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Repentance - Introduction



DO YOU NEED TO REPENT TO BE SAVED?

WHAT DOES THE WORD "REPENT" MEAN?


SHORT ANSWER: Yes, you must repent to be saved.  To repent means to change your mind. 

As used in Scripture in relation to salvation, repent means to have a change of mind towards God: so that you agree that God is Holy, you are sinful and God is just condemn you to hell for your sin.  This change of mind involves personal faith and trust in Jesus and his death as the only way to be saved.  It is a change of mind from prideful rebellion to humble submission.  It is a change that will be evidenced by fruit or works (Matthew 2:8; Acts 26:20). 

While the fruit or works (turning from sin and doing good) will not save (Ephesians 2:8-10) and therefore are not the same as repentance, they are still the expected outcome of genuine repentance. 

Don't stop with a short answer.  Equip yourself (2 Timothy
2:15, 3:16-17; 1 Peter 3:15; Acts 17:11).


Do you need to repent to be saved?



First of all, it's important to understand that the word, "repent" is one of the most important words in the Bible.  The the very first word recorded from the lips of Jesus (in what many believe to be the first Gospel) is “repent” (Mark 1:15).   John the baptist called people to repent and so did the first disciples.  In fact, the Bible makes it absolutely clear that ALL must repent for, God “commandeth all men everywhere to repent:” (Acts 17:30).  

Not only must all repent, but the Bible also makes it clear that repentance is necessary for salvation, eternal life, forgiveness from God.  Consider the following passages of Scripture...

  • God has granted unto both Jew and Gentile “repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).   
  • Jesus said, “unless you repent you will perish” (Luke 13:3, 5)
  • God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9)
  • John the baptiser preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Luke 3:3)
  • Jesus came as Saviour to give “repentance… and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31)
  • “godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10; see also, Isaiah 30:17)
  • “Repentance and forgiveness of sins” is to be preached to all nations (Luke 24:47).  

It is clear beyond doubt that all people are commanded by almighty God to repent.  It is also clear that people need to repent to be saved from the penalty of sin.  But what exactly does repentance mean? 

What does "repent" mean?



Some say that repentance is a "change of mind".  This is the view which we hold to.  Others believe it also means to "turn from your sins".  One well known evangelist said, “to partake in that gift of salvation, do you know what you should do..... you've gotta repent (that is: turn from your sins once and for all)".   While some of his writings show that he believes repentance means a change of mind, this does not appear to be the focus of his message when preaching to the lost about how to be saved.   So let's stop a moment and ask some searching questions...

Is that true?  Do you need to turn from your sins once and for all to be saved?
Is that possible?  Has anyone ever turned from all their sins, once and for all?

Of course, anyone who has ever read the Bible, Christian or not, will discover that God calls everyone to turn from their sins, from their wicked ways, to stop doing evil and to do good.  But we’re NOT asking, “Does God call people to turn from their sins?”  Of course he does!  We ARE asking, “Does a correct interpretation of the word repent mean to, “turn from your sin” (so you may be saved)? 

Hopefully this will become clearer as you read the rest of this page.

As we dig into the meaning of the word “repent” let’s remind ourselves that we are commanded in the Bible to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).  If we do not rightly divide (discern, understand) the word of truth, we will not have the truth, but something else!   If we don’t have the truth, we will end up preaching another gospel (Galatians 1:8) and/or a damnable heresy (2 Peter 2:1).  And because as we've already discovered, people must repent to be saved, it is then of eternal significance that we understand exactly what this word means. 

To understand what any word means in the Bible we need to look at two things…

1.    The meaning of the word in its original language.
2.    How that word is used on the pages of Scripture.

So let’s apply those two principles above to discover what the word “repent” means.

Meaning of "repent" in the original language


The English word repent, is used 34 times in the NT to translate the Greek verb, μετανοέω (metanoéō) and the word, repentance is used 23 times to translate the Greek noun, μετάνοια (metanoia = repentance).
 
The words metanoéō and metanoia are made up of two words each.  Meta and noéō. 

Used on it's own, meta means "with" (eg. "Behold, a virgin shall be with child" - Matthew 1:23) or "after" (eg. "After these things, Jesus walked in Galilee" - John 7:1).  It can also be used as a prefix before other words as you will see below.  Consider the use of meta as found in the words, “metamorphosis” and “metanoéō”. 

Metamorphosis Metanoéō
Meta = with, change, afterwards, altered Meta = with, change, afterwards, altered
Morphe = shape, outward appearancenoéō = mind, to think
Metamorphosis = to change physical shape or outward appearance, to make a different shape.Metanoéō = to change your mind or think differently after, re: someone/ something *
Examples:  Change of shape to Butterfly
                    Change of shape to Frog
Example:  Change of mind towards God.
“repent and turn to God” (Acts 2:38) “repentance toward God (Acts 20:21)

* Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance G3340; Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words; Thayers Greek Definitions; SearchGodsWord.org

Repent as used in Scripture (A) a change of mind?


At the most simple level of understanding, we have seen that "repent" is a word that describes something that happens with your MIND; in particular, to think differently or to change your mind.  Most importantly, the Bible makes it clear that a change of mind towards God (Acts 2:8, 20:21) is a necessary condition for salvation.  This condition (the need for repentance) applies to ALL people EVERYWHERE, both Jew and Gentile (Acts 11:18, 17:30; 2 Corinthians 7:10). 

Two questions that arise from this are...

(a) What do all people everywhere need to change their minds about, to be saved? 
(b) What is the relationship between a change of mind and a change of life?


A.  What do all people everywhere need to change their minds about, to be saved? 

Since the Bible says that Jesus came to call sinners to repent (Luke 5:32) we need to ask: what is it about the attitude of the sinners' mind that needs changed so that they can be saved?  As we look at Scripture, several things stand out as characterising the mind of an unsaved sinner. 

The Bible describes those who need to repent as having minds that...

  • Love darkness and their deeds are evil (John 3:19). 
  • Do not believe in Jesus as God's Son, come to save sinners (John 3:18, 36)
  • Have no fear of God (Romans 3:18)
  • Are self righteous and believe in their own goodness (Proverbs 16:2, 30:12)
  • Deny God's existence and do not glorify him (Romans 1:21)
  • Are "carnally MINDED", and live to please the flesh, not God (Romans 8:5-8)
  • Are enemies of God in their MINDS through wicked works (Colossians 1:21)

Everything in the list above speaks of prideful rebellion against God.  This is what got Satan cast out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12-15; Revelation 12:4a).  The opposite is to be true of a person who is saved.  For example, they are no longer enemies of God in their minds (Romans 7:21-23, 24-25, 8:5-7).  Their minds have gone from prideful rebellion to humble submission (1 Peter 5:6; James 4:10). 

Repentance, as a change in the attitude of the mind towards God, can be explained like this:

To repent means to to humble yourself before God in the attitude of your MIND so you admit that:

(1) God alone is Holy,
(2) you are sinful and
(3) God is just to condemn you to hell for your sin.

This acknowledgement before God with brokenness of heart (Psalm 34:18, 51:17) is not a work of the flesh.  It is an attitude of the mind such as that of the prodigal son who simply gave up resisting the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 7:51) and came to his senses (Luke 15:17).  It is an attitude of mind that does not achieve anything but simply submits to the tug of the Holy Spirit as God the Father draws the sinner to the Saviour (John 6:44, 65) and opens their eyes (eg. Luke 24:45, Acts 9:17).  Repentance, a change of mind towards God, is only possible through Grace!

Of course, faith too is involved but the focus here is on understanding what a person needs to repent about (change their mind about) to be saved

Repent as used in Scripture (B) a change of life?


All people everywhere need to repent: they need to come to their senses and admit, God is Holy, they are sinful and God is just to condemn them for their sin.  Related to our understanding of what a person needs to change their mind about is another question...

B.  What is the relationship between a change of mind and a change of life?

We have seen that repentance is a change in the attitude of a person’s MIND towards God, which is necessary for salvation.  But as well as a change of mind could repentance also mean, a change of life or lifestyle?  In other words, do the Scriptures support a view that repentance means to, "turn from sin" and that you need to turn from sin to be saved? 

Our answer is that while turning from sin to doing good is the expected OUTCOME of repentance it is not the SAME as repentance and it is not therefore necessary for salvation.  Here's why...

Apart from the fact that the word "repent" does not mean, "turn from sin", turning from sin (the fruit of repentance) is not always evident (obvious, visible) in the ways expected.  Who of you reading this as Christians can honestly say that you have turned from all your sins, once and for all.  Are there not some sins that still hang on years or even decades after you repented (changed your mind towards God, self and sin) and put your trust in Christ for salvation?  Because of this reality in the Christian life that even the apostle Paul admitted he struggled with (Romans 7:18-20), there are many places in the Bible that exhort "saints" (Christians) who had repented (Romans 1:7), to also turn from sins (Romans 6:1-2).   They were saved, but still needed sanctified.

A change of MIND towards God, is expected to lead to changes in your LIFE towards God but that does not always happen.  If a person says they have repented and trusted Christ for salvation but continue to struggle, for example, with the sin of "gossip", does this mean that person is not saved?  No, not necessarily.   They could be a false convert but they could also be a Christian who has struggled to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).  Who doesn't! 

There was a whole city of Christians in the Bible who struggled to produce fruit worthy of repentance.  The Corinthians!  In his first letter to these people, Paul addresses them as "saints" (those made holy by the blood of Christ), true Christians (1 Corinthians 1:2).  Along with  other Gentiles these converted Gentiles living in Corinth (one of the most morally corrupt cities at that time) had been granted repentance unto life (Acts 11:18).  However, they were were not producing fruit worthy of repentance (eg. 1 Corinthians 6:5-6).  They were in fact very carnal and controlled by worldly desires (1 Corinthians 5:1).  Despite their carnal lives, the Bible makes it clear that they were "sanctified in Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 1:2) which is only possible through repentance (Luke 3:3) and faith  (Acts 10:43). 

If the Corinthian Christians needed to turn from their sins as a condition for salvation, then Paul would not have addressed them as sanctified saints.

It is important to note that while repentance (a change in the attitude of your mind towards God) is a condition of salvation; turning from sin (changes in your life) are not.  Repentance (a change of mind towards God) is a condition for salvation, turning from sin (a change of life) is not.  So it is not possible to claim that repentance means to "turn from your sins".   If you needed to "turn from sin" to be saved, no one would be saved!!!

No amount of turning from sin/evil and doing good will save you otherwise that would be salvation by your own merit (good works do not save - Ephesians 2:8-10).  However, while "repent" does not mean to turn from sin, it does prepare the way for turning from sin.  This is why the Bible speaks of fruit/works "meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20; Matthew 3:8).  Turning from sin is the next step after repenting and turning to God.  

The Bible describes the relationship between a change of mind and a change of life like this:

"Repent and turn to God and do works meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20).

(1) repent (a change in the attitude of your mind about God, self and sin)
(2) and turn to God and (faith in Jesus is implied: Hebrews 11:6; Acts 21:20)
(3) and do works (produce fruit - Matthew 3:8) meet for repentance

Please notice that doing works worthy of repentance comes AFTER repentance AND turning to God.  Repentance first.  Turning to God next.  Then works.  Numbers 1 and 2 above are necessary conditions for salvation (Mark 1:15).  Number three (works) is not.  See more on this below under the heading about "meet for repentance".

The following Scriptures are examples of showing that repentance is not the same as turning from sin.  They show that repentance comes BEFORE turning from sin and that turning from sin is a specific thing that flows on AFTER and out of repentance; just like baptism and belief come AFTER repentance.

Repent ye AND       believe the gospel (Mark 1:15)
Repent AND            be baptized (Acts 2:38)
Repent AND            turn to God (Acts 2:38)
[Repent] AND         do works meet for repentance (Acts 26:20)
[Repent] AND          bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: (Matthew 3:8)
Repent AND            do the first works (Revelation 2:5)
Repent AND            turn [yourselves] from all your transgressions (Ezekiel 18:30)
Repent, AND           turn [yourselves] from your idols; (Ezekiel 14:6)
[Repent] AND          turn away your faces from all your abominations.  (Ezekiel 14:6)
Repent AND            make supplication [pray] unto thee (1 Kings 8:47)
Repented AND        went [and worked in his father’s vineyard] (Matthew 21:29)
Repent…  AND       be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;  Acts 3:19  (“Repent ye therefore and be converted….”)

Before anyone can: believe the gospel, be baptized, turn to God, do works “meet” for repentance, turn from transgressions, pray in a way that makes prayer acceptable to God, be converted…. THEY MUST REPENT!  They must have a change of mind about God, self and sin.

NONE OF THESE THINGS associated with repentance (eg. baptism, turning from transgressions, prayer, believing) actually mean repentance (a change of mind).  They are instead, the RESULT of a change of mind (towards God).  So it is not sound doctrine to say that repentance means or is equal to turning from sin any more than to say that repentance means or is equal to baptism or prayer!  And it is certainly not sound doctrine to say that you need to turn from sin as a condition for salvation.

The Bible has made a very clear distinction between repentance and the things that flow from repentance.  The Bible puts it like this:

"Repent and turn to God and do works meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20).

"Meet for Repentance"



Will FRUIT or WORKS save you?

 
Both Acts 26:20 and Matthew 3:8 contain the phrase, "meet for repentance".   A careful look at this phrase shows clearly that fruit (Matthew 3:8) and works (Acts 26:20) are something that come AFTER repentance.  So for that reason alone, fruit/works cannot be the same as repentance and therefore are not necessary for salvation.  

The fruit or work meet for repentance is also something that a person DOES.  Fruit comes from labour; something a person is commanded to "bring forth" (Matthew 3:8).  Works also involve labour; something a person is commanded to "do" (Acts 26:20).  In stead of doing evil, they have turned from evil and are doing good (Psalm 34:14, 37:27).  In the New Testament, God's people are called to put away, rid themselves of, things like: malice, hypocrisy, envy, evil speaking and commanded to produce the fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11, 1 Peter 2:1; James 1:21). 

Turning from evil and doing good, while they bring blessing for those who "do" them, do not save. 

The word for meet is ἄξιος "axios" (an adjective - ie. it describes a noun; in this case, the word "repent").  Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words explains that "axios" has the meaning of being of "weight, value, worth"; also "befitting, becoming, right on the ground of fitness,"   Strong's Hebrews and Greek Dictionaries and Thayer's Greek Definitions bring the same understanding of meet.

From this understanding of the Greek word, "axios" the passages in Acts can be interpreted as "...that they should repent and turn to God, and do works becoming or befitting [appropriate] for repentance."  It could also be interpreted as, "...that they should repent and turn to God, and do works on the ground of repentance."  We need to be clear on this: works are the expected evidence of salvation, not a condition for it.

Axios (meet) is also used in 1 Corinthians 16:4 and 2 Thessalonians 1:3 in the same way it is used in the Acts and Matthew passages.  In Corinthians and Thessalonians it is used to describe a response that follows on AFTER a previous event.  That response is one that is worthy, appropriate to, befitting of... the event that came BEFORE.  But it is not the SAME as the event.

Fruit/works (a person's turning from sin and doing good) are NOT equal to biblical repentance (a change of mind) towards God! (and faith in Jesus Christ Acts 20:21). They are instead "meet for repentance".  They happen AFTER repentance.  They are appropriate, worthy, expected and even commanded responses that should follow on AFTER repentance.  Understanding the phrase, "meet for repentance" is further evidence that to "repent" does not mean to, "turn from sin".  Repentance is a change of mind towards God from prideful rebellion to humble submission.  Turning from sin can only happen after repentance. 

EXAMPLE: a person first repents of the sin of gossip first by having a change in the attitude of their mind towards God and self on this matter.  They then turn from the sin of gossip by stopping gossip and finding more constructive ways to speak.  God expects the person who has repented of gossip, to then produce fruit meet for one who has had a change of mind about the evils of gossip and the grip it has had on their life. 

"Godly sorrow worketh repentance"



Can you be saved by being sorry for your sins?

The Bible says that repentance that saves, comes from someone who has "godly sorrow" for their sin (2 Corinthians 7:10a -"godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation").  The Bible puts “godly sorrow” BEFORE repentance and “repentance” BEFORE to salvation .  Godly sorrow is the brokenness of heart (Acts 2:37; Psalm 51:17) that comes as you realise how truly wicked you are before God (seeing the true filth of your sin) and are concerned that you have offended your creator with your wickedness and  are powerless to do anything about it (Psalm 51:4; Luke 15:21).  It is this godly sorrow, that leads to repentance and turning to God for mercy (Psalm 44:4).  

While godly sorrow works repentance unto salvation, there is another kind of sorrow that leads to death (2 Corinthians 7:10b).  The Greek word used to describe Judas' sorrow (translated as "repented himself") is "metamelomai" and means to have remorse or regret for your sin (Matthew 27:3-5).  However, this remorse does not imply a change in the attitude of your mind towards God - from rebellion to submission.  It is not "godly sorrow" (like the godly sorrow the Corinthians showed when Paul rebuked them - 2 Corinthians 7:9).  Judas expressed sorrow for actions he regretted.  But this kind of repentance ("metamelomai") was not a change of mind towards God (Acts 21:20).  While it may be argued that  giving the money back was fruit worthy of repentance (Acts 26:20), hanging himself was not. 

The Bible says, "repent AND turn to him [God] to have your sins blotted out..." (Acts 3:19).  Judas' repentance did not come from godly sorrow and his repentance (metamelomai) was not the kind of repentance (metanoéō) that the Bible uses to indicate a change of mind towards God: from prideful rebellion to humble submission.  As a result, Judas sins were not blotted out and he was eternally damned (John 17:12).

While some may repent, their sins are not blotted out because their repentance is NOT repentance towards God (Acts 20:21). They have no GODLY sorrow for sin and continue in the sin of unbelief.  All they have is regret or remorse for their actions.  This may motivate them to change some of their ways but because they still reject Jesus Christ, God is still against them and his wrath hangs over them (John 3:16, 36).  In the Bible, when people are called to repent, it is a call to "repent AND turn to God" (Acts 26:20);  not just to live a better life but turn to God who gives us life and blots out sin. 

Repentance and Faith



What's the connection between Repentance and Faith?

While we haven't spoken of it much till now (because it is not the focus of this study), it needs to be said that repentance cannot be separated from faith.  The connection is clearly seen in Jesus words, "Repent AND believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15) and also the disciples who preached "repentance toward God AND faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21)".  

You are saved by grace through faith and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-10).  And, as with repentance, faith is not a work (something you achieve).  Agreeing with God that he is holy, you are sinful and God is just to condemn you to hell for your sin and crying out to God for the mercy he offers through Jesus Christ, is not something you achieve.  It is not a "work" or a "fruit".  It is simply giving in, giving up, admitting the gospel truth about God and yourself and accepting the gift of salvation that is freely offered.  You have done nothing to deserve it.

Of the two, repentance must happen before faith.  Consider Jesus words to certain chief priests and Jewish elders, "For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him" (John 21:32).  Note the words we have underlined.  From these we can see that BEFORE the chief priests and Jewish elders could put their personal faith in Jesus, they needed to repent (have a change of mind towards God, as revealed to them through Jesus Christ).  

God commands ALL people EVERYWHERE to repent (Acts 17:30).  It is not just a call to Jews to change their minds about Christ being the messiah.  The Bible makes it clear that both JEW and GENTILE are called to repentance toward God and faith toward Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).  Both Jew and Gentile needed to recognise Jesus as the only Saviour for sin.  To be saved from sin's penalty, you must "repent AND believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15).

Repent - Summary


Let's revise the key points of this study beginning with identifying two important factors in salvation that we have only touched on lightly.

Repentance is a condition of salvation as outlined below....

(1) God the Father draws sinners to Jesus (John 6:44)
(2) The Holy Spirit brings conviction (John 16:8) through the law (Galatians 3:24; Romans 7:7)

(3) Godly sorrow for sin (not worldly regrets) leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10)
(4) Repentance (Luke 13:3) that saves involves a change of mind towards God (Acts 20:21)
(5) Faith in Jesus and his death for sinners, must go with repentance (Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21)

Number six below is not a condition of salvation but it should be preached that sinners turn from sin.

(6) The repentant sinner is commanded to do works worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20).  

YES, repentance (a change of mind towards God - that flows from godly sorrow) is necessary for salvation.  And so is faith.  Repentance and Faith being different sides of the same coin.  They go together and are inseparable so far as Christian salvation is concerned.  You don't repent, and then later on decide to put your faith in Christ and his death to save you because repentance is a change of mind towards God and Jesus Christ is God! 

It is also not possible to put your faith in Jesus Christ without first repenting.  Of the two, repentance (a change of mind) must come first.  We see this in the example of certain people who "repented not afterward, THAT ye might believe him" (Matthew 21:32).  We also see this in statements like the following, "Repentance toward God and faith AND faith in our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).  Faith and repentance go together with repentance coming first.   [the emphasis on "that" and "and" in these two verses is ours]

NO, repentance does not mean turning form sin or forsaking sin.  If it did, that would make repentance a work of the flesh and we know that works cannot save (Ephesians 2:8-10).  Forsaking or turning from sin (works worthy of repentance) is a fruit of repentance (Matthew 3:8), not repentance itself.

Repentance is something that happens with your MIND in your attitude towards GOD.  Repentance is a change of mind towards God.  Repentance is a change from prideful rebellion to humble submission.  Repentance means to humble yourself before God in the attitude of your MIND so you admit that God alone is Holy, you are sinful and God is just to condemn you to hell for your sin.  Such repentance will lead you to the cross and saving faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15).

"But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." —Romans 4:5