Repentance is a part of the salvation process. The act of repentance, in itself, is not what saves us. It is faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior that saves us.
Here are different ways the New Testament expresses repentance: change your mind (e.g. Mat 3:2; Heb 7:21); turn away from your sins (e.g. Mar 1:15); have sorrow for your sins (e.g. Act 2:38); turn from your unbelief and idolatry (e.g. Act 17:30); turn from your wickedness (e.g. Act 8:22); repent of unbelief (e.g. Act 26:20); turn from your apostasy (e.g. Rev 2:5).
In most of these cases Scripture exhorts us to turn from our sins or our unbelief. In others we repent because we are sorry for our sins. Notice that in the cases concerned with salvation, the Bible tells us to repent and then believe. (There are cases where we must repent and apologize to another saved person that have nothing to do with salvation, e.g. Luk 17:4).
Hence repentance comes first and then we believe. When we realize we are sinners and there is no way to resolve those sins on our own, that is when the Holy Spirit has our attention and leads to faith in Christ. It is the faith in Christ that saves and the repentance that leads to the realization of our helplessness because of our sin.
Here are a couple of definitions:
The English word means, 1. to feel regretful or contrite for past conduct: to repent of an act; 2. to be penitent for one’s sins and seek to change one’s life for the better.1
The uninflected New Testament Greek word rendered repent is μετανοεω, metanoeo. Thayer defines metanoeo: 1. to change one’s mind, i.e. to repent; 2. to change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.2 It can also indicate “feel remorse, repent, or be converted” 3
There are many ways the Old Testament uses the term ‘repent.’ There are two basic Hebrew words translated repent; here is a sample listing of different English renderings of those Hebrew words in the KJV: repent, turn again, return, reverse, comfort, ease, bring, restore.
Here is how New Testament (KJV) renders the words in English: repent, repents, repentance, repented
Here is what W.E. Vine wrote about these words:
Note: In the OT, “repentance” with reference to sin is not so prominent as that change of mind or purpose, out of pity for those who have been affected by one’s action, or in whom the results of the action have not fulfilled expectations, a “repentance” attributed both to God and to man, e.g., Gen 6:6; Exo 32:14 (that this does not imply anything contrary to God’s immutability, but that the aspect of His mind is changed toward an object that has itself changed, see under RECONCILE).
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. The parable of the Prodigal Son is an outstanding illustration of this. Christ began His ministry with a call to “repentance,” Mat 4:17, but the call is addressed, not as in the OT to the nation, but to the individual. In the Gospel of John, as distinct from the Synoptic Gospels, referred to above, “repentance” is not mentioned, even in connection with John the Baptist’s preaching; in John’s Gospel and 1st Epistle the effects are stressed, e.g., in the new birth, and, generally, in the active turning from sin to God by the exercise of faith (Joh 3:3; Joh 9:38; 1Jo 1:9), as in the NT in general.4
Thus, in English, to repent means to feel sorrow or regret for a past action or sin and to actively seek to change what you did, or to make reparations, or do penance for what you did. For example, Roman Catholics are often told to say “Our Fathers” and Hail Marys” as penance for absolution of their sins. As believers in Christ, we generally accept that to repent means to turn away from our sins and turn to the Gospel. It implies that we wish to take action to make them right.
Yes, the Lord does want us to repent and turn away from our sins. Absolutely. But repentance is a work. We must stop one thing we are doing and do another. In this case, once saved we should stop sinning and should begin living a righteous life. In fact, the Baptist said “bring forth fruits meet for repentance” in Mat 3:8. Fruits meet (or suitable) for repentance are works.
Our works do not save us; the grace of God saves us. In fact, repentance, as modern Christians normally understand it, which is to turn from our sins, is not a means for salvation at all; it is, rather, an avenue to salvation. We can repent and be sorry for our sins and still not receive salvation. Many people feel sorry for past actions and never come to Christ as Savior. That is because repentance by itself, with out faith, saves no one. We must repent and believe the Gospel. (Mar 1:15).
That does not mean we should not repent. We should and we do repent when we realize we are sinners, but that realization and repentance brings us to faith in Jesus and that faith allows God’s grace, not our repentance, to save us. It is the fact that we realize we have sinned, have remorse, and desire freedom from the feeling of guilt sin delivers. That sense of remorse and the need for forgiveness is what allows people to understand the need for Christ.
Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Note that repentance and belief are two separate things. Observe that repentance comes first. But repentance is the realization that we are sinners and repentance gives us the desire to change our ways and that leads to belief in Christ.
The Apostle Paul explains what the Gospel is: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). S
Repentance is only the realization that we must change. Repentance does not save us from our sins but it points us at the Savior, Who is the one that does save us from our sins. Too many saved Christians believe that we, without question, must repent every single time we sin before we receive forgiveness for those sins. It isn’t so. Christ’s work at Calvary and our faith in His works is what saves us. Saved Christians’ sins, past, present, and future, were forgiven the moment they had faith in Jesus. What is it that we are commanded to do?
1 John 1:9 KJV “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.“
We are to confess our sins, and repentance leads to confession. But even confession is not what saves us from our sins. It is what God wants us to do, but repentance or confession of sins without faith in Christ avails nothing. What does the Bible say?
Ephesians 2:8 KJV “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:“
Repentance is involved in our salvation. It is the sorrow for our past actions that show the need for a Savior. When we repent in the English way, we are sorry for our sins and in the ancient Greek way, we have a change of mind. When the Baptist said “Repent ye,” in Mat 3:2, he was saying change your mind about the way you have been living because “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Repentance goes hand in hand with salvation as does baptism. The three link together. We are sorry for our sins and have a change of mind. That leads us to seek forgiveness for our sins, which leads us to acknowledge our need for a Savior. When we realize that need, then we “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Act 16:31) and become saved. Once saved, we need to follow Christ in baptism by immersion.
Baptism is not necessary for salvation. The criminal on the cross believed and received salvation without baptism. Deathbed salvation may not allow for baptism, but the dying person remains saved. A person that is physically or medically unavailable for baptism but believes in Christ as Savior has salvation even without baptism.
However, in absence of a minute number of restrictive cases like those above, all people that believe in Christ as Savior ought to seek baptism. If not then their actual salvation is in question. Though repentance and baptism do not save, they are a part of the entire salvation experience. A healthy person that refuses baptism probably did not really receive salvation.
A question arises. Once saved by the Blood, must we repent of each and every one of our sins in order to receive forgiveness for those particular sins? They answer is no. Our salvation is not lost if we fail to do the work of repentance. Still, God does want us to turn away from our sins and we should repent. We should have remorse for our sins and confess them to God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9).
That brings up another question. Must we confess our sins in order to receive forgiveness for them? Again, no. Confession is a work and the Scripture says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph_2:8), also “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Rom_11:6).
We are encouraged by God to confess our sins. Notice that the verse says “if you confess.” God wants us to confess our sins; not because He needs to learn of our sins; He already knows them. We are to confess our sins so that WE will know them and admit to God that WE sinned. However, the forgiveness of our sins is not dependent on confession, but solely on Christ’s work at Calvary.
We still have forgiveness if we fail to confess our sins. Christ died once for all sins for all eternity. God forgives all of your sins when you believe in Christ as Savior. The following verses prove that statement:
Hebrews 9:12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own [Jesus] blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
Hebrews 10:10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Hebrews 10:12 But this man [Jesus], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
Hebrews 10:14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
Mark Oaks Updated 01/09/2019
Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior? He is going to return to the world soon. Are you ready? When He does if you do not know Him as your Savior, you will join all those who do not know Him in “Outer Darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 22:13-14).
Mark Oaks, January 3, 2019
- Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. ↩
- Thayer’s Greek Definitions. J. H. Thayer, 1896 ↩
- A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (the 3rd edition was published in 2001 by the University of Chicago Press ↩
- Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. W. Vine, M. F. Unger, and W. White. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984. ↩