A Right View of Repentance

A Closer Look With Dr. Stanley: What does it really mean to repent?

The concept of repentance is key to understanding both the New Testament and what it means to walk with God. It was the message of John the Baptist and Jesus, and it’s also emphasized in the epistles—as well as the book of Revelation. Since repentance is such a prominent theme in Scripture, it’s crucial for us to understand what it is and what it accomplishes.

“Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor—that is the only way out of our ‘hole.’This process of surrender—this movement full speed astern—is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all.” —C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Let’s begin with three Greek words that are used in the New Testament to convey the idea of repentance.

Metamelomai expresses the feeling of regret for sin, but it does not necessarily result in turning to God. For example, when Judas felt remorse for betraying Jesus, he looked back with regret but never turned toward Christ in genuine repentance (Matt. 27:3-5).

Epistrephó is translated “turn” or “return” and refers to conversion. It involves a complete transformation of one’s existence under the influence of the Holy Spirit. We see it used when Paul was commissioned by Christ to open the Gentiles’ eyes so “they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18).

Metanoeó is the New Testament’s primary word for repentance. It expresses a change of mind, emotion, and will regarding sin. This includes taking full responsibility for one’s wrongdoing, being grieved over a former lifestyle, and deliberately turning from sin and to God. The result is true conversion (Acts 2:37-38).

Matthew 3:1-9 and Acts 26:19-20

These passages speak about repentance that leads to salvation. What’s required is a change of mind based on the newly discovered truth about Christ. If there is genuine repentance, it will produce the fruit of transformed actions, attitudes, and lifestyle. The totality of the former life is replaced with one lived for Christ.

“Fear-based repentance makes us hate ourselves. Joy-based repentance makes us hate the sin.” —Timothy Keller

Repentance is simultaneously a summons to change and a gift of God (Acts 5:31; Acts 11:18). Behind the call to repent stands the promise of forgiveness of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and a new relationship with the Father. We actually become new creatures with a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17). The result is a progressive letting go of old ways and a putting on of Christlike attitudes, thought patterns, and behaviors (Eph. 4:22-24). This is what the Bible calls sanctification.

2 Corinthians 7:9-10 and 2 Corinthians 12:21

Repentance is not only for the purpose of salvation. It’s also necessary in believers’ lives for frequent cleansing from sin and continual restoring of fellowship with God. Godly sorrow is grief that leads us to view our conduct as the Lord does and to hate not only the consequences but the sin itself. Genuine repentance is more than feeling bad or sorry for what we’ve done and desiring to change. If we are not moved to obedience, our repentance is incomplete.


• What has your experience been with repentance? How has God opened your eyes to see your sin from His perspective?

• Do you drift back into a repeatedly confessed sin? If so, what effect might such affection for that sin have on your ability to obey God?


Related Topics:  Spiritual Life

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Choosing to Pursue Wisdom

Do you ever find yourself stunned by the circumstances of your life? Perhaps you've been genuinely surprised by the negative consequences you experience as the result of unwise decisions.

By Charles F. Stanley

3 Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,

4 saying, I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, What is that to us? See to that yourself!"

5 And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

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.'

37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?"

38 Peter said to them, Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

1 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying,

2 Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, `MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!'"

4 Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.

5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan;

6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

8 Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance;

9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, `We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.

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.

31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.

18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life."

17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,

23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,

24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

9 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.

10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

21 I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced.

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