by Don Krow
Repentance is a gift that God grants people who want to come to Him and be saved. It is a new attitude, a change of mind, a change of heart THAT RESULTS in one turning from sin, to God and ultimately to His ways.
In Matthew 3:8 John the Baptist said, "Bring forth fruit that is consistent with repentance [let your lives prove your change of heart]" (Amplified Bible). And the apostle Paul said in his preaching to the Gentiles "that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance" (Acts 26:20; NASV). From these scriptures we can see that "repentance" is "a change of heart, a change of mind" and that good works are the FRUIT of that changed heart.
"Vine's Expository Dictionary" states that "repentance" (Gk. METANOEO) "signifies to change one's mind or purpose, always, in the New Testament, except in Luke 17:3, 4, of repentance from sin" (p. 952). It further states, "In the New Testament the subject chiefly has reference to repentance from sin, and this change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God. The parable of the prodigal son is an outstanding illustration of this. Christ began His ministry with a call to repentance, Matt. 4:17, but the call is addressed, not as in the Old Testament to the nation, BUT TO THE INDIVIDUAL" (p. 953).
The "Expository Dictionary of Bible Words" states, "The Old Testament word that expresses the biblical concept of repentance is SUB. This verb is found over a thousand times in the Old Testament...in the 164 uses of this word in a covenant context, it indicates turning from evil to God, from evil ways to God's ways, or from God to idols. SUB is that commitment to a faith and way of life that involves turning from a previous way, and this is to `repent.' ...repentance itself, as it is illustrated in the Old Testament, is essentially the `about face' of a new commitment" (p. 522).
"In the New Testament, METANOEO and METANOIA are used in the same way as SUB in the Old Testament - to emphasize a change of mind and attitude. To repent is to make a decision that changes the total direction of one's life" (Ibid., p. 522).
"Repentance in both the Old Testament and the New Testament provides a perspective on faith. For faith in a biblical sense is commitment, not merely `belief about.' One who repents has faith, for it is faith in God that is expressed when we carry out a decision to turn from our old ways and to commit ourselves to God's ways" (Ibid., p. 522).
"The New International Dictionary of N.T. Theology" states, "Repentance is no longer obedience to a law but to a PERSON. The call to repentance becomes a call to discipleship. So repentance, faith and discipleship are different aspects of the same thing" (Vol. 1, p. 358).
"There are many passages in which the term METANOEO does not appear, but in which the thought of repentance is clearly present. Examples are: `Unless you TURN and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven' (Matt. 18:3). `So therefore, whoever of you does not FORSAKE all that he has cannot be my disciple' (Lk. 14:33). It is the spiritually poor, the little ones and the helpless, who receive the promise of the Kingdom of God (Mt. 5:3; 18:10, 14)" (Ibid., Vol.1, p. 358).
"The early Christian preaching continued the call for repentance (See Mk. 6:12 and the sermons in Acts). This early preaching linked repentance with, the call to faith (Acts 20:21), the demand to be baptized (Acts 2:38), the promise of the forgiveness of sins (Lk. 24:47), and salvation (Acts 11:18). Conversion is turning from evil (Acts 8:22; Rev. 2:21) to God (Acts 26:20). In Acts 3:19 and Acts 26:20 METANOEO (repentance) and EPISTREPHO (conversion) are placed side by side. This shows that the two concepts are related. The fact that this group of words does not occur often in the Pauline writings (6 times) and not at all in the Johannine (apart from Revelation), does not mean that the idea of conversion is not present...Both Paul and John convey the idea of conversion (turning) by that of faith. Paul speaks of faith as `being in Christ,' as the `NEW CREATION,' as `PUTTING ON THE NEW MAN,' as the `DYING AND RISING OF A MAN WITH CHRIST.' The Johannine literature represents the new life in Christ as the `NEW BIRTH,' as the passing from DEATH TO LIFE and from DARKNESS TO LIGHT" (Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 359).
From these statements we see that in the call to conversion that sometimes the word "repent" is only used. At other times the word "believe" is only used. At still other times they are both used together (Acts 20:21). But both words involve a change of heart towards God. Repentance is the first response of man to the gospel that is demanded by God. It must always accompany true faith. Without repentance, faith alone as described in James 2, would be dead faith, that is, mental assent that cannot save.
Again, as already stated, repentance in the New Testament denotes an inner decision, a change of heart, a change of mind. The Old Testament word denotes an outward action of turning back or turning around. By putting the two together we see that repentance involves a change of heart, a change of mind that results in a turning around to move in a completely new direction. This change of direction can be summed up by the words of Jesus, "FOLLOW ME!" (Mt. 4:19; 8:22; 9:9; 16:24; 19:21; Mk. 2:14; 8:34; 10:21; Lk. 5:27; 9:23, 59; 18:22; Jn. 1:43; 10:27; 12:26; 21:19). "Follow" means to come or go after; move behind and in the same direction; to come or go with; to accept the guidance or leadership of; to adhere to the cause or principles of; to be governed by; obey; and comply with.
The prodigal son of Luke 15:11-32 is a good example of repentance. He had turned his back on his father and his home to waste his life in sin and riotous living. Eventually he came to himself and made a decision to arise and go back to his father and home. He first had the change of heart, he then acted by carrying out his decision. He returned to father and home acknowledging, "Father I have sinned!"
In our sinful condition we have all turned our back upon God our Father and heaven our home. We must stop, and have a change our mind, a change of heart, a change of direction. This essential act is called "repentance" and is the first move we must make to be reconciled to God.
REPENTANCE IS NOT AN EMOTION
Concerning Esau, Hebrews 12:17 states, "...he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully WITH TEARS." This is evidence that strong emotion is not necessarily proof of repentance. Many people because of a strong sales approach, respond to a gospel call but never come to the change of heart, and change of mind that is necessary to receive God's salvation. Shedding a tear sometimes indicates a person is sorry they were caught in a situation, but they may never have had a change of mind towards their actions.
REPENTANCE BEGINS WITH GOD
Scriptural repentance begins with God, not with man. John 6:44 states, "No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him..." (Jn. 6:44). For this reason the supreme crisis of every human being comes at the moment of the Spirit's drawing to repentance. When a person says, "Yes" to that drawing it will lead to saving faith. If rejected it will leave a person to continue in his own sinful way. That's why the scripture states, "To day if you will hear His voice, Harden not your hearts..." (Heb. 3:8). And again, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation..." (Heb. 2:3). Apart from God's grace and the drawing of His Spirit, man left to himself is incapable of repentance. But when the Spirit is drawing through the ministry of the gospel, it is a necessity that man respond then. To have the attitude that the thief on the cross waited till the last moment and I can wait may have the most serious consequences.
REPENTANCE IS FROM DEAD WORKS
In Hebrews 6:1 repentance is from dead works. In Acts 20:21 it is toward God. John Calvin once said that we must turn from our works as well as from our sins and flee to Christ for his mercy and pardon. In Isaiah 64:6 it says that "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." There is no reference here to sin but only to our own righteousness as a means of trying to justify ourselves.
REPENTANCE IS MADE COMPLETE BY MAN'S RESPONSE
Although repentance is initiated by God it is made complete by man's response. For this reason God's decree is that "all men everywhere must repent" (Acts 17:30). All scripture is absolutely unanimous on this point, "except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Lk. 13:3, 5). Consider these messages from the scriptures themselves:
REPENTANCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and TURN FROM THEIR WICKED WAYS; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chr. 7:14).
"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but WHOSO CONFESSETH AND FORSAKETH THEM SHALL HAVE MERCY" (Prov. 28:13).
"Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; REPENT, AND TURN YOURSELVES FROM YOUR IDOLS; AND TURN AWAY YOUR FACES FROM ALL YOUR ABOMINATIONS:" (Ezek. 14:6).
"Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should RETURN FROM HIS WAYS, AND LIVE?
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. REPENT, AND TURN YOURSELVES FROM ALL YOUR TRANSGRESSIONS; so iniquity shall not be your ruin" (Ezek. 18:23, 30).
"Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked TURN FROM HIS WAY AND LIVE: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezek. 33:11).
"Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and BREAK OFF THY SINS BY RIGHTEOUSNESS, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; it may be lengthening of thy tranquillity" (Dan. 4:27).
"Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; TURN YE UNTO ME, saith the LORD of hosts, and I WILL TURN UNTO YOU, saith the LORD of hosts" (Zec. 1:3).
REPENTANCE IN THE GOSPELS
"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bring for therefore FRUITS MEET FOR REPENTANCE" (Mt. 3:7-8).
"And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow Me. And he arose, and followed him.
And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.
And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but SINNERS TO REPENTANCE" (Mt. 9:9-13).
"And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed Him.
And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
When Jesus heard it, He saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but SINNERS TO REPENTANCE" (Mk. 2:15-17).
"And they went out, and PREACHED THAT MEN SHOULD REPENT" (Mk. 6:12).
"There were present at that season some that told Him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?
I tell you, Nay: but, EXCEPT YE REPENT, YE SHALL ALL LIKEWISE PERISH.
Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
I tell you, Nay: but, EXCEPT YE REPENT, YE SHALL ALL LIKEWISE PERISH" (Lk. 13:1-5).
"What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
I say unto you, that likewise JOY SHALL BE IN HEAVEN OVER ONE SINNER THAT REPENTETH, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance" (Lk. 15:4-7).
"Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.
Likewise, I say unto you, THERE IS JOY IN THE PRESENCE OF THE ANGELS OF GOD OVER ONE SINNER THAT REPENTETH" (Lk. 15:8-10).
"Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but IF ONE WENT UNTO THEM FROM THE DEAD, THEY WILL REPENT" (Lk. 16:29-30).
"And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
And that REPENTANCE AND REMISSION OF SINS SHOULD BE PREACHED IN HIS NAME AMONG ALL NATIONS, beginning at Jerusalem" (Lk. 24:46-47).
REPENTANCE IN ACTS
"REPENT YE THEREFORE, 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).
"The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give REPENTANCE TO ISRAEL, AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS" (Acts 5:30-31).
"Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
REPENT THEREFORE OF THIS THY WICKEDNESS, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee" (Acts 8:21-22).
"Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as He did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?
When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted REPENTANCE UNTO LIFE" (Acts 11:17-18).
"Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but NOW COMMANDETH ALL MEN EVERY WHERE TO REPENT:
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" (Acts 17:29-31).
"And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house,
Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, REPENTANCE TOWARD GOD, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:20-21).
"Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,
To open their eyes, and TO TURN them FROM darkness TO light, and FROM the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive FORGIVENESS OF SINS, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should REPENT AND TURN TO GOD, and do works meet for repentance" (Acts 26:17-20).
"First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should REPENT AND TURN TO GOD AND PROVE THEIR REPENTANCE BY THEIR DEEDS" (Acts 26:20; NIV).
REPENTANCE IN PAUL'S LETTERS
"And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them who do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the GOODNESS OF GOD LEADETH THEE TO REPENTANCE?
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up to thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
But to them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek;
But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek:
For there is no respect of persons with God" (Rom. 2:3-11).
"And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have NOT REPENTED OF THE UNCLEANNESS AND FORNICATION AND LASCIVIOUSNESS which they have committed" (2 Cor. 12:21).
"The Lord's message rang out from you not only in macedonia and Achaia-- your faith in God has been known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you TURNED TO GOD FROM IDOLS to serve the living and true God" (1 Th. 1:8-9; NIV).
"And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,
In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if GOD peradventure will give them REPENTANCE TO THE ACKNOWLEDGING OF THE TRUTH;
And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will" (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
"Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of REPENTANCE FROM DEAD WORKS, and of faith toward God" (Heb. 6:1).
REPENTANCE IN PETER'S LETTERS
"The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, NOT WANTING ANY TO PERISH, BUT ALL TO COME TO REPENTANCE" (NRSV).
REPENTANCE IN JOHN'S LETTERS
"I have GIVEN HER TIME TO REPENT of her immorality, but she is unwilling.
So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, UNLESS THEY REPENT OF HER WAYS" (NIV).