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1. The meaning of "repent" in its original language

The English word repent, is used 34 times in the NT to translate the Greek verb, μετανοέω (metanoéō) and the word, repentance is used 23 times to translate the Greek noun, μετάνοια (metanoia = repentance).

The words metanoéō and metanoia are made up of two words each. Meta and noéō.

Used on it's own, meta means "with" (eg. "Behold, a virgin shall be with child" - Matthew 1:23) or "after" (eg. "After these things, Jesus walked in Galilee" - John 7:1). It can also be used as a prefix before other words as you will see below. Consider the use of meta as found in the words, “metamorphosis” and “metanoéō”. 



Meta = with, change, afterwards, altered

Meta = with, change, afterwards, altered

Morphe = shape, outward appearance

noéō = mind, to think

Metamorphosis = to change physical shape or outward appearance, to make a different shape.

Metanoéō = to change your mind or think differently after, re: someone/ something *

Examples: Change of shape to Butterfly

Change of shape to Frog

Example: Change of mind towards God.

“repent and turn to God” (Acts 2:38) “repentance toward God (Acts 20:21)

* Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance G3340; Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words; Thayers Greek Definitions;


2. The meaning of "repent" as used in Scripture

At the most simple level of understanding, we have seen that "repent" is a word that describes something that happens with your MIND; in particular, to think differently or to change your mind. Most importantly, the Bible makes it clear that a change of mind towards God (Acts 2:8, 20:21) is a necessary condition for salvation. This condition (the need for repentance) applies to ALL people EVERYWHERE, both Jew and Gentile (Acts 11:18, 17:30; 2 Corinthians 7:10).

Two questions that arise from this are...

(a) What do all people everywhere need to change their minds about, to be saved?

(b) What is the relationship between a change of mind and a change of life?

A. What do all people everywhere need to change their minds about, to be saved?

Since the Bible says that Jesus came to call sinners to repent (Luke 5:32) we need to ask: what is it about the attitude of the sinners' mind that needs changed so that they can be saved? As we look at Scripture, several things stand out as characterising the mind of an unsaved sinner.

The Bible describes those who need to repent as having minds that...

  • Love darkness and their deeds are evil (John 3:19).
  • Do not believe in Jesus as God's Son, come to save sinners (John 3:18, 36)
  • Have no fear of God (Romans 3:18)
  • Are self righteous and believe in their own goodness (Proverbs 16:2, 30:12)
  • Deny God's existence and do not glorify him (Romans 1:21)
  • Are "carnally MINDED", and live to please the flesh, not God (Romans 8:5-8)
  • Are enemies of God in their MINDS through wicked works (Colossians 1:21)

Everything in the list above speaks of prideful rebellion against God. This is what got Satan cast out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12-15; Revelation 12:4a). The opposite is to be true of a person who is saved. For example, they are no longer enemies of God in their minds (Romans 7:21-23, 24-25, 8:5-7). Their minds have gone from prideful rebellion to humble submission (1 Peter 5:6; James 4:10).

Repentance, as a change in the attitude of the mind towards God, can be explained like this:

To repent means to to humble yourself before God in the attitude of your MIND so you admit that:

(1) God alone is Holy,

(2) you are sinful and

(3) God is just to condemn you to hell for your sin.

This acknowledgement before God with brokenness of heart (Psalm 34:18, 51:17) is not a work of the flesh. It is an attitude of the mind such as that of the prodigal son who simply gave up resisting the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 7:51) and came to his senses (Luke 15:17). It is an attitude of mind that does not achieve anything but simply submits to the tug of the Holy Spirit as God the Father draws the sinner to the Saviour (John 6:44, 65) and opens their eyes (eg. Luke 24:45, Acts 9:17). Repentance, a change of mind towards God, is only possible through Grace!

Of course, faith too is involved but the focus here is on understanding what a person needs to repent about (change their mind about) to be saved.

Repentance actually comes before faith for until you change your mind about God, self and sin, you will not be ready to put your trust in the Saviour. Jesus said to certain priests and elders, "...when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” (Matthew 21:32). The Bible says that a person cannot believe unless they first repent. Jesus preached, "Repent ye and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). Before a person can believe the Gospel (Good News about Jesus) they must repent.

All people everywhere need to repent: they need to come to their senses and admit, God is Holy, they are sinful and God is just to condemn them for their sin.

B. What is the relationship between a change of mind and a change of life?

We have seen that repentance is a change in the attitude of a person’s MIND towards God, which is necessary for salvation. But as well as a change of mind could repentance also mean, a change of life or lifestyle? In other words, do the Scriptures support a view that repentance means to, "turn from sin" and that you need to turn from sin to be saved?

Our answer is that while turning from sin to doing good is the expected OUTCOME of repentance it is not the SAME as repentance and it is not therefore necessary for salvation. Here's why...

Apart from the fact that the word "repent" does not mean, "turn from sin", turning from sin (the fruit of repentance) is not always evident (obvious, visible) in the ways expected. Who of you reading this as Christians can honestly say that you have turned from all your sins, once and for all. Are there not some sins that still hang on years or even decades after you repented (changed your mind towards God, self and sin) and put your trust in Christ for salvation? Because of this reality in the Christian life that even the apostle Paul admitted he struggled with (Romans 7:18-20), there are many places in the Bible that exhort "saints" (Christians) who had repented (Romans 1:7), to also turn from sins (Romans 6:1-2). They were saved, but still needed sanctified.

A change of MIND towards God, is expected to lead to changes in your LIFE towards God but that does not always happen. If a person says they have repented and trusted Christ for salvation but continue to struggle, for example, with the sin of "gossip", does this mean that person is not saved? No, not necessarily. They could be a false convert but they could also be a Christian who has struggled to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). Who doesn't!

There was a whole city of Christians in the Bible who struggled to produce fruit worthy of repentance. The Corinthians! In his first letter to these people, Paul addresses them as "saints" (those made holy by the blood of Christ), true Christians (1 Corinthians 1:2). Along with other Gentiles these converted Gentiles living in Corinth (one of the most morally corrupt cities at that time) had been granted repentance unto life (Acts 11:18). However, they were were not producing fruit worthy of repentance (eg. 1 Corinthians 6:5-6). They were in fact very carnal and controlled by worldly desires (1 Corinthians 5:1). Despite their carnal lives, the Bible makes it clear that they were "sanctified in Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 1:2) which is only possible through repentance (Luke 3:3) and faith (Acts 10:43).

If the Corinthian Christians needed to turn from their sins as a condition for salvation, then Paul would not have addressed them as sanctified saints.

It is important to note that while repentance (a change in the attitude of your mind towards God) is a condition of salvation; turning from sin (changes in your life) are not. Repentance (a change of mind towards God) is a condition for salvation, turning from sin (a change of life) is not. So it is not possible to claim that repentance means to "turn from your sins". If you needed to "turn from sin" to be saved, no one would be saved!!!

No amount of turning from sin/evil and doing good will save you otherwise that would be salvation by your own merit (good works do not save - Ephesians 2:8-10). However, while "repent" does not mean to turn from sin, it does prepare the way for turning from sin. This is why the Bible speaks of fruit/works "meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20; Matthew 3:8). Turning from sin is the next step after repenting and turning to God.

The Bible describes the relationship between a change of mind and a change of life like this:

"Repent and turn to God and do works meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20).

(1) repent (a change in the attitude of your mind about God, self and sin)

(2) and turn to God and (faith in Jesus is implied: Hebrews 11:6; Acts 21:20)

(3) and do works (produce fruit - Matthew 3:8) meet for repentance

Please notice that doing works worthy of repentance comes AFTER repentance AND turning to God. Repentance first. Turning to God next. Then works. Numbers 1 and 2 above are necessary conditions for salvation (Mark 1:15). Number three (works) is not. See more on this below under the heading about "meet for repentance".

The following Scriptures are examples of showing that repentance is not the same as turning from sin. They show that repentance comes BEFORE turning from sin and that turning from sin is a specific thing that flows on AFTER and out of repentance; just like baptism and belief come AFTER repentance.

Repent ye AND believe the gospel (Mark 1:15)

Repent AND be baptized (Acts 2:38)

Repent AND turn to God (Acts 2:38)

[Repent] AND do works meet for repentance (Acts 26:20)

[Repent] AND bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: (Matthew 3:8)

Repent AND do the first works (Revelation 2:5)

Repent AND turn [yourselves] from all your transgressions (Ezekiel 18:30)

Repent, AND turn [yourselves] from your idols; (Ezekiel 14:6)

[Repent] AND turn away your faces from all your abominations. (Ezekiel 14:6)

Repent AND make supplication [pray] unto thee (1 Kings 8:47)

Repented AND went [and worked in his father’s vineyard] (Matthew 21:29)

Repent… 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 (“Repent ye therefore and be converted….”)

Before anyone can: believe the gospel, be baptized, turn to God, do works “meet” for repentance, turn from transgressions, pray in a way that makes prayer acceptable to God, be converted…. THEY MUST REPENT! They must have a change of mind about God, self and sin.

NONE OF THESE THINGS associated with repentance (eg. baptism, turning from transgressions, prayer, believing) actually mean repentance (a change of mind). They are instead, the RESULT of a change of mind (towards God). So it is not sound doctrine to say that repentance means or is equal to turning from sin any more than to say that repentance means or is equal to baptism or prayer! And it is certainly not sound doctrine to say that you need to turn from sin as a condition for salvation.

The Bible has made a very clear distinction between repentance and the things that flow from repentance. The Bible puts it like this:

"Repent and turn to God and do works meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20).