Biblical Repentance/The Meaning of Repentance

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By L.R. Shelton Jr. About Repentance
Chapter 2 of the book Biblical Repentance

Repentance Defined

You see then, sinful man stands as a rebel against God’s government and authority. This is why our Lord Jesus came on the scene preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat 4:17). He commands every sinner to lay down his arms of rebellion and hoist the white flag of surrender to enter the Kingdom of God. In other words, a sinner has to change his mind about sin.

This is exactly what it means to repent: a change of mind about sin and about God, which results in turning from sin to God.

The Biblical vocabulary for repentance is truly rich. The theme of repentance is found throughout the en-tire Bible and its idea is expressed even when the word itself is not used. In the Old Testament, two Hebrew words, the verbs nacham and shub, are often translated as repent. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by Koehler, Baumgartner, Richardson, and Stamm says nacham means “to be sorry, come to regret something, to repent” as in Job 42:6, “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” In their Commentary on the Old Testament, Keil and Delitzsch remark, “Nacham is the exact expression for metanoeo, the godly sorrow of repentance not to be repented of. He repents (sitting) on dust and ashes after the manner of those in deep grief.” Regarding shub, which means “to turn,” the Theological Wordbook of the OT says, “The Bible is rich in idioms describing man’s responsibility in the process of repentance. Such phrases would in-clude the following: ‘incline your heart unto the Lord your God’ (Josh 24:23): ‘circumcise yourselves to the Lord’ (Jer 4:4); ‘wash your heart from wickedness’ (Jer 4:14); ‘break up your fallow ground’ (Hos 10:12) and so forth. All these expressions of man’s penitential activity, however, are subsumed and summarized by this one verb shub. For better than any other verb it combines in itself the two requisites of repentance: to turn from evil and to turn to the good.” They conclude by saying, “To be sure, there is no systematic spelling out of the doctrine of repentance in the OT. It is illustrated (Ps 51) more than anything else. Yet the fact that people are called “to turn” either “to” or “away from” implies that sin is not an ineradicable stain, but by turning, a God-given power, a sinner can redirect his destiny. There are two sides in understanding conversion, the free sover-eign act of God’s mercy and man’s going beyond contrition and sorrow to a conscious decision of turning to God. The latter includes repudiation of all sin and affirmation of God’s total will for one’s life.”

In the New Testament, three Greek words express repentance: the verbs metanoeo, metamelomai, and the noun metanoia. 1) According to the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament by Friberg, Friberg, and Miller, metanoeo is used “predominately of a religious and ethical change in the way one thinks about acts: repent, change one’s mind, be converted (Mat 3:2).” It can also express an emotional element: “as feeling re-morse regret, feel sorry (Luk 17:3, 4).” 2) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testamen and Other Early Christian Literature by Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, and Bauer says that metamelomai means to “feel regret, re-pent.” The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains by J.P. Louw and E.A. Nida says of metamelomai “to change one’s mind about something, with the probable implication of regret—‘to change one’s mind, to think differently.’” 3) “Metanoia means “a change of mind that leads to a change of behavior.” Louw and Nida say of metanoeo and metanoia, “To change one’s way of life as the result of a com-plete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness—‘to repent, to change one’s way, repentance.’ metanoeo: ‘And they went out, and preached that men should repent’ (Mar 6:12). metanoia: ‘not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?’ (Rom 2:4). Though in English a focal compo-nent of repent is the sorrow or contrition that a person experiences because of sin, the emphasis in metanoeo and metanoia seems to be more specifically the total change, both in thought and behavior, with respect to how one should both think and act.” The importance of these definitions is that while the primary emphasis in re-pentance is on the change of mind that leads to a change of behavior, one cannot rule out the emotional element of regret or remorse.

What Repentance Includes

Therefore, to repent is a change of mind about sin and about God, which results in turning from sin to God. And what a turning it is! Repentance affects the whole life of a sinner.

Repentance includes a sinner taking the blame for his sinful condition before God and siding with Him against himself. A penitant blames no one else for his condition, but rather condemns himself under God’s eternal wrath because he deserves it.

Repentance includes sorrowing for sin. 2 Corinthians 7:10 says that “godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of.” And Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be com-forted.”

Repentance leads to confessing sin. Hiding nothing, a sinner owns his sins and pours out his sinful heart to God.

Furthermore, repentance leads to forsaking sin. A repenting sinner determines not to return to it. So in Bib-lical repentance, a convicted and convinced sinner takes his place before God as justly condemned. He hates his sin, longing to be free from it. He sorrows over sin, determining not to return to it. And he shows that his repentance is real by walking in the pathway of righteousness and true holiness. “Bringing forth fruits for re-pentance” is evidence that a radical change has taken place in our lives (Mat 3:8).

Repentance and Judgment

In Acts 17:30 we read these words, “The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” God says all men—not just the Gentiles, but all men, which includes every tongue, nation, tribe and people. And in v.31 we find out why God has commanded all men everywhere to re-pent: judgment is coming! “Repent!” God says, “The King is coming in judgment! Repent, if you value your never-dying soul!” Why? “Because he hath appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained [Jesus Christ]; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” Yes, God commands that all men everywhere repent and bring forth fruit suit-able for repentance which is a holy life, or He will meet you in judgment without mercy!

You see, God is sovereign in his salvation. He alone sets the terms by which He receives rebellious sinners into His kingdom. His Word does declare that He is loving, kind, merciful and gracious; but He is also holy and righteous. Therefore, He commands men to repent. Unless a rebellious sinner repents and believes the Gospel, there is no forgiveness. But praise His precious name; it is to this kind of sinner that He will look! The Lord says in Isaiah 66:2, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trem-bleth at my word.” Also, Psalm 51:17 tells us, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

Praise the Lord! He will never turn away a repentant, believing sinner. Christ came to seek and to save just this type of sinner. Listen to Isaiah 55:6-7: “Seek ye the LORD while He may be found, call ye upon Him while he is near: 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.” You will note in these verses there is again a command for forsaking our way and turning unto God. Forsake your way and turn to God!

Repentance Is Perpetual

I must stress yet another truth: Biblical repentance is perpetual—God’s child will repent till God takes him home. Repentance is a lasting mindset, a continuing abhorrence of evil.

Oh how many precious souls have been damned right here! They seem to embrace repentance for a while. They give up their old companions and leave their places of sin—the bar, the dance floor, the harlot’s house. They seem to embrace Christ. They even preach, teach, and witness for Him. But because they are “stony-ground hearers” (Mar 4:5, 6; 16, 17), they only endure for a while. They begin to grow cold, gradually return-ing to their former ways. They go back to sin, back to what they had renounced. One by one they pick up the old sins and companions and return to the world. You see, their repentance was not perpetual: it did not spring from the new birth, but from the flesh. The Word of God describes them:

“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Sav-ior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2Pe 2:20-22).

In so many cases, going back is slow. Few go back all at once! First, they long for “liberty”: they search the Word of God to find out what liberty they have, so they can live as close to the world as possible. Then slowly they go back to this sin and that sin. Finally, they no longer have a witness for Christ, but only an outward pro-fession of faith. Sin doesn’t bother them anymore. They neither hate it nor cry against it. They tell themselves that God no longer wants them to repent and hate sin. They think they’re in the way of life, yet sin doesn’t bother them anymore! So they turn back to those sins from which they had once turned saying, “We now have liberty to walk in these ways!” But oh, my friends, this is not liberty, but license to do what you’ve always wanted to do, license to walk in sin without restraint! You’ve played with fire and your heart is now hardened by the deceitfulness of sin! (Heb 3:12)

Again I warn you, beware of repentance that does not continue! If it is not true Biblical repentance, your heart will again be satisfied with the garbage of the world: “He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (Isa 44:20). So never forget: true repentance is perpetual. If you are truly converted, you will hate and forsake your sins for the rest of your life. And you will long to be holy, to be like Christ, and to please God. I ask, “Have you ever possessed the true Biblical repentance that God commands of all men?”

Repentance Is a Gift

Now I must quickly add that repentance is a gift of grace worked in the heart by the power of God the Holy Spirit. Acts 11:18 tells us: “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” The Holy Spirit shows us our sinful condition before God and makes us willing to renounce our hatred of God and His authority. And by His grace He gives us a desire to walk with Him in newness of life and holiness.

As we have already seen, God commands us to repent because you and I are rebels against God by nature. Every man outside of Christ is a rebel against the Throne of God (Rom. 8:7). Because of our sinful nature we have determined to live our lives apart from God. So we must radically change our minds about living inde-pendently of Him. This displays itself in our crying after God to be Lord and Ruler of our lives!

Because we have spit in His face, blasphemed His name, bowed down to the gods of gold and pleasure, spent His Day as we pleased, and walked in pride and arrogance against Him, God commands us to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. We must change our minds about pride and arrogance, about covetousness and worldly pleasure, and about walking in our way. We must cry out to Him to work His love and holiness in us.

Yes, my friends, because we have not loved Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and have lav-ished our love on self and the world, God commands us to repent, trusting the Lord Jesus for the remission of our sins. For you see, true repentance takes self off the throne and enthrones Christ as Lord over every area of life.

Study Questions The Meaning of Repentance

Repentance defined

1. What does God command every sinner to do?

2. a. How would you have defined “repentance” before taking this course?
b. How does the author define “repentance”?

3. Please carefully read the paragraph about the Old Testament words for “repentance.”

a. What does nacham mean?
b. What does shub mean?
c. Read Psalm 51. Briefly, how would you describe repentance based on this Psalm?
d. Finish this quotation: “There are two sides in understanding conversion, 1) the free sovereign act of God’s mercy and 2) man’s going beyond contrition and sorrow to a __________________ ____________________ ______ ______________ to God.”

4. Please carefully read the paragraph about the New Testament words for “repentance.”

a. Describe the basic overall meaning of the three Greek words which are translated into English as “re-pent.”
b. What is the more specific emphasis in metanoeo and metanoia that goes beyond mere “sorrow… that a person experiences because of sin”?
What repentance includes

5. In your own words, what are the four additional descriptions of true repentance (i.e., what does repentance include or lead to)?

Repentance and judgment

6. Why does God command “all men everywhere to repent”?

7. Write the key point and reference for each of these verses.

a. Isaiah 66:2
b. Psalm 51:17

8. Read Isaiah 55:6-7. Fill in the phrase in these verses which answers each of the following questions.

a. Why should you seek the Lord now?
b. What is the wicked and unrighteous man commanded to do?
c. What does God promise to do?

9. Making It Personal

a. Do you consider yourself wicked or unrighteous? Why or why not?
b. If so, what does God command you to do in Isaiah 55:6-7?
Repentance is perpetual

10. What is meant by “stony-ground hearer” (from Mark 4:5-6, 16-17)?

11. Briefly, describe the process phrased as “going back is slow.”

12. What is the meaning of the statement “Biblical repentance is perpetual” (in your own words)?

Repentance is a gift

13. In this section and in footnote 8, what are the Scriptures which tell us that biblical repentance is a gift of God? Write for each the key phrase and reference.

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