The Old Testament prophets frequently taught the need for repentance. Jesus taught repentance as well, and so did the New Testament apostles. So what is repentance, and why does it matter?
No one can pursue two paths in life at the same time. Thus the main word in the Old Testament for repentance simply means “to turn”. In repentance, a person turns from sin and turns to God. The main word in the New Testament means “a change of thinking.” Repentance involves adopting a new perspective on reality, including a new view of sin, of God, and of myself.
The New Testament also talks about an emotional response of remorse or regret which goes along with repentance. But the feeling itself is not true repentance. Such a feeling can arise for many reasons. True repentance may start with remorse, but also includes a decision to forsake the sin.
Repentance, then, is a godly sorrow over sin, coupled with a sincere commitment to turn from sin and live to honor God. It is motivated not just by the consequences of sin, but by a realization that our sin offends God – whether anyone catches us or not.
Repentance is part of salvation
Along with faith, repentance is an indispensable condition for salvation. No one can be forgiven of sins without some initial repentance. A person must turn from their sinful, self-directed life and turn to God – at least at some foundational level.
Mark 1:15 Jesus taught, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
Acts 17:30 The apostle Paul told the pagan Greeks, “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.”
True repentance demonstrates that a person understands God’s good news message of salvation. When people come to grips with the reality of sin, its seriousness, and its power, they can truly appreciate what Jesus accomplished on the cross and how amazing God’s saving grace truly is.
Repentance from sin and trusting in Jesus are two sides of the same coin. No one can say they have true saving faith without any repentance for sin at the same time.
Repentance produces a changed life
Genuine repentance takes place the moment a person understands the evil of his or her sin, is truly sorry for it, and chooses to forsake it. That inner act is real and valid even if the person has not had time to demonstrate it by outward actions.
Repentance itself occurs in the heart. What follows in action is not repentance, but the fruit of repentance. Thus it is possible for someone to repent even at the end of life, when no time remains to show what repentance would produce.
Yet given time, repentance will eventually result in a life that honors God. Christians will continue to sin. But repentance places a person on a new path leading in a new direction. The apostle Paul said:
Acts 26:20 I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do.
Repentance continues throughout the Christian life
While repentance is necessary for a person to enter a relationship with God, it doesn’t end there. After our initial defining moment, the same attitude of repentance marks our entire life as Christians. Jesus called his followers in Sardis to repent.
Revelation 3:3 Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again.
Each day Christians should experience heartfelt repentance for any sins we have committed. We should continually place ourselves on the right path by owning our sins and turning from them as they occur.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Define repentance. How does this differ from mere remorse or regret?
- Read Mark 1:15. What is the relationship between repentance and faith?
- Do you think it is possible for someone genuinely to trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins without also sincerely repenting for sins? Why or why not?
- Read Acts 26:20. Explain the difference between repentance and the fruit of repentance.
- Read Revelation 3:3. Why is repentance an ongoing necessity in the Christian life?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.