Church Education Trust

Christian Belief




It is necessary to remember that repentance is an important prerequisite for salvation. There are those who rather discountenance it as being works and cry "only believe". This, however, is an erroneous way of looking at it as is clear from the Scriptures.

Its importance and the fact of its being a necessity for entrance into the kingdom of God and for salvation are revealed in the following Scriptures: Matt.9:13; 3:2,8; 4:17; Acts 20:21; Rom.2:4; 2 Tim.2:25; 2 Pet.3:9; Rev.2:5,16; 9:20,21; 16:9.

In connection with salvation repentance and faith are joined together, it is repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. There can be no real saving faith in our Lord without the attitude of repentance. Sin is rebellion against God and while there is the rebellious attitude there can be no faith. Repentance is laying down the arms of rebellion
(cf. Luke 13:3).

a. The Scriptural Meaning of Repentance

There are two Greek words which are rendered "repent" or "repentance" in the New Testament. The most common of these is "metanoeo`and the noun "metanoia" and has reference to recollecting one's own actions in a way which will bring sorrow for them and a desire to change them.

It means a change of mind, and included in that a change of our whole attitude towards God and our views concerning Him and His message with regard to sin and the atonement. The other word is only used three times (Matt.27:3, 2 Cor.7:8; Heb.7:21) and refers more to the idea of contrition, a sorrowful change of mind.

Dr. Field shows the difference between the words by rendering the first "afterthought", and the second "afterconcern". It will be seen, therefore, that repentance affects the whole of man's personality.

The Roman Catholic Douay Version translates the word "repent" in the New Testament in some places as "do penance." This is quite incorrect for two reasons. First the translation is incorrect and arises from a misunderstanding of the Latin phrase "agere paenitentiam" which literally means "do penitence or repentance", and this was the normal Latin way of saying "repent and show it."

Secondly, the word "penance" (which is merely a contraction of 'penitence") has taken on a special meaning which the Latin word for "repentance" never intended to express.

b. Definitions of Repentance

Three definitions will be sufficient. Two very concise ones:-from John Wesley, "By repentance I mean conviction of sin, producing real desires and sincere resolutions of amendment"; and from Dr. Nevin - "Real repentance consists in the heart's being broken for sin and from sin".

Lastly a fuller one from Mr. Watson, "Evangelical repentance is a godly sorrow wrought in the heart of a sinful person by the Word and Spirit of God, whereby from a sense of sin, as offensive to God, and defiling and endangering his own soul, and from an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, he with grief and hatred of all his known sins, turns then to God as his Saviour and Lord."

c. The Divine and the Human Sides of Repentance

Two errors and extremes need to be avoided in considering the subject of repentance. The one is to make repentance a purely human act and to take the position that a person can repent just whenever he pleases. This is presuming on the grace of God as no man can truly repent without the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the working of the prevenient grace of God (John 6:44).

The other is to consider repentance as God's work only and to take the position that man can do absolutely nothing in the matter at all and that God changes our mind and intentions entirely of His own power. This can do nothing but cause man to sink into carelessness or despair.

There is both a divine side to repentance and a human side. While God is said to be the author of repentance and to grant repentance, He does not and cannot repent for us. The act must be ours (Acts 5:31; 11:18). The extreme view that repentance is entirely of God leads to some strange interpretations of Scriptures concerning repentance.

For instance, Dr. William Evans, a Bible teacher of the Calvinistic School, says that the reason that all men are called upon to repent is to reveal to them their own inability to do that very thing. The consideration of the divine and human sides of repentance can be summed up under three heads:-

  1. The necessity of repentance presupposes the sinful condition of man, his utterly lost condition. On the other hand, the gift of repentance comes to all. God in His grace and mercy works on the heart of all men, seeking to bring them to repentance, and all men have the power to respond to the workings of God's Spirit.
  2. Repentance is the result of the gracious working of the Holy Spirit on the heart of man. He does this by applying the law of God and bringing a sense of conviction of sin and a sense of its awfulness. This leads on to contrition, that which Paul calls godly sorrow fo sin (2 Cor. 7:10). This leads further to the forsaking of sin, for sorrow for sin which does not lead to forsaking it is no true repentance. There also comes the conviction of sin as universal, not merely of particular sins. The sinner identifies himself with God's feeling concerning sin and His attitude towards it. He hates sin and abhors it from the very centre of his being. This will lead to the confession of sin to God and an honest disclosure of ourselves and our need in His presence, and the confession of our utter helplessness to do anything to save ourselves, and our utter dependence on God's mercy.
  3. Finally, however, the act of repentance belongs to the sinner himself. The Holy Spirit convicts and brings the sinner to the place of repentance and gives him the power to repent, but the sinner may resist the truth or accept it, rebel or repent. The act is finally his. If he does not repent it is because he will not.

Wiley's summary of this section is good, "Genuine repentance involves a conviction that we have sinned and are guilty before God; it includes contrition of a broken and contrite heart on account of our sin; it produces confession of sin; and implies reformation, a turning from sin to God and a bringing forth of fruits meet for repentance."( Christ,Theol.p.267).

d. The State of Penitence

It is often implied that repentance is an act which comes at the gateway to the Christian life and then is finished, but this is not so. The act of repentance leads to faith and to salvation, but also leads on to a state or condition of maintained penitence which is just as essential to the continuance of a healthy Christian life as the act of repentance was to its commencement.

The hatred and abhorrence of sin must continue and deepen. The broken and the contrite heart is a constant necessity for spiritual blessing. The whole outlook on life has changed and the new outlook has to be maintained. The state of penitence means an alertness to the slightest approach of sin and a continually quickened conscience.

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©2008 Church Education Trust