What is true repentance?

Most ordinary people living in the 21st Century probably do not have a clue what the meaning of the word “repentance” is. Some people may think that it means to feel sorry for what you have done, to feel remorse. Although part of true repentance is  feeling sorry for an action and feeling remorse, that is not the entire picture, by any means. When you move in to Evangelical Church circles you find that the word repentance has basically been removed from the lingo and replaced with “got saved” which is a much softer and watered down version of the message that Jesus Christ preached. In fact, the first message that Jesus Christ started spreading was not “love your neighbor” or “do not judge” (to the surprise of many), His first message was repentance. He did not stop preaching repentance after Matthew chapter 4. He started in Matthew 4 and continued to preach repentance until the end. His disciples followed the same pattern throughout their ministry as well. Repentance is vital to the Christian faith, yet it seems to be fading out of the lingo and out of the minds of many Christians. Let’s take a look at the source of true repentance, the Word of God, and see what we can learn.

I. The true definition of repentance sets the tone for our understanding and application of it, in order to live a transformed life for God.

The Greek word that is transliterated into English as “repentance” is “Metanoia“. It is composed of 2 other Greek words, “meta” which means “after” and “noia” which means “to understand profoundly”. When the 2 words come together to form “Metanoia” we get “after understanding profoundly”. The word “Metanoia” in itself means a change of mind that leads to a change of action. So, the word “repentance” literally means “after you understand the Gospel in a profound way, you have a change of mind that leads to a lifestyle change”. This is a very different view of repentance than what most people have. The popular view of repentance is something like “to feel sorry about getting caught doing something (not so much sorry that you did it but that you got caught), to regret” yet there is not a lifestyle change because you usually find yourself doing it again (when no one is looking this time, and covering your tracks well).My question to you is, “have you ever repented or did you just “get saved”? Unfortunately, in our modern theology, many people “get saved” without ever repenting. Does God agree with this “Gospel” that we preach in the 21st Cent? Let’s find out from the source, God, Himself, as He has revealed in His Word.

II. Repentance means to turn away from your former manner of life and turn to a new life of obedience to God.

In the previous paragraph we strictly looked at the definition of the word repentance, but now I want to look at how the Bible describes repentance.

18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews ; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20)

The Apostle Paul explains that he did not hesitate to preach the Gospel. He preached repentance in every situation; in homes and in public. Repentance was important to Paul because he understood it and had experienced it. He had been taught directly by Jesus Christ, who also preached the importance of repentance. In Acts 26, Paul gives a clear definiton of what repentance looks like. Let’s take a look at it.

16 ‘But get up and stand on your feet ; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ 19 “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.

In this passage, Paul is called on to share his personal testimony of how he came face to face with Jesus Christ and how he experienced repentance. Paul knew that he was sent by Christ to preach the Gospel of repentance to the nations. He says that repentance is turning away from darkness (darkness being a figure of speech meaning sin, disobedience to the Laws of God). He explains that darkness is the dominion of Satan (slavery to sin). Repentance is turning away from one way of life to another way of life. As the passage explains, the other way of life is the Light, or faith in Jesus Christ (obedience to God). When a person repents, he receives forgiveness of his sins and is transformed (sanctified means made different, set apart from the rest). Did you notice the proof of true repentance? The proof that a person has turned away from sin to obedience to God is the “deeds” that accompany repentance. A person goes from being a slave to sin and the lusts of the flesh to obedience to God. He/she can now say “NO” to sin and its lust and “YES” to God’s Laws. Has that ever happened in your life?

III. Who needs to experience true repentance?

Again we will turn to the Scriptures to find the answer. In Paul’s letter to the church of Rome we find a great explanation of who needs repentance

12 Therefore , just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned –

All people who are born on this earth need to experience true repentance. All of us a born with a sin nature and we sell ourselves as slaves to sin when we choose to sin. Every cute little baby that you see is a cute little sinner. You do not have to teach children to steal or lie or be selfish. You have to teach them the opposite, because they, like all people, have a sin nature, inherited from our first ancestors; Adam and Eve. What is the proof that we are all sinners? We will all die. Death is the result of sin. If Jesus Christ would not have freely given His life on the cross then He would never have died because He never sinned (although He was tempted in every way that we are tempted). I need true repentance. You need true repentance. We all need true repentance. Have you experienced it?

IV. How do we get to the point of understanding our need for true repentance?

True repentance is not natural to us because we are prideful, selfish people. Repentance involves humbling yourself and admitting that you need help. It means looking outside of your self. So how do we get to this point? The Bible has the answer. Once again, we turn to brother Paul for his explanation in his letter to the church in Rome, of how a person comes to the faith (through repentance).

13 for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” 14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed ? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard ? And how will they hear without a preacher ? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent ? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS !” 16 However, they did not all heed the good news ; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT ?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

The person must hear the Word of God. We hear the Word of God by opening the Holy Bible and studying what God has to say. When we do this, God begins to speak directly to us and the Holy Spirit begins to convict us of our sins and motivate us to repentance. Do you spend time listening to the Word of God through Bible study and prayer?

V. What does the new lifestyle look like once a person has truly experienced Biblical repentance?

For the sake of space and time, I will not go into details about the new life with Bible verses. I will give you bullet points and references that you can look up on your own.

  • Change from a being controlled by the desires of the flesh to being controlled by the leading of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9)
  • Change from slavery to sin to life in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:5)
  • You are now a righteous person (right with God) Romans 9:30
  • You want to serve others instead of wanting to be served (Hebrews 9:14)
  • You begin to proclaim the Gospel (Acts 26:20)
  • You love others by meeting their needs (Hebrews 6:10)

My dear friend, have you ever experienced true repentance? Has your lifestyle been totally transformed by understanding and accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Have you chosen to turn away from your sins and old lifestyle in order to embrace obedience to God? By the way, you can be a member of a local church and still never experience true repentance. That makes you a religious person but not a follower of God. That is the way that the Apostle Paul was before he experienced true repentance. May God help us live for Him daily by taking the first step of true repentance.

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34 comments on “What is true repentance?

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