The wages of sin is death," proclaimed the Apostle Paul. And every human being has contributed his or her share to the sins of this world. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," stated Paul to the Romans (Rom. 3:23). We have all walked contrary to God's way of life in the past. We have performed the works of the flesh — we have fulfilled the desires and lusts of our minds and our bodies. We have walked according to the course set for mankind by Satan the devil. "Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air [Satan], the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation [conduct] in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others" (Eph. 2:2-3). Pretty plain! We have all performed works which have led only to eternal death. As Paul put it: "What fruit had ye then in those things [sins] whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death" (Rom. 6:21). He also wrote that we were "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). We were, so to speak, on a sort of spiritual "death row" — awaiting the execution of a justly deserved ultimate capital punishment. We earned this penalty by simply doing what comes naturally — sinning.
The death penalty for sins has to be paid. But God in His vast mercy has provided a way by which you may avoid paying that extreme penalty. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). God is not willing that any human being should have to pay that final penalty for sin (see I Timothy 2:4 and II Peter 3:9). He wishes that all would claim the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, for the remission of their personal sins. This is the only means by which a person may avoid having to pay that terrible penalty in full. Jesus Christ became human flesh, lived a sinless life, and paid the death penalty on your behalf. He provided a way for you to enter into eternity! But there is something you must do. You must accept that sacrifice on your behalf by demonstrating that you no longer wish to continue in that sinful way of life which qualified you for death in the first place. You demonstrate your acceptance of Christ's sacrifice by changing your way of living. This change of direction is called "repentance" in Bible terminology.
But what do we repent of? Sin. The motions, actions or works which lead to death are simply defined as sin. Sin is the violation or transgression of any of God's great spiritual laws (I John 3:4). To repent simply means to "change direction." We turn from the way of self-indulgence to the way of give. We stop serving the lusts and desires of our own flesh and begin to serve others. We turn from selfishness to selflessness. When we demonstrate our willingness to change, God applies the sacrifice of Christ on our behalves. We are then free from the crushing guilt of sin. We are forgiven and our consciences are cleared. Paul explained it this way: "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb. 9:14.) How beautifully simple!
No amount of human works can bring about the forgiveness of sin. Even the great sacrificial laws of the Old Testament could not bring about forgiveness and a clear conscience. Those laws were only a type of what was to come. Paul explained that the Old Testament sacrificial system was "... a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience" (Heb. 9:9). These works also were "dead" in that they could not produce eternal life. They could not forgive sin. They could not erase the record. They were unable to purge the conscience of the guilt of sin. But they did picture or typify the great sacrifice of the Lamb of God — Jesus Christ. As long as those under the Old Testament administration kept the sacrificial law, they were depicting the sacrifice of the Son of God. Finally, when that great event actually occurred, it was no longer necessary to portray it in type. With the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, the sacrificial system of ancient Israel also perished. No amount of physical human works can effect forgiveness of sin. There is no way we can "make up" for sin. Beads, indulgences, penance, fastings, or afflicting one's flesh in some other way will not erase the guilt of sin. You cannot punish yourself for sin, and thus avoid God's punishment!
Only a repentant spirit will bring about God's mercy. God looks to those who are of a meek and a contrite spirit — those who tremble before the two-edged sword of His Word. God recognizes a broken spirit, a humble seeking for forgiveness and mercy. God will honor the attitude of all who are willing to turn from works and deeds which are sinful and which result only in death. We are admonished through the writing of Matthew: "Bring forth therefore fruits meet [fit to show] for repentance" (Matt. 3:8). True godly repentance is a gift from God. It is not something that can be "worked up" from within the human psyche. God instructs His ministers to be "in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth ..." (II Tim. 2:25). Paul said "... the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance" (Rom. 2:4). And in the book of Acts, we find that God has "... also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18). Those desiring a godly repentance must seek it from God. True repentance represents a permanent change of direction. It is a commitment to a course from which there is no turning back. It is not a temporary sawdust-trail, tear-jerking emotional response. It is something much deeper and vastly more profound. "And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). Repentance represents a total commitment — a point of no return. It places you on a course directly into eternal life. It represents a complete forsaking of the dead works of your former way of life. It is the first major step into eternity! Is it any wonder then that God includes "repentance from dead works" as one of the basic and most fundamental of all Christian doctrines?