by Shawn Brasseaux
Repentance is a rather difficult topic to discuss because the Bible has a definition for “repentance,” and religion has a definition for “repentance.” The Roman Catholic Church has invented “penance” (suffering for your sins, such as flagellation, or beating yourself with a strap) whereas Protestants have a doctrine called “penitence” (feeling guilt or sorry for your sins). Neither of these religious doctrines is in the Bible. Unfortunately, people have confused Biblical repentance with religion’s penitence and penance. My intention here is to sort out this mess by using the Bible to determine what repentance is and what repentance is not!
Biblical repentance is not “turning from one’s sins” and it is not “feeling sorry for one’s sins.” These are religious definitions, and we are unconcerned regarding church tradition and denominationalism. We need the Bible’s definition of “repentance,” not some religious authority’s opinion. After all, God’s Word carries the most weight in eternity!
In Genesis chapter 6, God beholds a wicked world filled with murder and other violence. Here, some 1600 years since Adam’s fall, and humanity is further declining, both morally and spiritually. Genesis 6:6 says, “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” Did God repent of sin? Was God turning from His sin? Did God feel guilty because of sin? God is GOD, and He has no sin, so obviously “repentance” does not refer to turning from sin or feeling sorry for sins. When God had repentance, He had a change in thinking, a change in mind. God began to think about man differently, now that man had become worse and worse in his rebellion against Him. Biblical repentance is simply a change in the way you think about something: you view it a different way than you previously did. Let us look at other examples in the Bible.
Turn to Exodus 13:17 KJV: “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:” Notice that word “repent.” Had the Jews saw the war in the land of the Philistines, they would have changed their mind, and wanted to return to Egypt. Again, it had nothing to do with feeling sorry for sins or turning from sins.
Exodus 32:14 KJV: “And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” Again, the LORD was not repenting of sin; He was going to chastise Israel, but then He decided not to do so. Again, it was a change in thinking.
John the Baptist’s message to Israel in Matthew 3:2 KJV is: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Israel had been murdering God’s prophets for centuries, so now John the Baptist is saying, “You better start thinking differently about God. Start obeying Him and listen to the message I am preaching! Quit being rebellious, and have a change in your thinking, because your Messiah-King is coming!”
By the way, it is interesting to note that the Greek word for “repent” (metanoeo)—which is used throughout the New Testament—literally means, “a change in mind; a reconsideration.” You can see the prefix “meta-,” which means, “change” (such as in our English word “metamorphosis”).
Or, take for example, in one of the Lord Jesus’ parables, the son refused to work in the vineyard. Then, the Bible says in Matthew 21:29 that he “repented;” he changed his mind and went work in the vineyard. Are you beginning to see the Bible’s definition of repentance? Can you see that religion has totally misconstrued what repentance is and what it is not?
In Acts 2:36-38 KJV, the Apostle Peter is urging Israel on the day of Pentecost: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” They could not undo the crucifixion, but they could change the way they thought about Jesus of Nazareth. Peter was telling them that they should now embrace Jesus as their Messiah/Christ, the same Jesus they refused and murdered 50 days before because they thought He was an imposter (Acts 2:23,36).
Now, turn to Acts chapter 17, where the Apostle Paul is confronting Athenian philosophers on Mars’ Hill. In verses 22-28, Paul notices these pagans have an altar with an inscription that reads, “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” Paul tells them “we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device [thought]” (Acts 17:29 KJV). In verse 30, Paul says that God now “commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” Did you notice the word “think” in verse 29? “Repent” in verse 30 correlates with “think” in verse 29. These philosophers had to change their way of thinking—stop thinking of God dwelling in a manmade temple and stop thinking about the Godhead as if it were a dumb idol. Change your thinking!
In Romans 11:29 KJV, the Bible says: “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” God will fulfill His promises to Israel one day; once God promises something, He will not repent (He will not go back on His word and break the promise; He will not change His mind). Again, repentance in the Bible has nothing to do with suffering for sin or feeling guilty for sin.
Turn to 2 Timothy 2:25 KJV and read: “…if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” A change in thinking will result in you coming to the truth: in the context, this is Christians and lost people coming to the understanding “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), or learning how to study and understand the Bible dispensationally and learning how to be saved from their sins, respectively. You do not come to the truth by feeling sorry for your sins or turning from your sins. You repent (have a change in thinking), and then you respond positively according to the doctrine in the rightly divided Word of God.
Okay, we will look at one more reference. The church at Corinth had a wealth of problems (attested by the fact that Paul had to write a 16-chapter epistle we now know as “First Corinthians”). His follow-up letter is Second Corinthians, writing to commend and encourage the Corinthians for straightening out that long list of problems that existed a year earlier. Please pay close attention to what 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 KJV says:
“8 For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season.
9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”
After chiding the Corinthians in his first letter, Paul admits that he felt “repentance” (verse 8). Paul, after sending the letter of First Corinthians, had second thoughts about sending it. But, when Paul saw it had its positive affect on the Corinthians, he no longer had second thoughts (“I do not repent, though I did repent”). In verses 9 and 10, the Corinthians “SORROWED TO REPENTANCE.” Notice verse 10 says “godly sorrow worketh repentance.”
Notice what the Bible said. Godly sorrow is not repentance; it brings about repentance (a change in mind). Worldly sorrow, feeling sorry for your sins or feeling guilty, “worketh death” (verse 10). In contrast, godly sorrow addresses the situation, brings you to repentance (a change in mind), and that in turn brings about a change in lifestyle. So, because of godly sorrow, the Corinthians repented (had a change in thinking); this change in mind brought about the change in their lifestyle. Let me clarify this too: the change in lifestyle is not repentance. Repentance is the change in mind that brings about the change in lifestyle.
Repentance is changing your thinking, your thought processes, having a renewed mind brought on by the indwelling Holy Spirit as your read and study and believe the Bible rightly divided (Romans 12:1,2; Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 3:10).Repentance will cause you to think differently, and the change in lifestyle will follow. Remember that Biblical repentance is not “turning from your sins” and Biblical repentance is not related to penance or penitence. Repentance was necessary for salvation for Israel in time past, but it is not necessary for salvation today (it is a result of salvation). Hopefully, you have a better understanding of repentance as the Bible defines it. We all need to change our thinking—throw away the denominational definitions we have been taught for so long, and rely on God’s definitions that will last all eternity!
“Is repentance necessary for salvation today in this Dispensation of Grace?” And the answer is NO! NO! NO! So what about Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized…?” As we discussed earlier, that was spoken to Jews, the entire nation Israel, not us Gentiles (Acts 2:14,22,36). Furthermore, Acts chapter 2 was in the Dispensation of Law, separate from our current Dispensation of Grace. Before Jews could be saved in Christ’s earthly ministry, they needed repentance (Matthew 3:3; Luke 13:3-5; Acts 2:38; et al.). Today, repentance is a result of salvation. When Paul told the Philippian jailor how to be saved, Paul said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved…” (Acts 16:31). Paul did not say, “Repent and believe,” but merely “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Read Romans 3:26 KJV: “To declare, I say, at this time Christ’s righteousness: that He might be just [fair], and the justifier of him who believeth [trusts] in Jesus.” Notice, you did not see “he who believes and repents, or he who is baptized, or he who has joined the church, given money, walked the aisle, etc….” Repentance is not necessary for salvation today: it is a result of salvation. Repentance will cause you to have a change in thinking because you will become a new creature in Christ, and you now have the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1,2; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:23; Titus 2:11,12)!
In fact, here is how repentance relates to us today as members of the Church the Body of Christ. Look at what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:23 KJV: “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;” This, beloved, is Biblical repentance. Our Apostle, Paul, also writes in Romans 12:1,2 KJV (take special notice of Biblical repentance in verse 2):
“1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”