“Repent and believe in the gospel.” I often reference these words spoken by Jesus in Mark 1:15 when talking about what we must do to be saved. Many may ask, what is repentance? I’ve heard it said that belief and repentance are two sides of the same coin. Saving faith in Christ requires both. True belief always results in repentance. You can’t have one without the other. But, there is a lot of confusion about what it really means to repent. I hope to bring some clarity to those questions today.
What is repentance?
According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary on BlueLetterBible.org there are three Greek words in the New Testament referring to repentance. The verb metamelomai is used to indicate a change of mind which results in regret over sin, but not a change of heart. Judas in Matthew 27:3 exemplifies this false kind of repentance.
The verb metanoeo and its related noun metanoia refer to changing one’s mind and purpose. These words signify true repentance – the kind of repentance that changes the heart and results in saving faith. Todd Friel said it so well in a recent episode of his podcast Wretched: “Repentance isn’t a mere changing of the mind. It’s a changing of the will, the emotions, our thinking, and our attitudes.”
To put it simply, the repentance Jesus commands is more than mere regret. Genuine repentance means we are remorseful over our sin and recognize our guilt before a holy God and righteous Judge. When we truly repent, we turn from our sinful thoughts and actions, and instead, align our hearts to God and His Word.
Is repentance a work?
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (emphasis added) The Bible makes it clear that works do not save us. However, many mistake repentance as a work, which leads to understandable confusion. This topic alone could be an entire blog post, but to put it simply, repentance is not a work. Jesus alone does the saving. But how is that possible when repentance is required for salvation, you might ask?
This simple analogy I found on GotQuestions.org explains this so well:
“Suppose someone anonymously sent you a check for $1,000,000. The money is yours if you want it, but you still must endorse the check. In no way can signing your name be considered earning the million dollars—the endorsement is a non-work. You can never boast about becoming a millionaire through sheer effort or your own business savvy. No, the million dollars was simply a gift, and signing your name was the only way to receive it. Similarly, exercising faith is the only way to receive the generous gift of God, and faith cannot be considered a work worthy of the gift.”GotQuestions.org | Article: “How can salvation be not of works when faith is required?“
Faith – which requires belief and repentance – is how we receive God’s gift of grace. Christ’s work on our behalf is the only work necessary for salvation and He was the only one able to accomplish that work on our behalf.
How does one repent?
We’ve answered the question, What is repentance? Now we know that by definition, repentance requires a complete change of heart and mind. It’s not a work that earns us salvation. So, now we must ask the question: How does one repent?
Repentance and belief go hand in hand. True belief results in repentance. In other words, we cannot repent in our own strength. We must believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because it’s His kindness that leads us to repentance. (Romans 2:4)
The Gospel is the message that we are all born sinners in need of forgiveness and no amount of good works can erase our guilt before God. The Bible teaches that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood and that the righteous and just penalty for sin is hell. But the good news is that out of His great love for unworthy sinners, Jesus Christ, both fully God and fully man, died on a cross and rose from the dead to pay the penalty for our sins. Jesus said in order to be forgiven, we must repent, believe, and receive Him as Lord and Savior. By grace, through faith in Christ, we have assurance of salvation and the promise of eternal life! Those who are saved are born again – we are new creations and are given the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts permanently.
Do you believe in the Gospel and what Christ has done on your behalf? If so, how does that impact your life? If not, I encourage you to put your faith in Him today. He is worthy of our complete trust! What might be keeping you from believing in Him today? I encourage you to surrender that to Jesus in faith.
Repentance requires confession. When we genuinely believe in the Gospel, we confess our guilt as sinners directly to God. We don’t minimize our sins or make excuses. True confession means we are in complete agreement with God about our sin. It also means that we recognize that we are unable to get right with God by our own efforts – no amount of good works can erase our guilt. When our confession is genuine, we recognize sin’s seriousness while trusting Jesus is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) Trusting in Jesus’ mercy and grace leads us out of our old patterns of thinking and living and into a new life lived according to the will of God.
Have you confessed your sin to God? If so, how has your life changed as a result? If not, what might be keeping you from doing so? Will you ask God to align your heart to what He says about sin?
When we believe in Christ alone, confess our sin, and commit to living for Him, we can receive Him as our Lord and Savior! Receiving Christ means we trust that Jesus has paid for all of our sins – past, present, and future; sins committed intentionally and unintentionally. To receive Jesus is to let go of all the other things we once put before Him – the idols of our lives. It means we trust Jesus is who He says He is and cling to all He says is true. When we receive Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts – we are born again and become children of God.
When we receive Christ, we don’t simply add Him to our lives. He becomes the center of our lives. We still sin on this side of heaven, but we don’t go back to our old ways of living. The Holy Spirit continues to lead us in repentance. By His power, our lives are transformed and we are increasingly made more like Christ. This process is called sanctification.
When we receive Jesus as Lord and Savior our initial response should be praise and worship! We praise Him by declaring who He is and what He has done. Worship can happen in a variety of ways. We can worship Him with songs on Sunday mornings among other believers, but we also worship Him in our everyday lives. Whatever we do, we are commanded to do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31) We learn what that looks like through prayer and careful study of the Bible. God wants a relationship with us and He communicates with us in these ways.
Can you remember a specific moment or season you received Christ as Lord and Savior? If so, what was your response and how might God be leading you to continue responding? If not, why might that be? Are you sure you have put your faith in Christ? If you are unsure, I encourage you to pray. Ask God to reveal the truth about your relationship with Him. Read the Bible to discover who He is and what He says about salvation. I recommend starting in the book of John.
The importance of repentance
I hope this post answered the question “What is repentance?” in a clarifying and encouraging way. It’s important to understand repentance for salvation. But, it’s also important to know how to articulate to others what true repentance looks like. There are many people – including professing Christians and church goers – who don’t understand this important doctrine. We must emphasize repentance and belief in the Gospel when ministering to others. Talking about sin can be awkward and uncomfortable. But, receiving Jesus is a matter of one’s eternal destiny. Gently speaking the truth about sin and our need to repent is the most loving thing we can do for others.
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All scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.