Repentance, also called penitence, is the God-granted^[1]^ attitude of having sorrow for personal sin and the turning away from it towards a new life.

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Characteristics of true repentance

Biblical repentance consists of two mental assertions and understandings, which if genuine, always manifest themselves in two outward ways. These mental assertions also correspond to their outward manifestations. If one has a true sense of guilt (A), that will result in the outward hatred of sin (A'). If one has an understanding of God's mercy in Christ (B), that will result in a lifelong endeavor to be more like Christ (B').

A - a true sense of one's own guilt and sinfulness, B - an understanding of God's mercy in Christ, A' - results in an actual hatred of sin^[2]^ and turning from it to God,^[3]^ B' - results in a persistent endeavor after a holy life in a walking with God in the way of his commandments. True repentance is characterized by a consciousness of guilt (Psalm 51:4, 9), of pollution (Psalm 51:5, 7, 10), and of helplessness (Psalm 51:11; 109:21, 22). It sees the person in the moral condition that God has always seen them. But repentance is not just a sense of sin, but also an understanding of mercy, without which there can be no true repentance (Psalms 51:1; 130:4).

Biblical words for repentance

Hebrew

shûb ^[Strong's\ #7725]^

This term is found over 1,000 times in the Old Testament, and in the vast majority of its uses refers to a literal change of direction. However, in more than 200 occurrences it refers to Israel or God turning toward or away from one another. The modern idea of repentance is found in turning away from idolatry^[4]^ and from cold-hearted disobedience^[5]^

nâcham ^[Strong's\ #5162]^

This term is found over 100 times in the Old Testament and means to be sorry, or to pity or console oneself. In three of those occurences it is referring to repentance.^[6]^

Greek

metanoe? ^[Strong's\ #3340]^

This term is the one most commonly translated in the New Testament as "repentance" and literally means "to change one’s mind or purpose, to repent." From this same root comes the noun metanoia: "after-thought, repentance" (Liddell, 503). This is a reversal of thinking. You see yourself differently: as fallen and corrupt.^[7]^

metamelom? ^[Strong's\ #3338]^

This term carries a more emotional implication and literally means "to feel repentance, to rue, regret." In four of the five New Testament occurrences, the ESV translates it as "change(d) his/their mind(s)". From this same root comes the noun metamelos: "repentance, regret" (Liddell, 503).^[8]^

epistreph? ^[Strong's\ #1994]^

Although never translated as "repentance", this word furthers the understanding of God's clear command for a change of mind, a heartfelt sorrow for sin, and a turning from sin. It means "to turn about, turn round; to return; to run towards; to correct, make to repent; to turn oneself round, turn about; constantly turning" (Liddell, 302). This is a change of the will. This is decidedly turning from sin and the ways of sin to follow the ways of Christ.^[9]^

Quotes

  • "Repentance is more than a change of mind or feeling sorry for one's sins. It is a radical and deliberate turning or returning to God that results in moral and ethical change and action” (Kenneth Barker, ed. Zondervan NASB Study Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
    1. p. 1372).
  • "Repentance involves deliberate turning from sin to righteousness" (Barker, 1419).
  • "Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ" (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 713).
  • Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.
    • Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.87
  • "Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh." -- Point 3 on Martin Luther's 95 Theses
  • "He, who truly repents, is chiefly sorry for his sins. He, whose repentance is spurious, is chiefly concerned for their consequences. The former chiefly regrets that he has done evil; the latter that he has incurred evil. One sorely laments that he deserves punishment; the other that he must suffer punishment. One approves of the Law which condemns him; the other thinks he is hardly treated, and that the Law is rigorous. To the sincere penitent, sin appears exceeding sinful; to him who sorrows after a worldly sort, sin, in some form, appears pleasant. He regrets that it is forbidden. One says it is an evil and bitter thing to sin against God, even if no punishment followed. The other sees little evil in transgression if there were no painful consequences sure to follow." -- Dr. William S. Plumer (1802-1880), Repentance and Conversion

Notes

  1. ? Acts 5:31, 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25
  2. ? Psalms 119:128; Job 42:5,6; 2 Cor 7:10
  3. ? Ezekiel 14:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:9
  4. ? Deut 4:30; 1 Sam 7:3; 1 Kgs 13:33; 2 Kgs 5:13; 23:25; 2 Chr 7:14, 19; 15:4; 30:6, 9; 36:13; Isa 31:6; Jer 3:1,7,10,12,14,19,22; 4:1; 8:4,5; 18:8,11; 25:5; 26:3; 35:15; 36:3, 7; 44:5; Ezek 14:6; and Hos 3:5; 5:4; 6:1; 11:5; 14:1,2,4
  5. ? Deut 30:2,10; 1 Kgs 8:33,35,47,48; 2 Chr 6:24,26,37,38; Neh 1:9; 9:26,29,35; Job 22:23; 36:10; Ps 7:12; 51:13; Jer 5:3; 15:7; 23:14; 34:16; Dan 9:13; Amos 4:6,8,-11; Jonah 3:8, 10
  6. ? Job 42:6; Jer 8:6; 31:19
  7. ? Mat 3:2; 4:17; 11:20,21; 12:41; Mark 1:15; 6:12; 10:13; 11:32; 13:3,5; 15:7,10; 16:30; 17:3,4; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30; 26:20; 2Co 12:21; Rev 2:5,16,21,22; 3:3,19; 9:20,21; 16:9,11
  8. ? Mat 21:29,32; 27:3; 2 Cor 7:8; Heb 7:21
  9. ? Matt 13:15; Mark 4:12; Luk 1:16,17; 17:4; 22:32; John 12:40; Acts 3:19; 9:35; 11:21; 14:15; 15:19; 26:18; 26:20; 28:27; 2Co 3:16; Gal 4:9; 1Th 1:9; Jas 5:19,20; 1Pe 2:25; 2Pe 2:21
  • Some content is based off of the public domain work "Easton's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, 1897. Public Domain."

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