Confession, Repentance, and Forgiveness (Part 2 of 5)

“Repent”:  a Word Study

Our first hurdle in believing our complete forgiveness in Christ is understanding the word “repent” and its use in the gospels.  Two thousand years of church history have distorted the word “repent” to mean some kind of sorrow or penance or ongoing confession of our sin.  But its use in the New Testament is much more straightforward and may not be what you have been taught.  So what exactly is meant by the word “repent” in the New Testament?

If we turn to our Blue Letter Bible app, we find the word “repent” used 26 times in the New American Standard version of the New Testament.  Every one of those times, it is translated from the Greek word “metanoeō”.  You might recognize “meta” means “change” as in our English word metamorphosis.  And “noeō” refers to how we think or perceive.  Strong’s Concordance defines “metanoeō” as “to change one’s mind or purpose.”

To repent is to change one’s mind or purpose.  What kind of change of mind is John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul referring to in the New Testament?

“Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ “ (Matthew 3:1-2).  What is John’s message?  As a preparer of the way for the Messiah, John is proclaiming, “The kingdom of heaven is coming.”  And if you read the rest of what John had to say in the gospels, you learn that he is referring to the kingdom coming in the form of a person, Jesus.  And because of the coming of Jesus, there is something to change your mind about.

In Matthew chapter 4, we are introduced to Jesus’ first proclamation of the gospel and it is a repeat of John’s message.  “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ “ (Matthew 4:17).  There is something Jesus wants us to change our mind about and it is related to Him now being here – “the kingdom of heaven at hand.”

Mark expands on this message when he introduces us to Jesus in the first chapter of his gospel.  “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’ “ (Mark 1:14-15).  Now we have our first clue regarding what we are called to change our mind about.  Here Jesus says that changing one’s mind involves believing in the gospel.  As Jesus continues to preach a message of repentance throughout the gospels, it boils down to changing our mind about how one is made right with God.

Jumping to the book of Acts, we see the context for how the apostles used the word repent.  In his famous sermon recorded in Acts chapter 2, Peter proclaims, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit“ (Acts 2:38).  The context of “repent” in this verse is the need for unbelievers to receive the gospel message and be forgiven.

Peter’s next recorded sermon includes the same call to repent.  “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).  Peter is again preaching a gospel message to those who have not yet received Christ.  “Repent and return” sounds like changing directions.  “You were believing one thing.  Now believe something new.  Believe the gospel message of Jesus Christ and your sins will be wiped away, your sins will be forgiven.”

The apostle Paul adds, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30).  Paul declares that the gospel message of repentance, the need to change your mind and believe in Jesus, is for all people everywhere.

Later in Paul’s testimony we read, “But I kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God” (Acts 26:20).  Repent and turn.  Again, a gospel message of salvation.  Change your mind.  Do a one-eighty.  Turn from whatever you were believing and turn to God.

Finally we come full circle back to John the Baptist.  Paul reminds us of what John’s call to repentance was about.  “Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus’ “ (Acts 19:4).  John’s message of repentance and all those after him was the same; change your mind and believe in Jesus.

Now admittedly, this is a very brief overview of “repent”.  But I think it captures the flavor of its use in the New Testament.  When you put the use and context of “repent” together, “repent” has to do with basically one thing.  Change your mind about how you are made right with God.  Repentance is about salvation.  I believe it is that simple.  An expanded definition that I would give for the word “repent” as used in the New Testament is “change your mind about whatever you are trusting in now and believe the gospel message of Jesus Christ.”

So why have we added all these layers to repentance in our Christian experience?  I have some ideas that I will share next time.

One thought on “Confession, Repentance, and Forgiveness (Part 2 of 5)”

  1. Yes, yes, yes. Exactly my argument and conclusion in my recent Miras article.

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