What Does it Mean to Repent?

Question from a Site Viewer
What does it mean to repent?

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for your question. Your question is one that is grounded in the root of what it means to have a relationship with the living Jesus Christ. God has called all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Jesus told those coming to Him that unless they repented, they would perish (Luke 13:1-5). Peter told the crowd on Pentecost that they needed to repent (Acts 2:38). And Paul taught unbelievers to have repentance towards God and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). Thus, repentance is critical to a right standing before God.

But what is repentance? There are two basic aspects of repentance. The Scriptures we have today are translations into the English of passages originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The New Testament Greek word for repentance is a word meaning “to change one’s mind.” Thus, repentance is to change one’s mind about something. We turn from thinking one way about something and we think a different way. For example, I could be in error by believing that Abraham Lincoln was the first President of the United States. I could then repent; that is, I could change my mind, and now believe that George Washington was the first President of the United States.

When we talk about repentance in the Bible, we are generally talking about changing our mind in relation to how we think about God. We change from thinking that it is not important to draw near to Him to believing that it is vital to our lives to spend our energies drawing near to Him. We change our thinking about setting the course of our lives to follow our own desires and we now set the course of our lives to follow His will. In the words of the Apostle Paul, we turn to God from what we have been doing to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Repentance is a turning of our minds towards God. Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above. Jesus taught us to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Repentance is changing our minds in two different ways: (1) to begin thinking about God and His will when in the past we thought only of our own desires, and (2) to begin thinking rightly about God when in the past we had a poor image of God. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that we must believe that God is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. We sometimes tend to think that God is something different than He is; that He is out to get us, or that He is not seeking our good, or that we can have more fun if we can avoid Him. But none of this is true. God is FOR us. He is seeking our ultimate benefit. It is true that we sometimes suffer, but such is always for a good reason and will bring immeasurable reward to those who seek Him. We need to think rightly about God.

There is another aspect of repentance that probably comes more to mind when we think of the word in modern usage. And that is the aspect of sorrow. The Old Testament Hebrew word translated as “repent” means to be sorry. To repent is to be sorry for the way we have thought and acted in the past.

But true repentance is more than simply being sorry (2 Corinthians 7:9). True repentance is sorrow that leads to a change in heart. The end result of sorrow in 2 Corinthinans 7:9 was diligence, a clearing, an indignation towards sin, a fear towards God, a deep desire to serve God, a zeal to do what is right, and a vindication of the fact that we truly are the children of God (2 Corinthians 7:11).

So, in summary, I would answer your question as follows: “To repent” is to be sorry for what I have done apart from God and to turn my mind to follow God with all of my heart, soul, strength, and life.”

I hope this is helpful to you.

May the Lord Jesus guide you as you seek to be His disciple in the place where He has placed you.

tim

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