Biblical Repentance

In light of the current discussion of Lordship Salvation at Ignite UK, I have decided to provide a semi-exhaustive definition of Biblical Repentance here.

Prior to defining repentance within its New Testaments context, it is important to understand it within its Old Testament context, this is especially true because the first calls to repentance in the New Testament (Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3) are Old Testament calls to repentance and indeed the two are synonymous and thus defining one defines the other.

Repentance in the Old Testament

The meaning in these verses is clear and as such need no explanation.

I Kings 8 46 “If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, 47 yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ . . . 49 then . . . their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause 50 and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them.

Psalm 78 32 In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe. 33 So he made their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror. 34 When he killed them, they sought him; they repented and sought God earnestly. 35 They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.

Isaiah 1 27 Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. 28 But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.

Jeremiah 5:3 O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.

Jeremiah 34 15 You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name, 16 but then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back his male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your slaves.

Ezekiel 14:6 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.”

Ezekiel 18 30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

Repentance in the New Testament

Building upon the clear presentation of repentance as a change in both mindset and lifestyle the New Testament concept of repentance now begins to unfold. First, it is important to understand its use in the New Testament. In Matthew chapter three, John the Baptist cries out “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He is calling Jews to prepare for their Messiah, their King, by living according to his rule, this is further expressed in the quotation from Isaiah, which describes John as the voice, which cries in the wilderness “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” This concept remains true to this day whenever a ruler or political official is going to make an appearance preparations must be made prior to their appearing. This allusion was especially true in ancient times when roads had to be cleared of debris to allow quick and safe travel for royalty and one would most definitely incur punishment if he failed to heed such a warning. John was calling them to prepare themselves spiritually and physically to be in the presence of their King. When the king comes one does not merely change his mind concerning the King’s Lordship and yet make no physical preparations, nor does one merely feel remorse for his failure to live in submission to that Lordship and yet make no change in action. Nor can such a definition of repentance be imposed on this text, the historical situation does not allow it, rebellion is rebellion and regardless of ones “feelings of remorse” such rebellion would not be tolerated by worldly powers nor would it be tolerated by Israel’s Messiah.

And ultimately it was not tolerated in Matthew 12 Israel rejects her Messiah and He abandoned her to give hope to the Gentiles. Stephen speaks of this event in Acts 7:51-53 51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

Are we to impose our self-serving understanding of repentance on that? Is Christ unjust? Is He simply ignorant for not understanding that true repentance is merely a mental consent to His Lordship that requires no tangible fruit?

I think repentance is clear by this point but if you are still having trouble by an exhaustive concordance and read every Bible verse on repentance and its meaning will become indisputably clear, you can also search the Bible for “repentance” at Bible Gateway.

To look briefly at the word itself in the Greek there is both the verb “repent” (μετανοέω/metanoeo) and the noun “repentance” (μετάνοια/metanoia). It is a combination of two Greek words the preposition meta, simply translated with or after, and nous which is used in reference to one’s mind, understanding, or comprehension. Taken together they can be strictly translated “to comprehend afterward.” It is also important to note that when used in combination they imply change therefore leading to the understanding of repentance as an understanding after-the-fact and the subsequent correction of future action based upon this newfound knowledge.

Concluding Thoughts

True repentance necessitates both a change in mind and a change in lifestyle neither the historical context nor the etymology of the word allows any other rendering. Furthermore the view that repentance is simply a change of mind apart from a change in walk is predicated upon an unbiblical understanding of the Lordship of Christ and as such it is important that the root issue there is addressed, namely that Christ is Lord and He was Lord both prior to and regardless of His role as Savior. The Lordship of Christ has been adequately addressed elsewhere and will not be further discussed here. However it is also important that one understand repentance as both a one time event leading to salvation (Acts 11:18; II Corinthians 7:10) and a perpetual practice through which we are daily conformed to Christ (Luke 22:32; Acts 3:19).


5 thoughts on “Biblical Repentance

  1. Solid post. I think it is an excellent explanation of what biblical repentance is. I see no logical way the “no-lordship” camp can impose the “change of mind about who God is” definition to any part of Scripture.

    Repent….turn, change direction, stop rebelling and follow hard after the Lord Jesus.


  2. I’ve always found the 1689 London Baptist Confessions’ Chapter 15, “Of Repentance Unto Life and Salvation,” helpful.

    To quote:

    3. This saving repentance is an evangelical grace, whereby a person, being by the Holy Spirit made sensible of the manifold evils of his sin, doth, by faith in Christ, humble himself for it with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrency, praying for pardon and strength of grace, with a purpose and endeavour, by supplies of the Spirit, to walk before God unto all well-pleasing in all things. ( Zechariah 12:10; Acts 11:18; Ezekiel 36:31; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Psalms 119:6; Psalms 119:128 )

    4. As repentance is to be continued through the whole course of our lives, upon the account of the body of death, and the motions thereof, so it is every man’s duty to repent of his particular known sins particularly. ( Luke 19:8; 1 Timothy 1:13, 15 )

    5. Such is the provision which God hath made through Christ in the covenant of grace for the preservation of believers unto salvation; that although there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation; yet there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation on them that repent; which makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary.

    Hope you don’t mind the long quote.

  3. Thanks Woody.
    -J. K. Jones
    I enjoyed the quote and always welcome good information, thanks for commenting. What book on the Emerging church are you reading?

  4. A very good post dear!

    One thing you didn’t address is where repentance lies in the salvation sequence, i.e. is it indeed effectual calling first, then repentance, sanctification, etc? Those are just thoughts from Systematic Theology III. ANYWAYS.

    As I re-read the OT passages I am reminded of Israel’s continued pattern of sin, repentance, forgiveness, etc. I am thankful for the ability to repent, but it is difficult to truly change both mind and actions, as is evidenced by Israel’s struggle.

    As Jonathon said, “Repent….turn, change direction, stop rebelling and follow hard after the Lord Jesus.”

  5. Keith,

    I finished and blogged on Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell a few weeks back (mostly negative). I just finised The Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll, and I’m putting together some notes on it (mostly positive). I’m currently reading Becomeing Conversant with Emergent by Don Carson and another compilation by some of the guys who run Theooze.

    I’m afraid it’s becoming an obsession. The reason behind it all is the impact (positive and negative) the movement is having on the youth of our church.

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