Additional Related Scripture: Psalm 9:8; 96:13; 98:9; Mark 6:10-12; Romans 1:1-7; Ephesians 4:18; Titus 2:11-12; 1 Peter 1:14; 4:3; Revelation 20:12-15.

  1. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Acts of the Apostles,” Acts 17:16-34, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  2. Truth For Life, “The Best Proof,” January 14, https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/daily-devotionals/1/14/1/
  3. Boice, Ibid.
  4. Berkoff, L., Systematic Theology, Acts 17:30—(p. 490), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1993. 
  5. The Reformation Study Bible, Acts 17:30, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015. 
  6. Boice, Ibid.
  7. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Acts 18:6, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

January 15, 2021

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