Oct 4, 2009


Yesterday a friend of mine asked me what repentance was and was not. He had some really good questions. I figured others probably had some good questions on this word as well. I wanted to write an article on repentance but realized I had not the time to do so. So instead I did the next best thing: culled some good solid definitions to help explain repentance from the biblical perspective. Read and enjoy!

repentance: A heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ.

[Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 1253.]

repentance - Contrition, the acknowledgment and condemnation of one’s own sins together with a turning back toward God. Springing from a disinterested love of God, it includes sorrow, confession, and a determination not to sin again.

[George Thomas Kurian, Nelson's New Christian Dictionary : The Authoritative Resource on the Christian World (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Pubs., 2001)]

REPENTANCE — There are three Greek words used in the New Testament to denote repentance.

(1.) The verb is used of a change of mind, such as to produce regret or even remorse on account of sin, but not necessarily a change of heart. This word is used with reference to the repentance of Judas.
(2.) Metanoeo, meaning to change one’s mind and purpose, as the result of after knowledge. This verb, with
(3.) the cognate noun is used of true repentance, a change of mind and purpose and life, to which remission of sin is promised.

Evangelical repentance consists of:
(1) a true sense of one’s own guilt and sinfulness;
(2) an apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ;
(3) an actual hatred of sin and turning from it to God; and
(4) a persistent endeavour after a holy life in a walking with God in the way of his commandments.

The true penitent is conscious of guilt, of pollution, and of helplessness. Thus he apprehends himself to be just what God has always seen him to be and declares him to be. But repentance comprehends not only such a sense of sin, but also an apprehension of mercy, without which there can be no true repentance.

[M.G. Easton, Easton's Bible Dictionary (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897).]

a turning away from sin, disobedience, or rebellion and a turning back to God. In a more general sense, repentance means a change of mind or a feeling of remorse or regret for past conduct. True repentance is a “godly sorrow” for sin, an act of turning around and going in the opposite direction. This type of repentance leads to a fundamental change in a person’s relationship to God.

In the Old Testament the classic case of repentance is that of King David, after Nathan the prophet accused him of killing Uriah the Hittite and committing adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. David’s prayer of repentance for this sin is found in Psalm 51.

In the New Testament the keynote of John the Baptist’s preaching was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). To the multitudes he declared, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8). When Jesus began His ministry, He took up John’s preaching of the message of repentance, expanding the message to include the good news of salvation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:15).

In Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God is seen the truth that repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin: by repentance, one turns away from sin; by faith, one turns toward God in accepting the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a twofold turning, or conversion, is necessary for entrance into the kingdom.

“Unless you repent,” said Jesus, “you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). This is the negative, or judgmental, side of Jesus’ message. The positive, or merciful, side is seen in these words: “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, His disciples continued His message of repentance and faith. Repentance is a turning from wickedness and dead works toward God and His glory, eternal life, and a knowledge of the truth.

Repentance is associated with prayer, belief, baptism, and conversion and is accompanied by humility. Repentance is God’s will and pleasure, as well as His command. It is a gift of His sovereign love, without which we cannot be saved.

[Ronald F. Youngblood et al., Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Rev. ed. of: Nelson's illustrated Bible dictionary.; Includes index.;Nashville: T. Nelson, 1995).]


In the NT the words translated ‘repent’ are metanoeō and metamelomai. In Gk. they usually mean ‘to change one’s mind’, and so also ‘to regret, feel remorse’ (i.e. over the view previously held). This note of remorse is present in the parable of the tax collector, probably in Mt. 21:29, 32; 27:3 and Lk. 17:4 (‘I am sorry’), and most explicitly in 2 Cor. 7:8–10.

But the NT usage is much more influenced by the OT šûḇ; that is, repentance not just as a feeling sorry, or changing one’s mind, but as a turning round, a complete alteration of the basic motivation and direction of one’s life. This is why the best translation for metanoeō is often ‘to convert’, that is, ‘to turn round’ (*CONVERSION).

It also helps to explain why John the Baptist demanded *BAPTISM as an expression of this repentance, not just for obvious ‘sinners’, but for ‘righteous’ Jews as well—baptism as a decisive act of turning from the old way of life and a throwing oneself on the mercy of the Coming One.

Jesus’ call for repentance receives little explicit mention in Mk. (1:15; cf. 6:12) and Mt. (4:17; 11:20f.; 12:41), but is emphasized by Lk. (5:32; 10:13; 11:32; 13:3, 5; 15:7, 10; 16:30; 17:3f.; cf. 24:47). Other sayings and incidents in all three Gospels, however, express very clearly the character of the repentance which Jesus’ whole ministry demanded.

Its radical nature, as a complete turning round and return, is emphasized by the parable of the Prodigal Son. Its unconditional character appears from the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector—repentance means acknowledging that one has no possible claim upon God, and submitting oneself without excuse or attempted justification to God’s mercy.

The ‘turn round’ in previous values and life-style is highlighted by the encounter with the rich young man and Zacchaeus. Above all, Mt. 18:3 makes it clear that to convert is to become like a child, that is, to acknowledge one’s immaturity before God, one’s inability to live life apart from God, to accept one’s total dependence on God.

The call for repentance (and promise of forgiveness) features regularly in Luke’s record of the preaching of the first Christians. Here metanoeō is complemented by epistrephō (‘to turn round, return’—Acts 3:19; 9:35; 11:21; 14:15; 15:19; 26:18, 20; 28:27), where means more a turning away (from sin) and metanoeōepistrephō a turning to (God) (see particularly Acts 3:19; 26:20), though each by itself can embrace both senses (as in Acts 11:18; 1 Thes. 1:9).

It is clear from Acts 5:31 and 11:18 that no difficulty was felt in describing repentance both as God’s gift and as man’s responsibility. At the same time Is. 6:9–10 is cited several times as an explanation of men’s failure to convert.

The writer to the Hebrews also indicates the importance of initial repentance (6:1), but whereas he questions the possibility of a second repentance(6:4–6; 12:17), others are even more emphatic in their belief that Christians can and need to repent (2 Cor. 7:9f.; 12:21; Jas. 5:19f.; 1 Jn. 1:5–2:2; Rev. 2:5, 16, 21f.; 3:3, 19).

[D. R. W. Wood and I. Howard Marshall, New Bible Dictionary (3rd ed.; Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1007.]

J.I. Packer on Repentance and Baptism
The path of practice to which baptism directs is consenting to be changed, which is the essence of repentance. I do not baptize myself; the minister is in charge, putting me under the water and bringing me out at his own will. This pictures true penitence and self-denial, that is, surrendering to Christ the reins of one’s life, so as to be driven his way.

Self-assertion and stubbornness come naturally to everyone, and W. H. Auden’s line, “We would rather be ruined than changed,” is too true to be good. But willingness to be changed by Christ (which is not a natural state of mind, but a gift of grace) remains the fundamental element in all genuine Christian practice.

Baptism requires us to face, and keep facing, these basic norms of doctrine, experience, and practice in Christ’s Christianity. This in itself is a major part of the blessing baptism brings.

[J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ (Originally published: I want to be a Christian. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, c1977.; Includes index.;Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996, c1994), 129.]


  1. Anonymous8:46 AM

    This is good! Hey, I was wondering, would you ever consider doing a post on the sabbath as it relates to the Christian? I know you covered it a while back during our study in collossians, and you had some interesting points on it.

  2. I liked your detailed study on repentance. In Acts 2 it says "repent and be baptized everyone of you..." I feel that we baptists often have the form of godliness, but deny the reality. In the Old Testament when a Levite came to the age of 30 he would go to the tabernacle or temple and be washed completely, putting on clean linens thus expressing his desire to live a clean holy life representing God to the people and the people to God. When Jesus was baptized of John He said: "nevertheless, let it be so for now, for it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." This was Jesus's entrance into the ministry of God. May we baptists likewise take our baptism this seriously - a life committment to live holy and righteously before our Father. This is a witness of real repentance, a real turning around. JimSr.

  3. Thanks, guys!

    I do want to make it clear, though, that I did not write the material found here. I pulled excerpts from some nice sources to give everyone a good idea about this. The sources are listed.

    As far as the Sabbath ... maybe one day but for now I point you to DA Carson's great book on the topic. Anyone know the title?


  4. Anonymous8:21 AM

    from sabbath day to lord's day, if I'm not mistaken.

  5. Anonymous4:16 PM

    aaron whitley- hey Vocab, good references. What about genesis 6:6. "And the Lord was sorry he made man on the earth." Its hard for me to grasp the meaning of this in regards to repentence. The word sorry used here is the hebrew word Nakham which sometimes is refered to as repent, sorrowfull, or grieved. I can fully understand the verse as it ties into early redemptive history, but on the street how would you explain this to a non-beleiver. thanks.


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