This topic is not a popular topic to be discussed without having one side accuse you of something you have nothing to do with. There are different views of repentance; but just as there is only one gospel that saves, there is only one true repentance in the Bible that is genuine. Paul said to the Galatians that any man who preaches any "other" gospel than that which the Bible teaches, let him die and go to hell. He used the word "accursed" but it means the same thing. I didn't say that, God said it in His Word. That ought to tell you how much God cares about His gospel. The sad thing is that today many are presenting a false gospel by presenting a false repentance not taught in the Bible. Throughout this article, I'd like to examine the difference between true repentance vs. false repentance because it is such a thing that cannot be ignored.
Repentance Is a Must; Not a Should, Could, or Would
The first thing we must be aware of is that repentance is always a command, not an option. Today, we see this doctrine being thrown away because preachers are afraid to take the heat to preach a Biblical repentance. Repentance is not a popular topic to preach on, but it is in the Bible and therefore, must be preached on. Luke 24:46-47 says, "And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." God requires it as told in Acts 17:30, "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:" Here we see it is a command. If you want to be saved, then you must repent. You cannot be saved until you repent. You cannot have faith until you have repentance. Repentance is always before faith. Mark 1:15 is where Jesus said, "repent ye, and believe the gospel." It wasn't, "believe and then repent." You can't believe until you repent. Thus, repentance is a requirement. Repentance is not a matter of that I should, not a matter of that I could, nor even a matter that I would; it is a matter of whether or not I am going to do so. If a person doesn't repent, he will not be saved.
Before we look at true repentance, it would wise to take a look at false repentance - what repentance is not. There are common misconceptions of repentance and I'd like to take a look at the most popular ones.
1.) Repentance is not turning from sin or giving up your sinful life style to start a new one.
This is perhaps the most taught in churches. This is the definition modern dictionaries give. The problem with this teaching is that it is an attempt of what man does in order to be saved, rather than what was already done. Many preachers preach that you must turn from your sins in order to be saved. Let me say this, there is a vast difference between repentance OF sins and repentance FROM sins. Repentance OF sins is a realization OF your sin. Repentance FROM sin is turning from sin or stop sinning. Now, just what exactly do I mean by turning from sins? What exactly do preachers mean by this? Literally, they are saying we must forsake our sins or else God will not save us. Turning from sins in order to the Word of God is keeping God's commandments and keeping the law of commission/omission. An example of this would be found with the Ten Commandments. The Bible says, "Thou shalt not steal." Turning from sin would be obeying that commandment and not stealing. Turning from sin is law, not grace. But, the Bible makes it clear we are not saved by keeping the law. Galatians 2:16 says, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." Three times in this verse alone does God say we are not saved by the works of the law.
Still don't believe me that turning from sin is works? Let us now look at Jonah 3:5-10. Jonah 3:5-10 reads, "So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not." Scripture teaches that genuine repentance brings a change of life and a change of actions. Acts 26:20 says, "But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance." The word "meet" means "fit". What Paul was saying here is that people need to turn to God for salvation and as a result of that, they need to do works to prove that the repentance was genuine. Genuine repentance leads to turning from sin, but it is not turning from sin itself. Here we have the story of Nineveh's salvation and the results that took place afterward. In verse five, real repentance is shown - they believed God. You cannot believe God until you repent. You cannot believe the gospel until you repent. Repentance is always before faith in Christ. Nineveh put faith and trust in God and as a direct result, the king made a decree that the land would do right for God. They turned from their sinful lifestyle after salvation. In verse ten, God says that He saw their repentance. Is that what it says? No. Let's read it again, "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way..." It doesn't say God saw their faith, it says God saw their works. What was their works? "That they turned from their evil way." They turned from their wicked rebellion against the Lord. Repentance is also demonstrated by God in this passage of Scripture. The last part of verse ten says, "...God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not." Can God sin? No. Therefore, He has no sin to turn from. What Nineveh did was change their attitude about God. What God did was change His attitude about Nineveh. This is what the Scripture teaches. Repentance is not turning from sin, even though it will result in that.
Many people miss this important truth that repentance is NOT turning from sin. Even if you were going to be logical, if turning from sin was required for us to be saved, since God hates all sin and the Bible says nothing defiled, not even a person that has lied will enter into the kingdom of God, it is clear that if we want to save ourselves we must become sinless. But, this is impossible. Preachers of sinless perfection only preach that doctrine to excuse their sin and not to repent of theirs and they confuse many others in doing so. 1 John 1:8-10 makes it clear that if we say we don't have sin, then we are calling God a liar and His Word is not in us. That's pretty bold, but it is the Word of God. You say, "but you have to turn from your sins." The only way a person can save himself from his own sins is by turning from them all. Ezekiel 18:21 says, "But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die." If you want to try and save yourself, this is it. Notice the words though, "But if the wicked turn from ALL his sins..." Does it say most sins? No. Does it say the big sins? No. Does it say the sins that easily beset us? No. It says, "all the sins that he hath committed." Question: can you count exactly how many times you have committed a sin? No, no one can - it is countless times. But doesn't the Bible say to turn from all your sins? Sure. But the Bible also tells us that Jesus was a sinless man and never was wicked at all. He became sin for us. Now, but that's not all. You not only need to turn fro the sins COMMITTED, you must also not OMIT anything God requires us to do. This means pray without ceasing, studying the Word, going to church, tithing, etc. How many times do we not do this? Countless. My point is that it is impossible to clean yourself up with a dirty rag which is who we are. Jesus can make us without spot if we trust Him alone, not our ability to reform. But again, if you want to save yourself the only way is to become sinless and never sin again. Or, you can let Jesus save you (the only way you can be saved and have surety of it) because He was perfect and His works were not tainted by the sin we have.
2.) Repentance is not having much sorrow over sins or showing tears.
Do not misunderstand this statement that I had just made, it is okay and Biblical to have a contrite heart when one comes to the Lord for salvation. The Bible says time and time again that the Lord delights in the contrite heart. Psalm 34:18 reads, "The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit." And again in Psalm 51:17, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." I once heard of a preacher who despised this very thing. His argument is that salvation is supposed to be a joyous thing, not at time of mourning. But, when we realized how wicked our sin was and that it is what put Jesus on the cross, it is natural to be contrite over the sinful state of ourselves. Make no mistake about it, I do NOT condemn tears of a person, I endorse it completely.
On the other hand, salvation is not about how many tears come down your face; it is about whether or not your full trust is in the Lord for salvation. Many preachers have a habit of saying that if a person doesn't show tears, then they really were not repentant and only say this because of experience with what happened with them. This is not true in the case of Matthew 21:28-29, "But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went." We have a story of a son who refuses to do the work that his dad told him to do, but understood he was wrong, repented and went ahead and did it. There is no sign of showing an emotional state of tears. There is no indication that the son ever did shed tears; but the Bible does say here that he did repent. Many preachers use 2 Corinthians 7:10 as their defense of this faulty definition of repentance, "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death." Many preachers use this because the word 'salvation' is used here. A good thing to note is that where the Bible uses the word "saved" it is not always referring to when a person gets born again. Matthew 14 is a good example to use. Matthew 14 is the chapter where we find Jesus and Peter both walk on water; Peter then takes his eyes away from Jesus and then begins to drown and in verse 30 he said to Jesus, "Lord, save me." Now, was this Peter's salvation? Surely it was his salvation from the water, but it has nothing to do with him being born again. There is another example in 1 Timothy 2:15 and it says, "Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." This has absolutely nothing to do with being born again, this is referring to being physically saved from death. As mightily as preachers use 2 Corinthians 7:10, it is not addressed to lost people at all. The church of Corinth was a saved church, but immature as babes in Christ as taught in 1 Corinthians 3. If you will take the time to read the whole chapter, you will find that Paul is not telling the church of Corinth to repent, but rejoicing because they had already repented. What did they repent of? They repented of ever accepting a fornicator in church as explained in 1 Corinthians 5. Paul was rejoicing because of this, it has nothing to do with our regenerated state but what we do with people of the world. D. L. Moody once said that a person cannot do a godly anything until he is first saved. This is so true. There is no such thing as a lost person having godly sorrow because there is nothing godly about them. In God's eyes, everything we do before salvation is ungodly no matter how much we think it is godly. But even so, this very pet verse they use to preach their faulty view of repentance condemns them. Notice the italicized word that I italicized in 2 Corinthians 7:10, "worketh". Godly sorrow worketh repentance. Even in a saved person's life, real repentance is not godly sorrow in and of itself but it will result in repentance. The amount of tears a lost person sheds when he comes to salvation is not a requirement, but a result of understanding how sinful they really are. Each person is different and emotions are not the same for everyone.
The simple fact is that salvation is not an emotional experience, but a personal trust in the Lord for our salvation. John 3:36 makes this clear - you trust Jesus Christ, then you have everlasting life; if you don't, then God's wrath abides on you. I pray that none of us will ever fall to the notion of thinking that our tears will take us to Heaven when we die. As the song Rock of Ages goes, "Could my tears forever flow; could my zeal no respite know. These for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone." The Bible does not say "without the shedding of tears, there is no remission"; it says, "without the shedding of blood, there is no remission." The blood of Christ is the only liquid that will ever save a sinner, not his amount of tears.
2.) Repentance is not making a change for the better.
There are some preachers today who believe and teach that repentance is a change and nothing else to it. This is false repentance. The important thing to remember is that God does the changing and the saving, my part is to simply do the believing and the receiving. The issue is not whether God will change us or not, the issue is that we are not the ones who do it. A popular Southern Baptist preacher named Paul Washer teaches this damnable heresy. He once said in a sermon entitled, "Repent and Believe", "Now what is repentance? The word means to change. Let me ask you a question … Have you changed?" This is works salvation. Paul Washer is implying that we have to change before we can be saved.
Let me say this, a lost person cannot change himself. I did not say that a lost person will not be willing; I did not say that he would not try to; I said that he cannot. Isaiah 64:6 says, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." Notice the words, "we are all as an unclean thing" and "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags". Our self-righteousness is sin in God's eyes but in man's eyes, it is good. Regardless of what man thinks or says, let God be true and every man a liar. Notice what Isaiah says our righteousness is as - filthy rags. Let me ask you, reader, would you use a filthy rag to make your dirty dishes get clean? No, that is preposterous. Using a dirty rag on dirty dishes will only make the dishes more dirty. Would you use a dirty rag on a dirty car? No. This is the same way with our life. Jeremiah 2:22 says, "For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD." This is God speaking here. God says that religious soap will not wash us clean. Only the blood of Christ has the power to make us white as snow. Revelation 1:5 says, "...Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood," Only the blood can cleanse every spot. What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. It is true and if repentance was a change on our part, then that would mean Jesus' blood is not enough or it is insufficient to save us from our sins. Our trust in the Lord would be in vain. The Bible says that if righteousness came by law, then Christ died in vain, or for nothing (Gal. 2:21). The simple fact is that a lost person cannot change himself, God must do the changing. Paul Washer and others must come to the truth that God does the real changing. Whether it is evident in a believer's life or not is a different story. Regardless, God does the changing not man because man, who is tainted by sinfulness, cannot change himself into the man who God wants to see.
Another thing to consider is what Jesus said in Matthew 9:12, "But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." He said this in response to Pharisees who were wondering why Jesus was with sinners. Jesus said, "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." The very idea that repentance is a change is like a hospital saying, "We only accept healthy people." Healthy people don't need to go to the hospital, sick people do. I'll tell you this, sick people need the Lord - they have the illness of sin. They don't have the cure for that, but the Great Physician does. Repentance is not a change of conduct at all. A sinner does not change his clothes and make himself look clean before he meets the Lord, he comes as he is and leaves a totally different person because it is God that does the changing, not man himself.
The truth is, salvation is not of works. It is not about us changing for the better. This New Year's we will all make a resolution to make that half of the people in the world do not keep for a day, let alone a year. Our resolutions for the better cannot save us. Do you think anyone will be in Heaven that says they got there because they trusted in changing themselves? No, only those whom God has changed from being unsaved to saved - from being dead to alive in Christ. We do not do the changing, God does.
There are many other faulty views of repentance, but these are the most common ones being taught in churches across America. It is sad, but it is the truth. Some people are not going to like that I put this article up because it may upset some people, but the Word of God does that. I have no intentions of hating anyone, but only the false doctrine they teach which comes from the devil himself. Let us come to conclusion that there is only one type of repentance that is genuine, that is real, and that is not fake like the burgers you eat a MacDonald's.
Now that we know and are aware of faulty repentance that are in the world, we must come to conclusion that there is only ONE type of repentance in the Bible just as there is only ONE gospel that saves. Galatians 1:9 gives us warning not to preach anything other than this gospel, "As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." The words "let him be accursed" means just how they sound and that means, "let him go to hell." I did not say this, Paul wrote this and God inspired it. Therefore, we would be wise to take heed to what this verse is telling us. We have to be right on the gospel, and if we are to do that, we must be right on the doctrine of repentance.
So, what is repentance? We know of it's importance, we know what is not; but what is it? Real repentance is a change of mind that will lead to a change of action. Of course, I do not believe this change of action has anything to do with what saves us but it will take place after you repent. If you want, you can take the word "repent" and put "change your mind" in place of it because it means the exact same thing in the Word of God. Here is an example of Matthew 21:28-29 which is what we looked at earlier:
"But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went."
We could say it like this, "He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he changed his mind, and went." The true meaning of repentance fits perfect here. It would not make sense to put "but afterward he turned from his sin, and went" or "but afterward he was sorry, and went." There is no sign of that and it makes more sense with the "change of mind" because it is the real definition. Another one is Mark 1:15:
"And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel."
Jesus is speaking here and telling people how they can be saved. It would make the same sense to say, "change your mind, and believe the gospel." It would not make sense any other way. Another example is Acts 20:21:
"Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."
Paul's main ministry was getting people to change their minds toward God and put faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ - the same thing Jesus taught in Mark 1:15.
You can do this with any passage in the New Testament. Words do not mean today the same thing they meant 400 years ago, let alone 5000-6000 years ago when God started to write the Bible. But, the Word of God doesn't need to fit our culture, our culture needs to get in line with the Word of God. Another thing to note is that...
As hard as it sounds, God repents the same way mankind repents. You don't believe me? Well, I guess that means it is Scripture time. Here is a list of a few of the verses in the Old Testament on God repenting of something of some sort...
Genesis 6:6, "And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart."
Exodus 32:14, "And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people."
Judges 2:18, "And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them."
1 Samuel 15:35, "And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel."
1 Samuel 24:16, "And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite."
1 Chronicles 21:15, "And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite."
Psalm 106:45, "And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies."
Jeremiah 26:19, "Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the LORD, and besought the LORD, and the LORD repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure great evil against our souls."
Amos 7:3, "The LORD repented for this: It shall not be, saith the LORD."
Amos 7:6, "The LORD repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord GOD."
Jonah 3:10, "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not."
Zechariah 8:14, "For thus saith the LORD of hosts; As I thought to punish you, when your fathers provoked me to wrath, saith the LORD of hosts, and I repented not:"
From the verses above given, we can see clearly that repentance cannot be sorrow over sins because God has none to be sorry for, nor can it be turning from sins since He has none to turn from. What God had did in these verses is either change his mind or not change his mind in a situation. God can change His mind. Many say, "Well, this is God - He can do whatever He wants." Sure, but God gave us the same quality. He gave us a mind to think right or to think wrong. We can change our mind, and most assuredly, we must if we want to go to Heaven.
Preachers often confuse repentance with other things like reformation, conversion, or penitence. These things are good, but it is not the same thing as regeneration. God saves us because He wants us to, not because we beg Him to. God saves us because He knew we couldn't and wanted to provide us a way out of going to Hell. God is a God of mercy and grace as well as justice and wrath. The only way to be saved is to trust the Lord - plus nothing, minus nothing. We need to come to conclusion that repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of action. If we do not, we might as well consider ourselves accursed by God. I pray that this article did help you out in understanding what Biblical repentance is. Let us not contaminate this precious truth any longer.