In many of my blog posts, I mention the idea that ‘repentance’ is not what many churches have taught over the years.
It actually means changing your mind.
Most of the time it is described by Christians as a ‘turning around; a U-turn if you like, and usually in terms of repentance from sin, or a turning away from sin, as seen by the person demanding the repentance. And, for some, it can indeed be that, but it’s not always that. I’m going to pass you over once again to the brilliant Mike Douglas, of the blog ‘Getting Back to My Future‘. Here, Mike describes what he feels repentance really is:
Repent, in our dictionaries, is defined as a verb meaning ‘to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin; to feel remorse, regret, be sorry, rue, reproach oneself, be ashamed, feel contrite; view or think of (an action or omission) with deep regret or remorse’.
While this is accurate, it is not how the Bible talks of repentance. The Bible has a different definition for repentance. The New Testament was originally written in Greek and the word typically translated as ‘repent’ is the Greek word “metanoia”.
It consists of two parts, first ‘meta’ which means ‘to change’. We get our word metamorphosis from this word. Like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon.
The second part, ‘noia’ means to think or to know. Think ‘knowledge’.
Combined, it means ‘to change how we think or what we know’. I think that is interesting! It’s not about not sinning or even being sorry when we do wrong. It’s about thinking differently.
But think differently about what?
It means “to change your mind; reconsider; or, to think differently.” Granted, if a person changes his mind (repents) toward certain behaviours 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. So it’s not about thinking differently about wrongdoing in our lives.
Many understand the term repentance to mean “turning from sin.” This is not the biblical definition of repentance. 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.
When God tells an unsaved man to repent, He means for that man to change his mind about how to reach God. The person must change his mind from any idea of saving himself through religion or good works, and trust Jesus’s death as payment for everything he has done wrong. That’s it!
Repent means to change your mind. ABOUT JESUS.
If you already know you need of a savior, you don’t need to repent to be saved, you just need to ask Jesus to save you. After we’re saved then Jesus sends His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and help us change our behavior, but that happens AFTER, not before, and even then, we never get it completely right. That’s why we are saved by grace, not by being or doing good.
To repent is to change your mind regarding Jesus. In Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), he concludes with a call for the people to repent. Repent from what? Peter is calling the people who rejected Jesus to change their minds about Him, to recognize that He is who He said He was. Peter is calling the people to change their minds from rejection of Christ as the Messiah to faith in Him.
Repentance and Faith
Repentance and faith can be understood as “two sides of the same coin.” It is impossible to place your faith [think trust] in Jesus Christ as your 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 disinterest, it is a change of mind. Biblical repentance is changing your mind from rejection of Christ to believing in Christ.
It is important that we understand repentance is not something we do to earn salvation. The Bible tells us 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. Put another way, He reveals Jesus to us for who He is and then invites us to change our thinking about Him.
How cool is that!
I think that’s brilliant, and he sums it up really well.
Sadly, the idea of ‘repentance’ has been misused and twisted in order to pull people into legalism – making oneself right with God by things we do or don’t do. As with so many of the simple things of faith, it’s been made more complex than it needs to be. For example, I’ve seen repentance described as the more complex idea of ‘a change of mind, leading to a change of heart, leading to a change in actions’. So in that idea they’ve taken the real, simple meaning of ‘changing your mind’, and made it far more complex, and just wrong as well. All we need to do in order to repent is to change our minds. Change our minds from the idea of getting ‘right with God’ through our own strength, thoughts, actions and deeds (which is pointless anyway (Rom 3:20, Gal 2:16, Gal 3:11 ) and instead relying entirely on Jesus and what He has already done for us.
This means that if you change your mind – repent – about your attitudes to finding your own way to God, and trusting instead in the finished work of Christ, then you will be saved. Saved from a life of drudgery and endless tail-chasing, into the life of the glorious freedom of the Children of God (Rom 8:21).