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What Is Repentance?

What is repentance?  Is it turning from sin?  Is it not sinning?   Is it reforming one's life?  Is it getting cleaned up first, before coming to Christ?

No word causes greater trepidation and uncertainty among those considering a decision of faith and no word causes greater fear and confusion among those already in the Church.

This word has caused me some of the greatest angst in my life, largely because of how I've understood it: turning from sin, reforming my ways, being perfect.  Yet I continue to fail.  Daily.  This incredible dichotomy exists in my mind between the biblical promise that my sin debt was paid in full on the Cross - His righteousness is my righteousness - and the street preacher who yells, "repent of your sins or suffer hell-fire!"  Often these repentance preachers direct their admonition not at unbelievers, but at believers they perceive as sinful and wayward.

Many times I've been tempted to buy into their line of thinking, yet what I discover every time I do is that the Cross becomes of no importance to me - I stop valuing what Jesus did for me.  God requires me to be perfect, according to these preachers, so what use have I in the Cross?  What difference does it make that Jesus died for my sins if I have to continually carry their weight myself, atoning for them myself?  I might as well live under the Old Covenant, continually offering up my own sacrifices with no end in sight.

I also find that when I buy into their thinking that I become hard and unloving - unmerciful as it were, because if these preachers are right then God has not shown any mercy to me.  He still holds me to an impossible standard.

So what is repentance?

The Greek word in the New Testament and Septuagint is metanoia.

Strong's Concordance: to change one's mind or purpose.

NAS Exhaustive Concordance: to change one's mind or purpose.

Various other definitions give it as to change your mind, change your heart, convert.

Repentance is used some 46 times in the Old Testament, yet the majority of those times (28) it is God who does the repenting!  In other words, God had purposed in His mind to do something, yet He changed His mind.  He didn't turn from sin for He has no sin.  He didn't reform His ways for the Bible says that all His ways are perfect.  He simply changed what He had purposed to do.

Here are what faithful men, much wiser than I, have said about repentance:

Charles Spurgeon:

You must not expect that you will be perfect in 'repentance' before you are saved. No Christian can be perfect. 'Repentance' is a grace. Some people preach it as a condition of salvation. Condition of nonsense! There are no conditions of salvation. God gives the salvation himself...

Dr. Harry Ironside:

The Gospel is not a call to repentance, or to amendment of our ways, to make restitution for past sins, or to promise to do better in the future. These things are proper in their place, but they do not constitute the Gospel; for the Gospel is not good advice to be obeyed, it is good news to be believed. Do not make the mistake then of thinking that the Gospel is a call to duty or a call to reformation, a call to better your condition, to behave yourself in a more perfect way than you have been doing in the past …

Nor is the Gospel a demand that you give up the world, that you give up your sins, that you break off bad habits, and try to cultivate good ones. You may do all these things, and yet never believe the Gospel and consequently never be saved at all.

S. Michael Houdmann:

Many understand the term repentance (from the Greek word metanoia) to mean “turning from sin.” This is not the biblical definition of repentance. In the Bible, the word repent means “to change one’s mind.” The Bible also tells us that true repentance will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8-14; Acts 3:19). Acts 26:20 declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.

What, then, is the connection between repentance and salvation? The Book of Acts seems to especially focus on repentance in regards to salvation (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). To repent, in relation to salvation, is to change your mind in regard to Jesus Christ. In Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), he concludes with a call for the people to repent (Acts 2:38). Repent from what? Peter is calling the people who rejected Jesus (Acts 2:36) to change their minds about Him, to recognize that He is indeed “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Peter is calling the people to change their minds from rejection of Christ as the Messiah to faith in Him as both Messiah and Savior.

Repentance and faith can be understood as “two sides of the same coin.” It is impossible to place your faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior without first changing your mind about who He is and what He has done. Whether it is repentance from willful rejection or repentance from ignorance or disinterest, it is a change of mind. Biblical repentance, in relation to salvation, is changing your mind from rejection of Christ to faith in Christ.

It is crucially important that we understand repentance is not a work we do to earn salvation. No one can repent and come to God unless God pulls that person to Himself (John 6:44). Acts 5:31 and 11:18 indicate that repentance is something God gives—it is only possible because of His grace. No one can repent unless God grants repentance. All of salvation, including repentance and faith, is a result of God drawing us, opening our eyes, and changing our hearts. God's longsuffering leads us to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), as does His kindness (Romans 2:4).

While repentance is not a work that earns salvation, repentance unto salvation does result in works. It is impossible to truly and fully change your mind without that causing a change in action. In the Bible, repentance results in a change in behavior. That is why John the Baptist called people to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). A person who has truly repented from rejection of Christ to faith in Christ will give evidence of a changed life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:19-23; James 2:14-26). Repentance, properly defined, is necessary for salvation. Biblical repentance is changing your mind about Jesus Christ and turning to God in faith for salvation (Acts 3:19). Turning from sin is not the definition of repentance, but it is one of the results of genuine, faith-based repentance towards the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jack Kelley:

What About Repentance?

Many in the Church today misunderstand the word repent. It comes from a Greek word that means “a change of opinion” not “a change of behavior.”

When John the Baptist told people to “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” (Matt. 3:2) he wasn’t telling them to change their behavior to be worthy to receive the kingdom, but to change their minds about their need for the Savior Who was coming. In other words he was warning them that even their best attempts to keep God’s Law would not suffice. Many subsequent passages warn us that our behavior can never meet God’s standards. We have a sin nature and without a Savior are hopelessly lost.

Someone who doesn’t think he’s sinning doesn’t ask for forgiveness, so asking for forgiveness is a sign that he’s changed his opinion about his behavior. That’s repentance, and that’s the standard I applied in my previous answer. At that point, the Holy Spirit can convict him and begin leading him toward the change in behavior God desires. But even the best of us still does things that we know are sin but can’t seem to stop doing. That’s why John said that the person who thinks he doesn’t sin is a liar and cautioned us to ask for forgiveness every time we sin (1 John 1:8-10).

As humans, we assign degrees of sinfulness to behavior. This allows us to condemn others whose behavior we think is worse than ours. But in God’s view all sin leads to death, and the Bible says that if we only break a single commandment, even if it’s only in our mind, we’ve broken them all. (Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28 & James 2:10). That’s why there are no degrees of salvation. We were all equally lost, and now as believers we’re all equally saved.

None of this is meant to condone either our own sins or the sins of others. But each of us has plenty of sin in our own lives to keep us busy repenting and confessing without going around condemning others for theirs. A sinner, of whatever sort, who recognizes their behavior as sin and asks for forgiveness has a right to receive it, and to benefit from our heartfelt prayers that that Lord would complete the good work He’s begun in their lives.

As an extra credit assignment, I suggest we all read the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:10-14)

What Does Repent Mean?

Q. I recently found the following definition for repentance. It’s different from others I’ve seen. Can you tell me if it’s correct?

The word in the New Testament usually translated “repent” is the Greek word “metanoeo”. It means “to change your mind; reconsider; or, to think differently.” Granted, if a person changes his mind (repents) toward certain sins in his life, he may become very sorrowful and may even stop committing those sins, but this would be a result of repenting, not repentance itself.

When God tells an unsaved man to repent, He means for that man to change his mind about how to reach God and accept His way of salvation. The person must change his mind from any idea of saving himself through religion or good works, and trust Christ’s death as payment for everything he has done wrong.

A. This is a great definition and the correct one. Thank you for sending it to me. Repent means to change your mind. If you already know you’re a sinner in need of a savior, you don’t need to repent to be saved, you just need to ask Jesus to save you. If you already know your behavior is a sin, you don’t have to repent, just confess.

Many of us were taught that repenting means to stop doing something, but if that was true we’d all have to stop sinning before we could ask Jesus to save us. Since we can’t stop sinning, none of us would ever be saved.

After we’re saved the Lord sends His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and help us change our behavior, but that happens after were saved, not before, and even then we really won’t ever completely stop sinning until we’re raptured or resurrected. That’s why we’ve been saved by grace through faith, not by works. (Ephes. 2:8-9)

Dr. Curtis Hutson:

There is no doubt that all men from Adam on have had to repent in order to have a right relationship with God. The importance of repentance is demonstrated by the fact that men of every biblical age preached it.

John the Baptist preached it in Mark 1:15 when he said, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel."

Paul preached it in Acts 20:21, "Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."

The Apostle John proclaimed its necessity in Revelation 2:5 when he exhorted the church at Ephesus, "Repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent."

And the Lord Jesus Christ Himself emphasized its importance when He said in Luke 13:3, "Except ye repent, ye shall all like-wise perish."

The problem is not preaching repentance; it is giving a wrong definition to the word. Down through the centuries "repent" has come to mean a far different thing than when it was spoken by John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, the Apostle John, and Jesus Christ Himself. If you look up "repent or repentance" in a modern dictionary, you will find such definitions as "to feel sorry or self-reproachful," "to be conscience-stricken," "to turn from sin."

Using these definitions, some have preached reformation instead of repentance. If you look up the Greek word translated "repent" in the King James Bible and used by Jesus, Paul, John and others in the New Testament, you will find that the word metanoeo means to think differently or afterwards, that is, to change the mind.

In this message on repentance, I want to discuss three things. First, faulty ideas about repentance; second, facts about repentance; and finally, faith and repentance.

Faulty Ideas About Repentance

We suppose there are many faulty ideas about repentance, but we will deal here with the more popular ones. Perhaps the most popular false idea is that repentance is turning from sin.

We have heard some well-known preachers say, "If you want to be saved, repent of your sins, turn from your sins." If turning from your sins means to stop sinning, then people can only be saved if they stop sinning. And it is unlikely that anyone has ever been saved, since we don't know anyone who has ever stopped sinning.

I recently asked a large congregation if there was anyone present who had not sinned in the last week to raise his hand, and not a single hand was lifted. I don't know of anyone who lives a single day without sinning. Now to be sure, you may not commit murder, adultery, or you may not rob a bank, but you sin nonetheless. Romans 14:23 says, "For whatsoever is not of faith is sin." That simply means that if we do anything without a conviction of God's approval, then it is sinful. And I suppose everyone is guilty of this every day of his life.

James 4:17 says, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."

When I was a small boy, I recall hearing an old preacher pray, "Lord, forgive us of the sins of omission as well as the sins of commission." There is such a thing as a sin of omission. The Bible says to leave undone something we know is good is a sin. And who hasn't sinned in this respect?

The book of I John is written to believers. And I John 1:10 says, "If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." The pronoun "we" in this verse refers to Christians, believers. For any believer to claim that he has not sinned is to make God a liar.

Several years ago I read a book by a professor at a fundamental university. Under the chapter on salvation, he said, "Quit your sinning, and God will give you a new heart." He presented repentance as turning from sin. I wrote this dear brother and expressed my concern, knowing that such teaching frustrates the unbeliever and makes him think that salvation is unattainable since he cannot live a sinless life. This professor wrote back that he had repented, that he had turned from his sins. When I wrote to ask if he had sinned after he was saved, he had to honestly answer the question and admit that he had. I explained that if he had sinned after he was saved, then he had not turned from his sins; he had only turned from part of them, that is, the ones he had not committed since he had been saved. He then agreed to change the statement in his book.

If repentance means turning from sin, and turning from sin means to stop sinning, then a person must live a sinless life in order to be saved. And if that is the case, then nobody could ever be saved, because there are no perfect people.

You don't get better to get saved; you get saved to get better. You can't get better until you do get saved. In reality, one can begin living better only after he is saved. When the individual trusts Christ as Saviour, he receives a new nature. Second Peter 1:4 says, "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature." With this new nature come new desires and new power to make the desires a reality.

We read in Philippians 2:13, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." It is the presence of God in the believer that gives him both the desire and power to live a better life. And no man has the indwelling Christ in the person of the Holy Spirit until after he is saved.

The Christian life is not an imitation of the Christ life; it is Christ living His life over again in us as we yield ourselves to Him. That is what Paul meant in Galatians 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."

Several years ago, after I finished preaching a Sunday morning service, several people trusted Christ as Saviour, including a lady and her five children. I noticed a man sitting on the same pew who did not respond. After the service, I spoke to him, while many of the members of the church were shaking hands with the lady, her children, and others who had trusted Christ that morning.

"Sir," I said, "is this your wife and children?"

"Yes," he replied.

I said, "Isn't it wonderful that they have trusted Christ as Saviour!"

"Yes," he replied.

Then I asked, "Have you trusted Christ as your Saviour?"

He dropped his head and said, "I'm afraid I haven't."

"May I ask why you haven't trusted Christ as Saviour?"

"Well," he said, "to be honest with you, I'm afraid I can't live it."

I suspected that this man had an idea that in order to be saved, he must promise God that he would never sin again, or he thought that repenting was turning from sin. So I pressed the issue. "What do you mean, you can't live it?"

"Well," he said, "I know that I will probably sin again."

I said, "Sir if getting saved is promising Jesus you will never sin again, then I would never get saved, because I know I cannot live a sinless life." I explained that to be saved one simply had to trust Jesus as Saviour. I opened the Bible to John 3:36 and read, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." Then pointing to the verse, I asked, "Does the verse say 'He that believeth on the Son and lives it has everlasting life'?"

"Oh, no," he replied.

"Then what does the verse say?"

"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life."

"Then must one believe on the Son and live it in order to be saved? Or must one simply believe on the Son, as the Bible says, to have everlasting life?"

"Well," he said, "I suppose that one must do what the Bible says - believe on the Son."

"Then will you trust Jesus Christ right now as your Saviour?"

With a smile on his face, he answered, "I certainly will." In a moment he joined his wife and children as the church members came by and shook hands, rejoicing with them in their decision to trust Christ as Saviour.

A few weeks later I received a call from a pastor a few miles out of Atlanta, Georgia. He said that a man, his wife, and five children had joined the church for baptism and told him that they were saved at Forrest Hills Baptist Church in Decatur Georgia. "Dr. Hutson," he said, "I thought you would like to know about it."

Of course I was happy to hear they had united with the church near where they lived. That family went on to become faithful workers in the church. They even bought their own bus and began a bus ministry, bringing scores of children and adults in to hear the Gospel.

I think there are many who would like to be saved but have been presented the faulty idea that repentance is turning from sin and therefore they are convinced that they cannot be saved. Oh, if we would only make salvation plain and explain to men that we are not saved by doing anything; rather we are saved by trusting in what Jesus has already done. He died two thousand years ago for our sins. He fully paid the sin debt, and the Bible says, "that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Now don't misunderstand me. We do not want to treat sin lightly, but then, we must not demand of an unbeliever that which is impossible for him to perform, and we must not make unbelievers feel that salvation is a hopeless, unattainable thing.

A second faulty idea is that repentance is sorrow for sin. The Bible says in II Corinthians 7:10, "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of...." Though godly sorrow may bring about repentance, it is not the same as repentance.

I'm afraid we have been guilty of building doctrines off our experience rather than the Bible. We must remember that the Bible is the principle, not man's experience.

We have heard well-meaning preachers tell of their experience of salvation and describe their weeping and sorrow and how miserable and low-down they felt before they were saved. In doing so, they suggest to the unbeliever that he must feel a certain amount of sorrow before he can be saved. If that is the case, then how much sorrow must a man feel and exactly how much must he weep and moan before God will save him? This kind of teaching suggests to us the false idea that God is basically unwilling to save sinners, and unless one softens the heart of God by his tears, then God will never accept him and grant forgiveness for sin.

The truth is, God is more willing and ready to save than we unbelievers are to simply trust Him to do it. As a matter of fact, God has done and is doing all He can to save men. Two thousand years ago He placed all our sins on His Son Jesus Christ and then punished Jesus in our place to pay the sin debt we owe so that when we die, we won't have to pay it. That is exactly what the Bible means in John 3:16, "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." In the matter of salvation, no amount of weeping or sorrow will coax God into doing something that He has not already done.

Remember when Jesus was on the cross, He cried, "It is finished!" (John 19:30), which means that the price for our salvation was paid in full. Nothing can be added to it and nothing can be taken from it. We don't need to weep, beg, or plead for God to do something He has already done. What we do is accept Him, trust Him.

The problem is not that God is adamant and unapproachable but that man will not respond.

The great evangelist D. L. Moody insisted that the inquirer was not to seek sorrow but the Saviour. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross and His shed blood is sufficient for the forgiveness of sins. Ephesians 1:7 says, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace."

Notice that forgiveness of sins is through His blood. It is not the death of Christ-plus sorrow; the death of Christ-plus tears; the death of Christ-plus mourning; or even the death of Christ-plus pleading. No, no, no! It is the death of Christ-period. The Word of God makes it clear that salvation is based entirely upon the death of Christ and the believer's faith or trust in Him. Acts 16:31 plainly says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." Believe. Not believe and weep, not believe and pray, not believe and mourn, not believe and feel sorrow for your sins, but believe, only believe.

I am glad when I see someone troubled over his sins, but we must be very careful in presenting the plan of salvation not to insist that a person have a certain degree of sorrow before he can be saved. That is not repentance, and such a requirement for salvation is not found in the Bible.

A third faulty idea about repentance is that it is reformation. Nearly all the religions of the world teach the idea that man must do something or be something in order to be saved. Some say you must join a particular church. If you don't belong to their particular group, then you cannot be saved. Others teach you must be baptized in water that the water actually washes away sin. Others teach you must be baptized in a certain way and by a certain preacher. Still others teach you must behave in a certain manner. They will often say, "If you don't straighten up, you are going to Hell!" Others teach that you must make certain resolutions or promises in order to be saved, and if you don't live up to those resolutions, then you are lost. If we could only understand the clear plan of salvation, it would surely help to clear up a lot of confusion.

Salvation is a gift and there is nothing we can do or be in order to earn it. All you can do with a gift is receive it. John 1:12 says, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name."

My beloved predecessor Dr. John R. Rice, used to say, "If you go to Hell, you pay your own way; but you go to Heaven on a free pass." He was certainly right. Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Salvation is a gift.

Reformation is good in its place, but when you make reformation repentance and a prerequisite for salvation, then it is wicked and evil. Salvation is of God, not of man. John 1:13 says, "Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." The expression, "not of blood," simply means that salvation is not inherited through the bloodline. No one is saved because his mother or father is a Christian. "...nor of the will of the flesh" means that there is nothing the flesh can do to earn salvation, including reformation. "...nor of the will of man" means there is nothing man can do to save himself. "...but of God" means that nothing of man enters into salvation.

If that be true, then man's behavior-good or bad-has nothing to do with obtaining salvation. Titus 3:5 says, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us...." Ephesians 2:8, 9 tells us, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." It is impossible to mix grace and works. Salvation is either by grace or works; it cannot be a combination of the two.

Notice the words of Romans 11:6, "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work."

Reformation as an instrument of salvation is absolutely futile, and repentance is not reformation. Reformation is an effort on the part of the individual to establish his own righteousness, and the Bible clearly teaches that we are not saved by our own righteousness but by the imputed righteousness of God. Look at Romans 10:1-4:

"Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth."

If we could reform and establish our own righteousness, that would not be sufficient. Says Isaiah 64:6 regarding our righteousnesses, "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags...." The best we can do is like filthy rags in the sight of a holy God. The only righteousness God accepts is His own, which is imputed to us the moment we trust Christ as Saviour.

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

My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus' blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus' name.

Repentance is not reformation.

No one will ever go to Hell who has put his trust in Jesus Christ, but many will end up in torment who have trusted their own righteousness and reformation. Matthew 7:22, 23 says:

"Many will say to me in that day Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

The people referred to in these verses are trusting their own works, their own righteousness, for salvation, when they ought to be trusting Jesus Christ completely.

A fourth faulty idea about repentance is that it is penance. Dr. Harry Ironside said:

"Penance is not repentance. Penance is the effort in some way to atone for wrong done. This man can never do, nor does God, in His Word, lay it down as a condition for salvation that one first seek to make up to either God or his fellows for evil committed.... On the contrary, the call was to repent, but between repentance and doing penance there is a vast difference."

Penance is a sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church involving the confession of sin and submission to penalties imposed, followed by absolution by the priest.

There is a penalty for sin, but God has only one such penalty and that is death. Ezekiel 18:4 reads, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death!" And James 1:15 tells us, "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."

God's penalty for sin is death, and this death is described in the Bible as the second death, the lake of fire - Revelation 20:14 says, "Death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." No amount of penance will pay for our sins.

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ paid for our sins two thousand years ago. First Peter 3:18 says, "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.... "The word "once" here does not mean once upon a time but once for all. The payment for sin was made once for all two thousand years ago when Jesus died on the cross for our sins. The Bible states in I Peter 2:24, "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree...." God imposed the penalty for our sins before Adam and Eve committed the first sin in the garden. In Genesis 2:17 He said, "....in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." And the penalty imposed by God before the fall was paid in full by Jesus Christ on the cross two thousand years ago. All that's left for us to do is accept what Jesus has done and trust Him completely for salvation.

Oh, why must we complicate the matter and confuse unbelievers as to how to be saved! "What must I do to be saved?" asked the Philippian jailor in Acts 16:30, and Paul replied in verse 31, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

Repentance is not penance.

Facts About Repentance

There is a vast difference between what men think the Bible says about repentance and what the Bible actually says. Here are a few facts about "repent" as it is found in its various forms in both the Old and New Testaments.

The word "repent" is found forty-five times in the King James Bible; "repentance" twenty-six times; "repented" thirty-two times; "repentest" one time; "repenteth" five times; "repenting" one time; and "repentings" one time - a total of 111 times in both the Old and New Testaments. The word in its various forms is found forty-six times in the Old Testament and sixty-five in the New. Of the forty-six times the word appears in the Old Testament, twenty-eight times God does the repenting, not man.

For instance, in Exodus 32:14 the Bible says, "And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people."

In addition to the twenty-eight times that God repents in the Old Testament, there are nine other passages that tell of things about which God does not or did not repent. Of the forty-six times a form of the word "repentance" appears in the Old Testament, only nine times is man doing the repenting. Thirty-seven times it has reference to God's repenting or telling us of things about which God did not or will not repent.

Now, if "repent" means to turn from sin, we have a problem. We have God turning from sin, and that is certainly inconsistent with Bible teaching. God is sinless and has no sin to turn from. But if "repentance" means a change of mind, then it is consistent. You have God changing His mind about some things, but you have at least nine things in the Old Testament about which God says He will not change His mind.

Now that makes sense. There are many things about which I would change my mind, but there are some things about which I will not change my mind. For instance, I will not "repent" or change my mind about the fact that the Bible is the Word of God. I will not "repent" or change my mind about the fact that Jesus is the virgin-born Son of God. I will not change my mind about the fact that salvation is by grace through faith. And there are other important matters about which I will not "repent" or change my mind.

On the other hand, there are some things about which I would "repent" or change my mind. I may plan a certain activity next week, but before the time arrives, I may change my mind and decide to do something else. As a matter of fact, my wife says I change my mind often; and she is probably right. I have said that I have a clean mind; I change it often. But there are some things about which I will not change my mind.

Now if I can change my mind about some things and not about others, then God can certainly do the same.

Sometimes in the Old Testament the word carries with it the idea of feeling sorry or regretful. Sometimes where the word is used, one is said to repent from what is wrong toward what is right. Other times it speaks of repenting from what is right toward that which is wrong. It is sometimes used in connection with sin, but the Word itself does not mean turning from sin; it means a change of mind. Another time "repentance" in the Old Testament is related to one's going back on his word. Numbers 23:19 says, "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?"

We mentioned earlier that "repentance" in its various forms is found sixty-five times in the New Testament. Fifty-eight of those times it is translated from the Greek words metanoia and metanoeo. According to a Greek dictionary of New Testament words, metanoia is the noun of metanoeo, and both words mean identically the same thing. The basic definition of the two words is "to change one's mind." The definition from the Strong's Concordance of metanoeo is, "to think differently, or afterwards, that is, reconsider."

It is these two Greek words that are always used to relate to salvation. No other Greek word translated "repent" or "repentance" is used in relation to salvation. The problem and confusion is not preaching repentance but attaching the wrong definition to the word. For instance, to say that repentance means to turn from sin, or to say that repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of action, is to give a wrong definition to the word. And to teach that man must turn from his sins to be saved, or change his actions to be saved, is in contradiction to the clear teaching of the Word of God that one is saved by grace through faith.

Though we often hear the expression, "Repent of your sins," it is not found in the Bible. What the repentance or change of mind is about is always determined by the context.

For instance, in Acts 17:30 we read, "And the times of this ignorance God winked at [overlooked]; but now commandeth all men every where to repent." What they were to repent or change their mind about is clear from verse 29. Here the Scripture says, "...we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver or stone, graven by art and man's device!" They needed to change their mind about God and see that He is not a graven image made of gold, silver, or stone but that He is a living God and is going to be their judge. Verse 31, "Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead."

In Luke 13:5 Jesus said, "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." The context of this verse shows that they needed to repent or change their mind regarding punishment and sin. In this passage, Christ was talking to good people who believed that people suffered only because of their sins, and they concluded that those in Galilee whose blood Pilate mingled with sacrifices and those on whom the tower of Siloam fell were greater sinners because they died such horrible deaths. Jesus contradicts the thinking of these self-righteous people and tells them that they need to repent or change their mind and see themselves as sinners, too, or they will perish in their own self-righteousness.

One does not have to know the Greek language to see that "repent" in this passage does not mean feeling sorry for or turning from sin.

Finally, let me say a word about

Faith and Repentance

Not long ago I preached a simple sermon on salvation and invited sinners to trust Christ as Saviour. Over one hundred precious people trusted Christ in that particular Sunday morning service.

After the service, a well-meaning Christian said to me, "I enjoyed your sermon, but you didn't say anything about repentance. You should have told those people they needed to repent." He seemed to think that my telling those people to trust Christ as Saviour was not sufficient.

And he is not alone in his thinking. Unless you use the word "repent" in presenting the plan of salvation, some preachers foolishly accuse you of preaching "easy believism." Somehow they have gotten the idea that just to preach, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved," is not sufficient.

In an article in THE SWORD OF THE LORD, Dr. John R. Rice said:

"Sometimes the preacher does not himself fully understand the plan of salvation. He thinks of salvation as a process. First, there is a period of conviction, then a period of repentance, then an act of faith."

He went on to explain that when one trusts Christ as Saviour he also repents.

Dr. Rice is absolutely right. Faith and repentance are the same; they are not two separate decisions. One cannot trust Christ as Saviour without repenting or changing his mind. The very fact that he trusts Christ for salvation shows that he has changed his mind regarding sin, salvation, and God.

If one book of the Bible had to be considered "the salvation book," it would have to be the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is printed and distributed more than any other book of the Bible. The purpose of this book is given in John 20:31, "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name."

According to this verse, the whole purpose of the Gospel of John is that men might believe that Jesus is the Christ and believing they might have life through His name. In other words, it is written that men might be saved. Yet "repent" or "repentance" is not used one single time in the Gospel of John. On the other hand, "believe" is used more than ninety times in the twenty-one chapters.

The book of Romans was written to show how men are justified. After explaining in Romans, chapter 4, how men are not justified, Romans 5:1 states, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." "Repentance" is found only two times in the book of Romans and in only one case does it have reference to salvation.

Romans 11:29 says, "For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." If you make "repentance" here mean turning from sin, it would cause the verse to read, "For the gifts and calling of God are without turning from sin," which doesn't make sense at all. The verse means that the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable, that when God calls a man to preach, He never changes His mind about it.

While "repentance" is found only twice in the book of Romans, "faith" is found thirty-nine times. Romans 3:28 states, "a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." And Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God...."

Since the word "repent" is not found at all in the Gospel of John, and "repentance" is found only twice in the book of Romans, and only one time is it used in connection with salvation, are we then to conclude that repentance is not necessary to salvation? Absolutely not! We have already shown the importance of repentance and its necessity. Now, since repentance is not found in connection with salvation in the Gospel of John and only once in the book of Romans, are we to conclude that neither of these two books tells one how to be saved or justified? Certainly not. Those who know the Bible best would have to agree that these two books of the Bible contain the clearest presentation of the Gospel and how one is to be saved.

Since repentance is necessary to salvation, and since the word is not used at all in the Gospel of John and only once as referring to salvation in the book of Romans, then we must conclude that the word "repentance" is included in the words "believe" and "faith" which are found repeatedly in these two books.

John, chapter 3, contains the heart of the Gospel. It is here we find that wonderful verse, "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." That verse is used in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in this chapter. Jesus says to Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again" (vs. 7). In verse 9, Nicodemus asks, "How can these things be?" And Jesus gave the answer in verses 14 through 16, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 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."

Nowhere in this chapter does Jesus use the word "repent." He only tells Nicodemus to believe in Him. In verse 18 He said, "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." And He closes the conversation in verse 36 by saying, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."

"Believe" in these verses means to trust, to depend on, to rely on. Nothing could be plainer. All one has to do to have everlasting life is trust Jesus Christ. Jesus has already died for the sinner and all we need do is depend on Him for salvation. But He warns in verse 36, "He that believeth not the Son [does not depend on the Son] shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."

There is no promise in the Bible to those who partially believe on Christ. The promise is to those who believe on Him. We cannot trust Jesus 90% and something else 10%; we must fully trust Him, Him alone and nothing else, for salvation.

Since Jesus did not use the word "repent" in telling Nicodemus how to be born again, then we must reach one of three conclusions. First, repentance is not necessary to salvation; second, repentance is necessary for salvation and Jesus didn't tell Nicodemus how to be saved; third, repentance is necessary to salvation and is included in the word "believe" which Jesus did use time and time again in this chapter. The correct conclusion, of course, is that repentance is necessary to salvation and is included in "believe." A man cannot trust Christ without repenting.

So what is repentance?

It is recognizing your sinful state and acknowledging your need for a savior.  It is changing your mind about your sinfulness and choosing to believe in Christ.  It is not separate from conversion and faith, but is in fact the other side of the same coin.  You can't have faith and be saved without first changing your mind about your sin and God's solution to your sin problem (the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus).  Repentance is not turning from sin, but turning from sin will be a result because once you realize and acknowledge your sin you will no longer believe it is acceptable to keep doing.

I'm reminded of both the tax collector's prayer of repentance (Luke 18:9-14) and the prodigal son's return (Luke 15:11-32).  The tax collector did not read off a long list of everything he had done wrong that day, but merely, with sorrowful heart, acknowledged to God he was a sinner in need of mercy.

Likewise, the prodigal son did not bring his father a lamb or a goat or some other sacrifice or offering, neither did he tell his father every wicked thing he had done in the far off country.  He merely acknowledged to his father his sinful state and amazingly his father had already embraced him merely upon seeing his son returning home.  The fact that his son was coming home was enough.

And so the Scriptures are true that say "Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved" (Romans 10:13, Acts 2:21) and "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out" (John 6:37).

So who needs to repent?

Unbelievers do.  They need to change their mind about Christ and believe the Good News!

And who are unbelievers?

1. Those who don't believe in Christ and the Gospel and openly admit it.

2. Those who claim to believe in Christ and the Gospel and acknowledge their sin, but seek to establish their own righteousness through legalism and therefore effectively reject Christ's sacrifice (Romans 10:3, Romans 11:6, Galatians 2:21, Galatians 5:4).  These are Christians without the Gospel.

3. Those who claim to believe in Christ and the Gospel yet refuse to acknowledge their sinfulness.  They justify behaviors that God has revealed to be sin.  They call good "evil" and evil "good".  These are Christians without repentance.

Return of the Prodigal Son by Karel Gomes

The Prodigal Son Suite by Keith Green

Post A Comment


  1. Thank you so very much!

  2. Thank you for this article.

  3. Amazing, in-depth study, thank you!

  4. I have spent the majority of my life living selfishly. I was raised in the church and saved as a young boy, but turned from the truth as a young man. It's an incredible journey over the past year or so that has led me back to Jesus. I felt compelled yesterday to leave work and walk outside. I found myself sitting on a bench and prayed, honestly and openly, for the first time in years. I surrendered my life to believing in the Word of God, and that Jesus died for my sins. I asked him to be my savior and to be saved by the blood of Christ.

    It was a good feeling, and I have felt hope and joy these past few days. But it has been so long since I have believed I wasn't sure if what I'd done was right or what to do next. And today I found myself reading this message about repentance, and it has been a comfort to me. I thank you!

    1. "It was a good feeling, and I have felt hope and joy these past few days."

      As well you should! So glad to hear your story - made my whole day! Hooray and welcome back, brother. The LORD loves you dearly. When you realize He loves you unconditionally (because of Christ's propitiation), it frees you to love Him back unconditionally.

      There is power in the blood of the Lamb.

  5. I enjoyed reading this article. Thank you for posting it! Please excuse me if this post comes off as a rant, but I'm grieved by people who believe that salvation can be lost. I fear that such thoughts reveal a misunderstanding of how Jesus Christ has provided salvation for mankind, which is the blood of God's son (the perfect lamb) being killed on the cross for our sins.

    In my mind, if one fails to be fully persuaded of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection; then they are failing to have the faith required (in the good news) for redemption. Without the death of Jesus, their is no sacrifice for sins. Without the resurrection of Jesus, their is no proof that the penalty for sins was paid in full. Also, where would the "blessed hope" be without also believing that the "first fruit (Jesus)" was resurrected from the dead, as we are also promised to be resurrected or hopefully very soon raptured :)

    I guess my issue is that if one believes salvation can be lost, then one does not fully believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Failure to fully trust exclusively on the atonement provided by Christ, is failure to trust at all, right?

    I believe that the Bible shows us that faith for our current dispensation of grace is not just having some random "change of mind," but rather is having a specific change of mind where a person puts ALL of their faith in the shed blood of Jesus. 99.9% Jesus and 00.1% self doesn't cut it for God. I don't even care if that 00.1% is someone's "belief" that after "asking" Jesus to save them (what does that even suppose to mean ???) they CONTINUE TO THINK that their future actions from that point forward are part of what is necessary to tip the scale in their favor. No! ...on the grace of God's lamb I will stand.

    Ephesians 1:7-14 King James Version (KJV)

    7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;

    8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;

    9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:

    10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:

    11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

    12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.

    13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,

    14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

    I liked what you posted above from Dr. Harry Ironside.

    "The Gospel is not a call to repentance, or to amendment of our ways, to make restitution for past sins, or to promise to do better in the future. These things are proper in their place, but they do not constitute the Gospel; for the Gospel is not good advice to be obeyed, it is good news to be believed. Do not make the mistake then of thinking that the Gospel is a call to duty or a call to reformation, a call to better your condition, to behave yourself in a more perfect way than you have been doing in the past …

    Nor is the Gospel a demand that you give up the world, that you give up your sins, that you break off bad habits, and try to cultivate good ones. You may do all these things, and yet never believe the Gospel and consequently never be saved at all."

    1. Continued from above...

      Finally, I want to state that I struggle daily to be as Jesus would have me to be and yet I frequently (thankfully less as I put more of God's Word into my mind) fail to be "perfect". LOL ""perfect"... that's such a dumb statement. My ONLY righteousness is Christ, who has given me his righteousness as a free gift.

      I will live will striving to keep the faith (in the gospel message) and will be hopefully compelled/constrained more each day by the love the Christ, to walk in newness of life. He is faithful. He will continue to mold me as the potters clay, into his image. My fruits of the spirit may look pitiful in comparison to other Christians, but it's not about me. It's ALL about Christ. Yes, I want to live a good life, but NO NO NO NO... the good news is not in me living that life, it's that God lived it for me and gave himself for me. Thankfully, I can trust in his faithfulness!

      I am not holy in this sinful flesh, but by the grace of God I am 100% rightness in God's eyes, because he has given me the rightness of Jesus.

      Romans 4:8King James Version (KJV)

      8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.


    2. ugg... rigtness = righteous

      Apparently, I can't type or spell today.

  6. This woman gets it: https://youtu.be/pbhGQxnPV6w

  7. awesome article..so awesome!!

  8. I appreciate the intent of this article, but I must post a word of caution.

    The false view of repentance being addressed in the article is a major tenet of a doctrine known as "Lordship Salvation"(LS). As stated in the article, the notion that repentance involved in receiving eternal life means "turning from sin", or at least the intention to turn from sin, is false. I agree fully with the statement above that biblical repentance means "a change of mind"; that and only that. What one is changing one's mind about depends on the context. So repentance for salvation means changing one's mind about one's need for a savior, and believing on Jesus Christ as that Savior. All very good, and it is encouraging to see that biblical idea taught on this site.

    But there are also "soft" forms of LS. One such form is demonstrated in this statement from the article:

    "Repentance is not turning from sin, but turning from sin will be a result because once you realize and acknowledge your sin you will no longer believe it is acceptable to keep doing."

    While seeming to be reasonable, that statement puts a de facto requirement on the believer. Such a statement puts a person on the same treadmill that hardcore LS does. It causes a person to keep "examining" him/her self, looking for a reduction of sinning (along with the evidence of "fruit" or "good works") which will verify their supposed repentance. It has the same practical effect--making a person wonder if they've "really repented"--that hardcore LS does. The result is a subtle lack of assurance that causes believers to focus on their own works instead of resting in Christ's work for them. The subtle legalism that results from this is crippling to any believer's faith and assurance.

    The fact is, a person can believe in Christ unto salvation and yet sin just as much as before. They may even get worse (see Romans 7). Hopefully, the person's attitude toward sin will change, but there is no guarantee of that. The "flesh" is still resident in the unredeemed body, and still wars against the Spirit. As for "good works", the perception of what constitutes good works can be very subjective. (And that doesn't even touch the issue of motivation.)

    The only true basis for assurance of salvation is the promise of eternal life to those who BELIEVE, not to those who believe and suppose they will see some improvement eventually.

    For a more thorough treatment of the LS problem and its purveyors, the reader may wish to check these sites:



    In these the various levels of LS are discussed, exposed and refuted.

    1. I agree 100% that this article goes astray into Lordship Salvation. Honestly, sin is not even the problem. The problem is not believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. My personal testimony is that I wasn't even thinking of my sin when I called upon Jesus for salvation. I just knew that he was the only way and to be honest, I don't recall understanding exactly why but that I needed to believe on him and that he was real and God was real.

  9. Thank you. It is a wonderful article. Thank you again. God bless.

  10. Yes! Thank you Gary for your article and thank You GOD-YHWH to have inspired Gary such a wonderful article through Your HOLY SPIRIT.
    I have the privilege to have got (and accepted!) the inestimable Grace of GOD, six years ago, and simultaneously got the permanent and indestructible conviction that I was "irremediably" saved forever Thank you so much GOD-YHWH/Jesus-Christ.
    All the good things I do come from GOD exclusively: HE inspires me to do them and I accept (or sometimes not!) to realise them. (Eph 2.8-10).
    And when I don't realise them (or not properly, compltely) I demand pardon to HIM for not having done what Christ had prepared me to do and that HE would have done HIMSELF.
    And I know that HE pardons me because I recognise that I am still asinner and that only HIM is my/our personal Saviour and that prayer doesn't come from myself but from His DIVINE part HE has put in me.
    Your article has liberated me from beeing partly the sad slave of the Ennemy. And now, at last, I have become the permanent happy and glorious (and too often imperfect) Slave of My/Our LORD. Thank you so much LORD for having tought me this through this article.
    From now on I can really "Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning me. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 KJV).
    But always look forward:
    "19 Quench not the Spirit.
    20 Despise not prophesyings.
    21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
    22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
    23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
    25 Brethren, pray for us.
    26 Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.
    (1 Thessalonians 5:19-26 KJV)
    I always pray for all HIS children and especially for my family:
    "... And they (Paul and Silas) said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house". (Acts 16.31).
    "Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it." (Psalms 34-14, 37.27, Job 28.28, Hebrews 12.14, Romans 12.9, 14.19 1 Peter 3.11, 3 John 1.11, Prov. 14.16, 3.7, Isaia 1.16-17, 1.17, James 1.27).
    Marana Tha!

  11. Great article Gary. It is a pity more street preachers don't teach the true Gospel of "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved" instead they prefer to preach, "repent of your sins, for the kingdom of God is near"

    This article was a blessing. Thanks brother.



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