The word used in the Bible is normally “Repent” or “Repentance”. It is something taught and commanded all through Scripture. Jesus talked about repenting from the very beginning of his ministry. He took up John the Baptist message of “Repent because the kingdom of heaven is near.” He said, in Luke 13:3-5 “Except you repent you will all likewise perish.” People had come up to him to ask about some people whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus asked them “Do you suppose that these were worse sinners than all others?” He then turned to all to say, “I tell you no, except you repent you will all likewise perish.” When the church began the message from Peter when asked what we must do was, “Repent and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The problem with the word “Repent” is that people have given it all different kinds of meanings, many of which have no relationship to how it is used in the Bible. The word literally means “To change one’s mind.” It is typically used in the Bible to refer to the change that takes place when one turns away from some sin or from sin in general in their life to God and doing His will.
There are two occasions in the Bible where a good description is given of repentance. The first is in Luke 3:7-14 when John the Baptist started his ministry and people were coming to him in the desert to hear what he had to say. When the crowds became large, John turned to them and said, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore, bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves we have Abraham for our father; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” They began to ask him, “What shall we do?” He said, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” Some tax collectors came to be baptized of him and asked what they needed to do. He said, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” Soldiers came asking what they should do and John said, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” Notice that John described these things as “Bearing fruits of repentance.” It went much further than one simply saying that they were sorry for some wrong that had been done. Repentance involves a change in actions from the normal way of doing things to one of integrity, faith and service to God. The idea that one can repent of a sin and simply go on living in that sin won’t fit at all the teachings of Scripture.
The other Scripture that helps a great deal in understanding what is involved in repentance is 2 Corinthians 7:5-10. Paul was describing the depression that had been haunting him and how he was being overwhelmed with sorrow. But God who comforts the depressed sent Titus to him with good news about the church in Corinth. Even though they had done Paul wrong they had seen the error of their ways and were now repenting of their sin. Paul said, “For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it – for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while. I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” So repentance is brought about by sorrow as we learn of wrongs we have done in life. If all we do is feel sorrow it isn’t repentance. It is when the sorrow leads us to change, to turn from the sin, to God. A sorrow of the world is simply becoming depressed and discouraged over being found out.
A good example of the difference is seen in the actions of Peter and Judas on realizing they had wronged Jesus. Peter felt the guilt of denying the Lord and went out and wept bitterly. But he turned to God to change and be one ready to confess his faith in Jesus from that day forward. Judas realized his guilt in betraying Jesus and returned the money he had received and went out and hanged himself. Peter repented of the sins. Judas was sorry for the sin but didn’t turn to God. When the Bible says that Judas “Repented” it uses a word that means to have regret or remorse instead of the word typically used for repentance.
Our guilt can either be a source of giving up or a source of real change in us to follow God. Which is it for you? (In our next article we will talk about the sins I can’t undo)