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Does "repent" mean to turn from sin and do good deeds?

Do you need to repent to be saved?

The Bible says we are saved by God's grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet the Bible also says that we need to "repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). "Repent" is such an important word. We need to get it right before we start using it in any gospel presentation. We dare not call people to repent if we are not absolutely sure what it means.

So let's start by looking at where the word, "repent" (as used in the Bible) comes from.

The word "repent" comes from the New Testament Greek word, "metanoia".

Metanoia is made up of two words...

Meta = with

Nous = mind

We can see from this that any explanation of the meaning of "repent" must refer to something that happens in a person's mind.

From 300 BC to 100 AD the Greek meaning of "repent" was to "change your mind" (heart) about someone or something. As the Bible was written before the end of 100 AD, this is the meaning we must start with.

So as we think about this we can see that, first of all, as far as the original meaning of the word is concerned, "repent" did not mean to "turn from sin" or "forsake sin" as some preach. The word "repent" doesn't even have the word "sin" in it!

Secondly, if "repent" did mean "turn from sin" then you could not use the word "repent" to speak of what we must do to be saved. The reason is if you needed to turn from sin to be saved, then salvation would be by works (turning from your sins) and not by grace. And if that were true, we would also have another problem... a BIG one. The problem is that if the Bible taught we were saved by turning from sin, then no one could be saved! The reason is that no one can fully turn from sin.

When you become a Christian, you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and there is a lot more work to be done. This work will not be complete till the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6). So this is a second reason why repent cannot mean "turn from sin". First of all, the Greek word for repent does not mention sin. Secondly, if repent mean turning from sin, salvation would be by works which would mean no one could be saved!

In the New Testament we see that the message preached to Jews and Gentiles was that all people should repent AND turn from sin. Repentance first. Turning from sin next.

The Scriptures only start talking about turning from sin after the following three things has happened...

Godly sorrow....

Repentance towards God (turning to God),

Faith in Jesus Christ....

Turning from sin is associated with and linked to repentance but it is not the same as repentance.

Here's what Acts 26:20 says, "First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds."

Repent - a change in your mind "towards God"

Turn to God - realise you cannot save yourself but put your trust in Christ for salvation.

Do good deeds - done in service to Christ, not to earn his salvation.

The good deeds do not save you. However, they can be evidence that a person is saved.

Repentance is necessary for salvation but it does NOT mean turning from sin. Preaching about repentance for salvation is found in the Gospels on the lips of Jesus and also in Acts in the preaching of the early apostles. Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15, Luke 24:47, Acts 2:38, 3:19, 5:31, 11:18, 20:21. But this repentance does not mean turning from sin. Rather, it means a change in the attitude of your mind towards God so that you agree with God that he is Holy and you are Sinful and that God is just to condemn to eternal hell for your sins. The proof of a changed mind towards God will be seen in changed lives (turning from evil and doing good) which is the fruit of repentance or the works worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8)... but not repentance itself which came first!

It's important also to say that repentance does not mean to be sorry for yourself, have regrets, express remorse about your evil ways or even change your ways. Many people do this but they do not change their minds towards God. They still live in rebellion to God and reject Jesus as Saviour (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Is Repentance essential for Salvation? Yes! Absolutely. So is faith. And neither are possible without GRACE: God's Riches At Christ's Expense, God's unmerited favour. We have done nothing to deserve it. It is given freely as a gift paid for by God himself by the blood of Jesus.

WE need to understand that repentance does not mean turning from or forsaking all sin or even just one sin. This cannot save you and it's not what the word "repent" means. Rather, "repentance" is a change (or turning around) in the attitude of your MIND towards God. And that also is only possible by the grace of God who opens heart and minds and who draws people to Christ.

It's interesting to note here that the Bible says repentance comes from "godly sorrow". 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, "For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of..." Here we see that something is already happening in the MIND even before repentance (a change of MIND) takes place. Here we see that godly sorrow is doing a work ("worketh") in the MIND and that this work leads to repentance. And repentance leads to salvation.

Godly sorrow is a brokenness of heart that comes when you realise that you have offended God by your sin and that you totally deserve the full weight of his divine wrath for your rebellion against him.

It is this kind of sorrow (utter brokenness before God) that brings true repentance, a change in the attitude of your MIND towards God. This change of MIND is not a "work". It is simply a "you're right, I was wrong" moment.... a moment before God! It's a giving in, an admission, an acknowledgment, an acceptance of: (1) your sin (and you inability to do anything about it) and (2) God's holiness (and his just decision to condemn you to hell for your sin). This leads to salvation and a change in your relationship with God.

In contrast to godly sorrow, worldly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10) does not bring about a change in your relationship to God. Godly sorrow does because it leads to repentance towards God (Acts 20:21). This in turn leads to true faith (trust) in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on a cross as full payment for sin.

Only then can the new believer begin to turn from sin with the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Only then can he/she start doing works that are in keeping with repentance (a change of mind) towards God (Matthew 3:8).

2 Peter 3:9 says that God is "not willing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." Jesus said, "unless you repent you will perish" (Luke 13:3, 5). And God commands everyone to repent (Acts 17:30). It's important here to note that belief cannot be separated from repentance for Jesus said, "whosoever believeth in me shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). And in Mark 1:15 he says, "Repent ye and believe the gospel". You cannot put faith in Jesus and his death to save you from sin until you first repent can change your attitude towards God; a changed attitude that will acknowledge that he is not only Lord of all, but comes to be Saviour of all. This all begins with godly sorrow. For an example of godly sorrow, read Psalm 51 which is king David's prayer of brokenness before God after he had committed adultery and murder.

So, when someone preaches about the need to repent in order to be saved from the wrath of God, they are not saying "Get your life together and stop sinning so God will save you." That would be salvation by works. What they are saying is that you are to change in the attitude of your mind towards God and begin a life of following Jesus. The reality of your changed mind towards God will be seen in a changed life that grows daily in learning how to please God by turning from sin to doing the things that please God. A LIFE of repentance and faith that will at times bring deep godly sorrow when you realise the depth of your sin against God, is the proof (Acts 26:20) that a person has indeed repented and believed the gospel and is following Jesus. Simply saying a prayer or doing good deeds will not get you into heaven.

You must "repent ye and believe the gospel".

This is why the apostle Paul can say, "I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds."

Good Works are evidence of salvation but not the means of salvation. Many people believe that just saying a prayer and asking Jesus into their heart saves them. It doesn't . You are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) when you repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). The fact is that you don't need to ask Jesus to come into your life because he made a promise that to all who believed that he would freely give the Holy Spirit, the promise and gift of the Father (John 7:37-39; Acts 1:4, 2:33). No where in Scripture will you find people being asked to prayer a prayer to ask Jesus into their hearts.

We are however called to, "Repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15)

So, God calls you to "repent and believe the gospel" and "prove" your repentance (your changed attitude towards God, from rebellion and unbelief, to obedience and belief) by your good deeds (Ephesians 2:10) - turning from sin.

In heaven you will be rewarded for the good things done in obedience to Christ, but good deeds will not get you into heaven.

While on earth, it is legitimate (fair) to challenge anyone who claims to be a Christian but the evidence seems to be lacking.

It is fair to make this challenge to those who say they believe (and have even prayed a prayer) but their lives have not changed. Even demons believe, but tremble with fear (James 2:19) and faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 20).

It is fair to make this challenge to those who say they have changed their lives (even calling themselves, "Christian") but at the same time, deny that Jesus is God, and that he died for our sins and rose again (1 John 4:2, 2:7).

It is fair to make this challenge because Jesus warns us that to some who say, "Lord, Lord...." he will say, "depart from me, I never knew you". We are also commanded to reach out to those who may be in danger of eternal fire (Jude 1:23).

Everything on this page was written and prepared in the fear of God and love of sinners that God may be glorified in their salvation.