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What is Repentance?

by Stephen Eckart

The root meaning of the word repent is “to turn” or “a change of mind that leads to a change of action.” (I Kings 8:47/II Chron. 6:37) (Ezekiel 18:30, Acts 17:30)

The first mention of repentance in the Bible is in Genesis 6:6 “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” God repents in the Bible depending on mans free will choices. Not of sin like man does because God has no sin.

Salvation repentance

This repentance only applies to man and has to do with salvation or being reconciled to God. Its often preached simply as “Repent!”. The root meaning of this repentance is “turning to God from sin/self-righteousness” or “believing and obeying what God said.” Its important to understand that someone does not need to turn from sin/self-righteousness for a period of time before believing the gospel. Believing the gospel itself will cause you to turn from what you know to be sin/self-righteousness in your heart and mind first(See turning from sin section below).

Salvation repentance often includes:

Sorrow for what you are towards God

2 Corinthians 7:10 KJV “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”

Luke 18:13 KJV “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”

Confession of sin

Mark 1:4-5 KJV “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.”

Turning from sin/self-righteousness to God

John 3:20 KJV “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”

Colossians 1:21 KJV “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled”

Hebrews 6:1 KJV “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,”

1 Thessalonians 1:9 KJV “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;”

2 Timothy 2:19 KJV “…And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

Romans 6:17 KJV “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Ephesians 4:17-32 KJV

Acts 20:21 KJV “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Works meet for repentance

Acts 26:20 KJV “But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”

Matthew 3:8 KJV “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance."


Understand that all these aspects of repentance besides “works meet for repentance” can happen in someone’s heart in a moment when believing the gospel(Romans 4:5), however this is the exception to the rule, most people who get saved come into a state of repentance leading up to their trusting the gospel of Jesus Christ for salvation(John 3:21, Acts 10:2, Romans 2:6-8, John the Baptist's ministry preceding Jesus Christ’s).


Note: A good example of repentance can be found in Jonah chapter 3. The Lord Jesus summarizes what the men of Ninevah did in response to the preaching of Jonah as repentance: Matthew 12:41 “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they REPENTED at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.”

Turning from sin

One of the most consequential debates amongst Christians today is whether or not someone turns from their sin at the time of salvation. Salvation is only by believing the gospel(Death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins 1 Cor. 15:3-4) so then turning from sin is unnecessary is what you will often hear. While someone does not have to turn from sin for a period of time before believing the gospel, believing the gospel itself causes someone to turn from what they know to be sin and their self-righteousness. Furthermore salvation repentance is different then other kinds of repentance in the Bible.

1. The gospel includes believing Jesus died for your sins. Question: Can someone sincerely believe Jesus died for their sins and that they are a sinner without having a will to turn from their sin? For example imagine a Christian confessing their sin to God(1 John 1:9) without having a will to turn from it, their confession would be vain.


2. Many Bible teachers today are trying to convince the Church that deciding to eat a salad instead of a sandwich, and believing from your heart that your under the wrath of a Holy and Righteous God because of your sins and that you must believe His son died on a cross for you and rose again to be saved from His judgment are the same. Both examples indeed fit scriptural definitions of repentance though of course they are not the same.


3. Question: Could someone intend to believe the gospel for salvation while also intending to sin against God? Imagine a murderer saying he was going to get saved by believing the gospel of Jesus Christ while also planning to murder someone afterwards.


4. Is the word Lord vain(Rom. 10:9, Acts 16:31)? When Lord is associated with Jesus Christ does it mean what it does throughout the rest of the Bible? If you believed on someone in your personal life as Lord what would that look like? Not only would you be submitting to them your life moving forward but you would also need to turn from anything in your past that contradicts them. I will also add this question: does someone believe on Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savoir or just Savoir?


5. Its indisputable that the repentance Jesus preached was turning to God from sin/self-righteousness:

Isaiah 59:20 KJV “And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD.”

Acts 3:26 KJV “Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.”

Luke 5:32 KJV “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”


You may say then Church age salvation repentance is different but Acts 26:20 and Matthew 3:8 shows turning to God is similar regardless of the dispensation:

Acts 26:20 KJV “But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”

Matthew 3:8 KJV “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance."

“There are many people that have turned from sin, but they never turned to anything. There are many people that have turned to God without turning from sin. None of these people are saved.”– Peter S. Ruckman("Real Repentance" TV for Christ)

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