Meaning of Repentance
The words “repent,” “repentance,” and “repented” are mentioned over 100 times in the Bible. There has been a lot of misunderstanding and confusion over what the word repentance means. When the word “repent” is used in the Word of God in the context of Biblical salvation, it is referring to a truly God-given, Spirit-led change of heart and mind toward God about sin.
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out …” (Acts 3:19).
The greatest need for any sinner is have his sins blotted out, but a man will never have the pardon of sin while he is in love with his sin. There must be a hatred of sin, a loathing of it, a turning from it. Repentance is a revolution in dealing with our attitude and view towards sin and righteousness. Repentance is not something one does with his hands, but it is an inward attitude of the soul. Sin must become, in the eyes of the sinner, exceedingly sinful.
All Sinners Are Condemned
Everyone knows they are not perfect, but for most sinners that is consolation, not condemnation. But the Bible declares all sinners are already condemned:
“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17-18).
The problem is “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23). Man, in his lost, sinful, condemned state, has failed to glorify God. Until a person becomes personally exceedingly sinful in his own eyes, he will never see his need for repentance. Eph.2:1 says man is spiritually dead; Rom.3:10 and Isa.64:6 tells us no one is righteous before a holy God; Rom.3:19 says all stand guilty and condemned before God; Eph.4:18 declares all sinners are separated from God whose hearts and minds are blinded so that they cannot understand God or the things of God.
Repentance basically involves two facts: the fact of sin and the fact of God’s grace. If a person is not a sinner, he would not need to repent, and if God was not the God of all grace, it would do no good to repent. Repentance implies sin, sorrow for it, and a changed attitude towards God about it.
It should also be stressed that repentance itself is not a human act, but comes only from God (Rom.2:4) — it is a divine gift of God (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25).
The Nature of Repentance
In true Biblical repentance, there will be three things to occur as God does a work of grace upon the sinner’s heart:
1) Conviction — where sin is admitted. Man must see himself as a lost, ruined, guilty, desperately wicked sinner without hope or help, in danger of hell. In repentance, a lost sinner not only sees himself as a sinner, but he recognizes the fact that he has sinned against a righteous and holy God. The message that Paul preached was: “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). In repentance, there will be confession of sin to God (Psa. 32:5; 51:1-4).
2) Contrition — where sin is abhorred. When one sees himself as he appears before God, he is brought to a place where there is godly sorrow for his sin and hates it altogether.
“For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.” (Psa. 38:18); “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of …” (2 Cor. 7:10).
To hate sin is to love God. In true repentance, there is not only the desire to escape the consequences of sin, but to be rid of sin itself as a thing displeasing to God.
3) Conversion — where sin is abandoned. Repentance involves the forsaking of sin:
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:7); “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
Repentance is not only a heart broken for sin, but also from sin. We must forsake what we would have God forgive.
It should be stressed that it is not enough just to turn away from sin; one must also turn to God for salvation:
“… to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins … should repent and turn to God …” (Acts 26:18,20).
In true repentance, there is conviction, contrition, and conversion as one turns from his sin to Christ for salvation. Salvation is deliverance of a person from his sin, not merely from a sinful environment. Jesus Christ is the Saviour from not only the penalty and punishment of sin, but also the power of sin.
Why Did Jesus Come?
“… I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matt. 9:13).
The reason Jesus came to this earth was to call sinners to repentance. Those who did not see themselves as sinners, deserving God’s wrath, were not candidates for God’s salvation. The sinner must reject his own righteousness, because Jesus did not come to call the righteous, not even the self-righteous. The only way a sinner will come to reject his own righteousness is by coming face to face with his own wickedness. You can take it from the lips of Jesus Himself as a settled issue that He will not call the righteous. Only those to whom it is revealed (by God’s Spirit) that they are lost, depraved, ungodly sinners will respond to the calling of the Saviour in salvation.
All Sinners Commanded To Repent and Believe
Jesus soundly declared the message in His day: “repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Repentance and faith are inseparable and occur simultaneously in a sinner’s heart; you cannot have one without the other. The order as given in the Bible is repentance and faith (Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21; 26:20; 2 Tim. 2:25; Heb. 6:1).
Repentance is turning from sin; and faith is turning to Christ. Repentance comes about through the convicting power of the Spirit of God using the Word of God to cause a change of attitude, action, and affection.
Saving faith is trust in and reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Saviour. Saving faith is believing with your heart; it is coming to Christ, receiving Christ, looking to Christ, calling upon Christ to save your soul.
Yes, Jesus said you must repent and believe the gospel, because the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believes (Rom. 1:16). The gospel, the good news for every sinner, is that Christ died on the cross for our sins, as our Substitute, and shed His precious blood to wash away our sins, and arose from the dead on the third day in order that we might have the forgiveness of sins and have eternal life through Him. Salvation of one’s soul is the most important thing in this whole world.
But repentance without faith is nothing more than remorse or regret. And faith without repentance makes Christ nothing more than a fire escape. There must be a work of repentance and faith upon the sinner’s heart before salvation can become a reality. Repentance is caused by the working of the Holy Spirit who takes the Sword of the Spirit and slays the sinner’s self-righteousness, self- goodness, self-decency, self-esteem, and causes him to cry out: “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13) and “what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
Meaning of Repentance