What is Repentance?


First before we define what it is let’s make clear what it is not.


  1. It is not a legal or works righteousness. It is not a part of the law.
  2. It does not bring any merit before God.
  3. It is not an option for sinners. Jesus came to bring sinners to repentance (Lk 5:32)


Repentance is an indispensable part of the gospel of grace (Acts 20:20-24). Law allows no repentance but our Lord’s gospel does. It is a divine gift (2 Tim 2:25) that flows from his grace. Repentance always goes with the forgiveness of sins (Lk 24:47). The Lord will not pardon the unrepentant rebel. The Bible makes it clear that there is no salvation without it (Lk 13:5). An old time definition from the Westminster Larger Catechism reads:


“Repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.”


To help us really get to the heart of Biblical repentance we need to do a little word study of the key words that teach this doctrine.


Shub – (2 Chron. 7:14; Isa 59:20; Deut 30:6) is a word in the Old Testament that is used over 1000 times and literally means – to turn in an opposite direction. A person going one way and doing a 180 degree turn in the other direction. In the context of people living in rebellion to the Lord, separated from Him.  This word takes on the meaning to turn from sin to God.


Metanoeo – (Matt 3:2; Mark 1:15) means – a change of mind


Metanoia – (Acts 2:38; Rom 2:4) means – “The Change of mind of those who have begun to abhor their errors and misdeeds, and have determined to enter upon a better course of life so that it embraces both a recognition of sin and sorrow for it and hearty amendment, the tokens and effects of which are good deeds.” Greek-English Lexicon of the N.T. by J.H. Thayer p.406

Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Both Old and New Testament Words adds this, “In the NT the subject chiefly has reference to “repentance” from sin, and this change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God.”


We might say that repentance is a deep inward change of heart and mind about sin and ushers in a changed life. Biblical repentance has been broken into three aspects by many theologians and they are:


  1. Intellectual Element – One becomes aware of personal sin and guilt before a Holy God. (Rom 3:20)
  2. Emotional Element – Experiences godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10), remorse (Ez 36:31) and mourning for having offended God (Zec 12:10) and others.
  3. Volitional Element – Determination and sincere commitment to forsake it and submit to Christ.


A clear definition from Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology “Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a denouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ.”


The Bible teaches that it is through faith alone that we are saved but this faith through which we are saved is not alone. When there is true saving faith there will also be repentance. “Repentance means you realize you are guilty, vile sinner in the presence of God, that you deserve the wrath and punishment of God, that you are hell bound. It means that you turn your back on it in every shape and form. You renounce the world whatever the cost, the world in its mind and outlook as well as its practice, and you deny yourself and take up the cross and go after Christ. Your nearest and dearest, and the whole world, may call you a fool, or say you have a religious mania. You may have to suffer financially, but it makes no difference, that is repentance.[1]


Demands Jesus makes on His disciples:

Jesus said,

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. (Lk 9:23) He said, “Sit down first, and count the cost” (Lk 14:28). Jesus is basically saying, “I do not wish to trick you. I am not offering the end of worldly sorrows no flowery beds of ease. I will not enlist you under false pretenses. The road of following me is rough and steep. Stormy weather encompasses the entire course. There are many hills of difficulty and many valleys of humiliation for genuine Christians. So I set the symbol of the cross before you vividly to portray the difficulty and the personal demands made on my disciples. I want you to come but I want you to weigh the cost as you follow.”[2]


“Can you make your claim to be a Christian stick from the Bible? Does your life manifest the fruits of repentance and faith? Do you possess a life of attachment to Christ, obedience to Christ, and confession of Christ? Is your behavior marked by adherence to the ways of Christ? Not perfectly – no! Every day you must pray, ‘Forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me.’ But at the same time you can also say, ‘For me to live is Christ’ or, in the words of the hymn,

            Jesus I my cross have taken

            All to leave and follow thee.

A true Christian follows Jesus. How many of us are true, biblical Christians?”[3]



[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959). Vol. 2, p. 248

[2] Walter J. Chantry.  Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic?

 (Edinburgh: The Banner o fTruth and Trust 1970). 63-64.

[3] Albert N. Martin. What is A Biblical Christian

 (Pensacola, FL: Chapel Library). 19-20.