What Is Repentance? Bible Definition of Repent and Repentance

What Is Repentance? Bible Definition of Repent and Repentance May 29, 2014

What exactly is repentance?  Why is it so important?  Are the terms repent and repentance the same or are they different?

What Repent Means

The Greek word for repent in the New Testament is “metanoeo” which means “to change one’s mind” and this involves a turning from sin with contrition to God.  It’s like you headed out for a drive down the freeway but you went down the wrong way and were now headed in the wrong lane and the traffic was now coming straight at you.   You need to turn around and go the other way.  That is what repent basically means.  You are headed down the wrong way…the way to hell…and you need to change your mind and turn around and go the other way.  That is what it means to repent.

The idea of repenting is not confined to the New Testament only.  Ezekiel 18:21-22 says

“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.”    The Hebrew word for repent is “shuwb” which is somewhat like the New Testament word but in Hebrew means “to return, turn back” or “come back” so both words for repent used in the Old and the New Testament mean, collectively, “to change one’s mind, to turn back, to return” or “come back.” 

What Repentance Means

In the New Testament the same word used for repent (metanoeo) is essentially the same for repentance (metanoia) where one is a verb and one is a noun.  A person is said to need to repent (metanoeo) and then they show repentance (metanoia).  There are two words for repentance in the Old Testament Hebrew.  One word is “nacham” which means “to be sorry” or “to regret” but the overwhelming majority of the time it is used (391 times) it means “turn” or “return” (“shuwb”).   Repentance occurs after a person decided that they need to repent.  It would be like someone wants to take a vacation and then they do and are then vacationing; one plans a vacation (noun) and when they do, they are vacationing (verb) so there is a time when a person choses to repent (noun) and when they finally do there is repentance (verb).  If we realize that a noun is a person, place, or thing then to repent is a thing someone can do.  The verb is the action of doing something.  When someone decides that they need to repent (noun) then they fall on their knees and “change their mind and turn around or away from sin” (verb).

Godly Sorrow is Repentance, Worldly Sorrow Leads to Death

Many get confused over what repentance really is but let me say what it is not and what it often gets confused with.  Repentance is not apologizing, confessing, or being sorry for getting caught.  That is worldly sorrow and that is not the same as godly repentance which is what Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.  For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves.” Godly sorrow is what leads to a person not only confessing their sins but repenting of (changing one’s mind about) sins.  It is not regretting your sins, feeling bad over them, or feeling guilty about them.  Godly sorrow causes a person to turn away from or change their minds and go the other way.  Paul says that a worldly grief or sorry leads to or produces death because there is no change of mind, no change of heart or no change of direction, going the other way and forsaking sin and without godly repentance there is death…eternal death because there is no conversion of the human heart.

God Grants Repentance

Paul wrote that “the Lord’s servants must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone…correcting his opponents with gentleness.  God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:24-26).   This plainly says that God is the One Who grants or gives a person the inclination to repent.  Previously, “God overlooked [sin] but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). There is some tension here because it is God that grants repentance but also God commands everyone to repent but the word used here in Acts 17:30 is “metanoeo,” that is “to change one’s mind.   Which is it?  Does God grant repentance or is repentance something that we do?  It is both.  This would be like asking: Is Jesus God or is Jesus Man?  The answer is yes…He is both!  We are to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and whosoever does will be saved (John 3:16) but Jesus says and the Bible teaches that He chose us, not that we chose Him (John 15:16; Eph 1:4).


Peter tells everyone to, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus” (Acts 3:19-20) and Jesus Himself gives an even more serious warning, “repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev 2:16).  Some of the Galileans died at the hands of Pontius Pilate and Jesus asked the gathering “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-5).   Jesus told me once and perhaps He is telling you now that you must repent or you too “will…likewise perish.”

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book  Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon

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