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Do you need to repent to be saved?

If you do, then what exactly does repent mean?

Before you preach or share the Gospel, you need to be sure of the answer to the two BIG questions above. If you don’t, you risk preaching "another gospel" (Galatians 1:6-9). It's true that the Bible makes a connection between repentance and salvation (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38) but what exactly does this mean? To answer these questions, we need to look at two things: the original meaning of word, “repent” as it is found in the Bible and, the way the word "repent" is used in the Bible.

Let’s start with by looking at the word "repent" as it is used in the New Testament, since this is where we find phrases such as "repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 3:15) and "repent and be baptised... for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). We note first that the command to repent is given to "all men everywhere" (Acts 17:30). This is a double emphasis: "all men" AND "everywhere". So the command to repent is not just to Jews and not only for Gentiles. Almighty God, commands all people to repent.

The English word, "repent" is used to translate the Greek word μετανοέω, metanoéō

Meta = with

Noéo = mind

So at the most simple level of understanding, "repent" is a word that describes something that happens with your MIND. It is important also to note that the Bible uses the word, metanoéo to talk about a person's relationship to God (Acts 17:30). So repentance has to do with what a person thinks in their mind about God. How often have you read or heard a message that spoke of the MIND, when talking about repentance?

Consider this: the Bible tells us that before we are saved, we are enemies of God in our MINDS through wicked works (Colossians 1:21). The opposite is true that after a person is saved, they are no longer enemies of God in their minds (Romans 7:21-23, 24-25, 8:5-7). So what happened for those who are no longer God’s enemies is that there has been a change of mind towards God. Their minds have gone from prideful rebellion to humble submission.

What happens "with" the "mind" then when a person is saved is that they have a change in the attitude of their mind towards God. The word, "repent" can be explained like this:

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.

In contrast to someone who repents, the unrepentant sinner has no fear of God, does not acknowledge God’s holiness, does not admit they are sinful and wicked in God’s sight and does not believe God is just to condemn them for their sin (Proverbs 16:2, 30:12; Pslam 36:1, Romans 3:18, Revelation 2:21).

Repentance is a positive change in the attitude of a person’s MIND towards God. The Bible, having commanded all people to repent, then goes on to command people to demonstrate the reality of that repentance in their daily lives. A true change of you MIND towards God will lead to changes in your LIFE. The Bible describes the process of repentance like this:

(1) repent

(2) and turn to God and (faith is implied: Hebrews 11:6; with Jesus the object of that faith)

(3) and do works/produce fruit "meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20; Matthew 3:8).

Please notice that doing works worthy of repentance comes AFTER repentance. Repentance first. Turning to God next. Works worthy of repentance last.

What exactly does "meet for repentance" mean?

Both Acts 26: 20 and Matthew 3:8 contain the phrase, "meet for repentance". A careful look at this phrase shows clearly that fruit (Matthew 3:8) and works (Acts 26:20) are something that come AFTER repentance. So for that reason alone, fruit/works cannot be the same as repentance.

The word for meet is ἄξιος "axios" (an adjective - ie. it describes a noun; in this case, the word "repent". NB: the word "fast" is an adjective that can describe the word "run" but it is not the same as the word "run". It can also describe the word "jump".).

Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament words explains that "axios" has the meaning of being of "weight, value, worth"; also "befitting, becoming, right on the ground of fitness," Strong's Hebrews and Greek Dictionaries and Thayer's Greek Definitions bring the same understanding of meet.

From this understanding of the Greek word, "axios" the passages in Acts can be interpreted as "...that they should repent and turn to God, and do works becoming or befitting [appropriate] for repentance." It could also be interpreted as, "...that they should repent and turn to God, and do works on the ground of repentance." We need to be clear on this: works are the evidence of saving faith; not a means to salvation.

Axios (meet) is also used in 1 Corinthians 16:4 and 2 Thessalonians 1:3 in the same way it is used in the Acts and Matthew passages. In Corinthians and Thessalonians it is used to describe a response that follows on AFTER a previous event. That response is one that is worthy, appropriate it, befitting of... the event that came BEFORE.

So what's the point of this discussion on the word, "meet"? Simply to show that fruit/works (turning from sin and doing good) are NOT repentance! They are "meet for repentance". They happen AFTER repentance. They are appropriate and worthy responses to follow on AFTER repentance. Therefore, it is not biblical to say that "repent" means to turn from or forsake your sins because it quite simply does not mean that.

But what leads a person to want to repent?

The Bible says that repentance comes from someone who has godly sorrow for their sin. The Bible says “godly sorrow” LEADS to repentance and “repentance” LEADS to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). Godly sorrow is the brokenness of heart (Acts 2:37) that comes as you realise how truly wicked you are before God (seeing the true filth of your sin) and are concerned that you have offended your creator with your wickedness and are powerless to do anything about it. It is this godly sorrow, that leads to repentance and turning to God for mercy.

The Greek word used to describe Judas' repentance is "metamelomai" and means to have remorse or regret for your sin. However, this does not imply a change in the attitude of your mind towards God - from rebellion to submission. It is not godly sorrow (like the godly sorrow the Corinthians showed when Paul rebuked them (2 Corinthians 7:9). ,Judas repented but he did not repent AND turn to God AND do works worthy of repentance (Acts 26:20) or show repentance towards God (Acts 21:20).

The Bible says, "repent AND turn to him [God] to have your sins blotted out..." (Acts 3:19). Judas' repentance did not come from godly sorrow and it was not the kind of repentance (metanoéō) that indicates a change of mind towards God: from prideful rebellion to humble submission. As a result, Judas sins were not blotted out and as a result and he was eternally damned.

While some may repent, their sins are not blotted out because their repentance is NOT repentance towards God (Acts 20:21). They have no GODLY sorrow for sin and continue in the sin of unbelief. All they have is regret or remorse for their actions. This may motivate them to change some of their ways but because they still reject Jesus Christ, God is still against them and his wrath hangs over them (John 3:16, 36). In the Bible, when people are called to repent, it is a call to "repent AND turn to God" (Acts 26:20); not just to live a better life but turn to God who gives us life and blots out sin.

What's the connection between repentance and faith?

While we haven't spoken of it till now (because it is not the focus of this study) repentance cannot be separated from faith since Jesus said, "Repent AND believe the gospel" (Mark 3:15) and the disciples preached "repentance toward God AND faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21)". You are saved by grace through faith and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-10). As faith is not a work (something you achieve) neither is repentance a work. Agreeing with God that he is holy, you are sinful and God is just to condemn you to hell for your sin is not something you achieve. It is simply giving in and admitting the gospel truth about God and yourself.

Repentance does not mean to turn from sin but to change your mind. Repentance is something that happens WITH your MIND. Repentance that leads to salvation is a change in the attitude of your mind towards God (this change must include faith in Jesus Christ). Repentance towards God (which brings forgiveness) then leads to turning from sin! Only God can give you forgiveness and power over sin.


Let's revise the key points of this study beginning with identifying two important factors in salvation that we have not mentioned but which must go before repentance happens.....

(1) God the Father draws sinners to Jesus (John 6:44)

(2) The Holy Spirit brings conviction (John 16:8) through the law (Galatians 3:24; Romans 7:7)

(3) Godly sorrow (not worldly regrets) leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10)

(4) Repentance (Luke 13:3) that saves involves a change of mind towards God (Acts 20:21)

(5) Faith in Jesus and his death for sinners, must go with repentance (Mark 3:15; Acts 20:21)

(6) The repentant sinner is commanded to do works worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20).

YES, repentance (a change of mind towards God - that flows from godly sorrow) is necessary for salvation. And so is faith. Repentance and Faith being different sides of the same coin. They go together and are inseparable so far as Christian salvation is concerned. You don't repent, and then later on decide to put your faith in Christ and his death to save you. And it is not possible to put your faith in Jesus without first repenting. "Repentance toward God and faith AND faith in our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21) go together. Of the two, repentance (a change of mind) must come first) because we read of certain people that they "repented not afterward, THAT ye might believe him" (Matthew 21:32). [the emphasis on "and" and "that" in these two verses is ours]

NO, repentance does not mean turning form sin or forsaking sin. If it did, that would make repentance a work of the flesh and we know that works cannot save (Ephesians 2:8-10). Forsaking or turning from sin (works worthy of repentance) is a fruit of repentance, not repentance itself.

Rather, repentance is something that happens WITH your MIND in your attitude towards GOD. Repentance is a change of mind towards God. Repentance is a change from prideful rebellion to humble submission. Repentance means to humble yourself before God in the attitude of your MIND so you admit that God alone is Holy, you are sinful and God is just to condemn you to hell for your sin.

"But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." —Romans 4:5