When the sinner is convicted by the Holy Spirit of the seriousness of sin and of judgment to come, and cries to the Lord to save him, he has, of course, repented, or changed his mind, as the Greek word signifies. Many of God’s servants, however, considering only the fact that sinners need such a change of mind, conclude that the way to produce the greatest results in their ministry is to stress repentance.
Such should take note of the response to the three great calls to repentance by which the dispensation of the Law was brought to a close: John the Baptist called Israel to repentance but was beheaded as a result (Matt. 3:1-12; 14:3-10). The Lord Jesus took up the cry where John had left off (Matt. 4:17), but was crucified for it. After the resurrection He sent His disciples to preach “repentance and remission of sin…in His name” (Luke 24:47) but Jerusalem refused to repent and it was not long before blood again flowed, as Stephen was stoned to death and a great persecution followed (Acts 8:3).
The guilt of Israel’s impenitence increased too, as the call to repentance was intensified, for while John’s murder was permitted by the people, Christ’s was demanded by them, and Stephen’s was actually committed by them. Thus the so-called “Great Commission” was bogged down at the very start, for if Jerusalem and the covenant people refused to repent, what hope was there that the “nations” (Luke 24:47) would do so?
“But where sin abounded, GRACE did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might GRACE reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20,21).
After calls to repentance had failed, the ascended Lord stooped down to save Saul, the chief of sinners, on the road to Damascus, in anything but a repentant mood. Not by threatening or dealing with him in judgment, but by speaking to him in the tenderest tones He showed him the glory of His grace. This “trophy of grace” was then sent forth to proclaim “the gospel of grace”, and the merits of his crucified, glorified Lord.
This is why repentance was emphasized, indeed was the theme of God’s message, from John until Paul, while grace, proclaimed through the cross and received by faith, gradually displaced it as the theme of God’s message for “this present evil age” (Acts 20:24). source