What does repentance mean and involve? The English word “repentance” is translated from the Greek word “metanoeo”, which means a change of the mind, attitude, purpose and determination, which naturally leads to a change in one’s life and conduct. Let us notice how this fits in with what Jesus said. He said that the Ninevites repented when Jonah preached to them (Matt 12:41). Now, if we can learn what they did when Jonah preached, we can be certain that we know what repentance is. From a reading of Jonah 3:10, it can be seen that they turned from their wicked way. This, Jesus said, was an example of repentance. Of course, the change of mind that leads to a change of life is not biblical repentance unless the change of mind is that which God ordains. The change that is necessary to biblical and acceptable repentance is seen in the heart that sincerely bows and says, “Lord, not my will, but yours be done”. Saul of Tarsus exemplified the true spirit when he said, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). Such a change in mind and determination naturally leads the on repenting to a particular manner of life to certain definite changes. Biblical repentance causes one to turn from sin and turn to God and righteousness. The two fold turning is seen in Isaiah 55:7: “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord”. Therefore, one who repents experiences the change that causes him to forsake sin and to seek God and do righteousness. We conclude, therefore, that one who does not forsake sin has not scripturally repented; and one who does not turn to God with all his heart, doing everything in the name of Christ, has not scripturally repented.
Repentance is a universal commandment of God demanded of every person. All men everywhere are commanded to repent (Acts 17:30). Repentance was one of the things Jesus commanded to be preached to all nations beginning in Jerusalem (Luke 24:47). When Peter preached first in Jerusalem, the first thing he told the inquiring Jews to do was repent (Acts 2:37,38). Observe that he commanded “everyone of them” to repent, no exceptions. Jesus warned that all who would not repent must perish (Luke 13:3). God does not want any to perish, but He does want all to come to repentance (II Pet 3:9).
There is an initial repentance, a renunciation of sin for the things of Christ. This is the big over-all change of attitude. This takes place at conversion. But, repentance is also a thing to be done by Christians whenever they fall before the power of some sin. To Simon of Samaria who had sinned, Peter commanded repentance to evade condemnation (Acts 8:22).
God sets before us two alternative choices: Either we repent or perish. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God sent His messengers to people when they were guilty of sin. The first thing that said messengers did was to point out the particular sin or sins. The next thing was to make known God’s demand of repentance. The final thing was to make wonderful promises conditioned upon repentance and to declare God’s woe upon the soul that wouldn’t repent.
Let us observe that the blessing of forgiveness and salvation are promised to those who do repent and overcome sin. Consult the following Scriptural incidents: II Chron 7:14; Isa 55:7; Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; Rev 3:19-21.
On the other hand, let us observe that if men did not repent, God pronounced certain doom and destruction upon them. Consult the following passages: Luke 12:3; Rev 2:5; 2:16; 3:3. Therefore, we see that God promises great things to the penitent and terrible things to the impenitent. It is either “repent or perish” with no other alternative.
What causes men to repent? God who demands that men everywhere repent is a God who desires that men repent instead of perish. So wrote Peter in II Pet 3:9. God does all within His power without destroying man’s own will and choice to bring him to repentance. He has revealed in His word for our information some of those things He has designed to lead men to repentance. Here they are.
The goodness of God leads men to repentance (Rom 2:4). The goodness of God upon a sinner has broken many a sinner’s heart and caused him to cry out for mercy for his sins. Many a man has taken sides with God against his own sins because the love of God demonstrated upon Calvary compelled him to do so.
Godly sorrow (sorrow and grief over sin) leads men to repentance (II Cor 7:10). When men get convicted of their sins, they either morn and weep over them to the point of turning away from them, or they do their utmost to drown that conviction that they might continue in them unmolested. It was godly sorrow that caused Peter to repent when he had denied Christ (Matt 26: 74,75). It was godly sorrow that caused David to repent of his terrible sin (II Sam 12:13-16). It was godly sorrow over their crucifying Christ that cause the Jews on the day of Pentecost to ask what they must do (Acts 2:37).
The fear of judgment causes men to repent. God’s universal commandment of repentance is in view of the judgment day in which He will judge the world (Acts 17:30,31). It is fear of judgment that causes many sinners to repent. It was the fear of destruction that moved Ninevah to repent (Jonah 3:4,5). It was the fear of judgment that caused Simon of Samaria to ask Peter’s prayers (Acts 8:24).
Therefore, in order to bring sinners to repentance, we need preachers and teachers who will so preach and teach that sinners might know the love and goodness of God, that they may be made sorrowful because of their sins, that the fear of judgment will so grip their souls that they cannot do otherwise.
Scripture Reference Luke 13:3 Jesus said, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Luke 15:7 Jesus said, “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to the, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts17:30 “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
What is repentance? 1 Peter 3:11 “Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it.” 2 Corinthian 7:10 “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”