True Religion—Part 2 (Righteousness and Repentance)

Stan Crowley, Minister, Church of Christ at Schertz

True religion, religion that makes man acceptable to God, has several requirements. In a previous article, we discussed the first of these: revelation. If men do not rely on God's revealed will found in the Scriptures, they are trying in vain to please God without consulting what He has said men must do.

In this article, we will study two additional requirements of true religion: righteousness and repentance.

True religion requires righteousness

Even in man's definition of religion, there is the recognition of an obligation to his Creator.

Religion is "Recognition on the part of man of a controlling, superhuman power entitled to obedience, reverence, and worship; …." The New Century Dictionary (Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc.)

When man recognizes that he is the created, he should accept that he must live according to the wishes of the Creator.

In the Scriptures, acceptable living is called "righteousness." The apostle Paul says that living righteously is our goal: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age," (Titus 2:11-12 NKJV).

But, man does not always follow righteousness. Sometimes he turns away from what the Creator wants him to do. Each of us becomes a sinner, separated from God, when we sin. Paul writes that spiritual death " … spread to all men, because all sinned;" (Rom. 5:12 NKJV).

Some say that in the end God will look at our life in some sort of averaging process. If on balance we have done more good, He will save us. But, such is not the case, as the Scriptures clearly point out.

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God said: "But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die." (Ezek. 18:24 NKJV).

When we rebel, at that moment we are a rebel. Isaiah warns us: "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear." (Is. 59:2 NKJV).

When man abandons righteousness for the rebellion of sin, then he is in need of reconciliation with God, a process that begins with our third quality of true religion: repentance.

True religion requires repentance

Just as rebellion starts in the heart, rebellion begins to end in the heart—with a change of heart that the Scriptures call "repentance."

The right kind of repentance is the kind that starts with Godly sorrow. "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death." (II Cor. 7:10 NKJV). Note from this passage that not all sorrow puts one on the path to reconciliation. The sorrow that leads to a restored relationship with God is "godly sorrow," a sorrow that is directed toward God.

But, the reconciliation process does not end with sorrow and repentance. The change in heart (repentance) must lead to a change in our behavior (a turning). This was true in the days of Ezekiel: "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin." (Ezek. 18:30 NKJV). It is still true under the Law of Christ. Those who "repent and turn to God," must then perform "deeds appropriate to repentance" (Acts 26:20 NASB).

You cannot be saved without the change of heart and the change in action, although there are some who seem to try. Some claim they have a renewed heart, but continue the same behaviors. They do not have the "deeds" that show a true repentance.

Others, interestingly enough, have made the change in action without the change of heart!! There are those who have at times been unrighteous—they have been dishonest, or immoral, or hurtful to others. They have since ceased that kind of behavior. However, they quit to escape man's punishment or to live lives that were more acceptable according to the standards of their community or their families.

They have indeed changed their behavior, but it was not sorrow directed toward God that changed them. And, when they now recall their past unrighteous behavior, they often do so with joy and perhaps boasting!! There has been no sorrow directed toward God because of the way they have rebelled against His laws and disappointed and hurt Him.

God tells us the kind of repentance He is looking for and warns that those who do not repent will perish (Luke 13:3 NKJV). True religion requires repentance toward God and a change in actions.

In the next issue, we will discuss the final "R" of true religion, the sometimes controversial topic of "remission."

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