And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. (Act 5:27-33)
“God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” Repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand. But we hardly ever speak of repentance like this. In fact most often we speak of forgiveness as being dependent upon repentance as something you do. Actually the two come together and with one another, and both are gifts from God, two sides of the same coin.
To understand this a person really has to understand the nature of sin. Too often we think of sin as these things we do or don’t do. Repenting then is a matter of not doing or doing. As the usual understanding goes, you make yourself worthy of forgiveness by repenting. By making amends in your life and cleaning it up. This scenario just doesn’t work. We fail to take into account that even those so called good things we do often end up being sinful. We fail to remember that it was with the temptation that we would become like God that we were deceived into sin. And this temptation remains strong with in our souls. We are constantly left thinking that if we just do this, or stop doing that we will make ourselves worthy of God. In essence we mean equal with God. That perhaps he can give us a little boost along the way. We don’t really want to trust in his forgiveness that is to have no other God’s before him. Instead we put ourselves before him, we want to trust in our own preparations, are own doings. It is precisely this that we need to repent of. And it is precisely this that we are incapable of repenting of.
There are plenty of things in our life we are capable of repenting of, drunkenness, and drug addiction, abusive language, reviling, and cowardice, pornography and prudishness, arrogance and low self-esteem, miserliness and squander. And half the time our repentance is one of falling in one ditch or the other straight down the road. Or as Luther likened it, we are like drunken peasants falling of first one side of the horse, then the other. This is especially true when repentance is something we think we do in preparation for forgiveness, or in order to maintain forgiveness.
However, scripture often speaks of repentance quite a bit differently than all of that. It’s often spoken of in the same breath as faith. Repent and believe! Repent and be baptized! Or here, God has exalted him to his right hand to give repentance and the forgiveness of sins. In other words, it is something we can’t actually do in and of ourselves. We can no more repent than we can believe. These things are beyond the ability of those who are dead in their trespasses and by nature children of wrath. So they are given as gifts with the forgiveness of sins. It is Jesus who gives repentance to you. This repentance is first and foremost a faith and trust in God who is faithful to forgive. It is a trust in his love over and above our ability to amend our own lives. And trusting in this, the repentance grows in proportion to the love we receive, little by little, and though there are always sins in our lives that need forgiving as our love for God grows, so does our love for all of those whom God loves, our family, our friends, neighbors and coworkers, a love that learns to forgiven them also, and wrestles with our own sins that hurt our relationships with others, as more and more we learn just how much it is we have been forgiven.