How many times have you heard about repentance at church? Usually, the church’s definition of repentance is turning your life around for the Lord or at least feeling sorrowful for what you’ve done. But neither of these definitions fit the bill.
When someone feels “bad“ about what they’ve done and makes up their mind to turn their life around and change it for the Lord, most preachers will call that repentance. Although many preachers don’t condone feeling “guilty“ they still feel that it’s right for a believer to feel poorly in some way over what they’ve done. Then they should exhibit corresponding action to turn their life around. This is what we call repentance in the church today. Here’s the thing: do you know what Bible character fits that description perfectly? Judas.
Judas felt so poorly for betraying Jesus. He felt so poorly that he ended up hanging himself. Judas even went back to the religious leaders to give back the money that he took for betraying Jesus. He tried to rectify the wrong that he had done. And despite all of this, Jesus called Judas “the son of perdition (or destruction – John 17:12).“ This was Jesus prophesying that Judas would not find eternal life.
Something is very wrong here. Jesus said that Judas would be destroyed instead of finding eternal life. Judas was not a believer, and yet he fits the churches description of repentance to a T… I think we have our definition of repentance wrong.
Sorrow over your sin and trying to change your life is not what repentance is. Repentance is literally just changing your mind. When a person changes their mind regarding what they were seeking before and turns their heart to know Jesus, that is repentance. That is the only definition of repentance.
Even the word repentance in our Greek New Testament is the word “metanoia.” And “metanoia” comes from two root words: “Meta” meaning “beyond or afterwards” and “noieō” which means “to think.” So metanoia is defined as “thinking differently, or thinking afterwards, reconsidering.” That is, a change of mind.
But you don’t need to rely on any Greek definition to know that “repentance” is not sorrow over sin or changing your life. New Covenant repentance is simply changing your mind from seeking one thing to acknowledging the truth of Jesus. That’s all. No rolling around on the floor in tears required. This verse says that exactly:
2 Timothy 2:25 (KJV) In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
What happens when someone repents? They simply acknowledge the truth. It is as simple as that. Repentance has nothing to do with feeling sorrowful and repentance has nothing to do with you trying to change your life for the Lord. It is just changing your mind to acknowledge the truth of Jesus. And that is something that Judas never did; which is why the Bible will never say that he repented. Despite his sorrow and attempt to rectify his wrong, he never came to repentance, which is why Jesus called him the son of destruction.
Repentance has nothing to do with feeling poorly over your sin. But people will say, “What about godly sorrow? The Bible says that godly sorrow is a good thing.” There is a certain godly sorrow that happens in an unbeliever only, which leads to their salvation.
2 Corinthians 7:10 (KJV) For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
Firstly, this sorrow is only applicable to an unbeliever. Of course, an unbeliever should feel sorrowful over their present condition, because they do not have what Jesus has offered them. They are poor and need Him. But even for an unbeliever, this sorrow is not called repentance. That verse says clearly that an unbeliever’s sorrow over their present condition merely leads to repentance, not that sorrow is the repentance itself. For an unbeliever, why would they turn their mind to the Lord if they thought their present condition was great? It is their dissatisfaction with their present condition, that leads to them turning their mind to the goodness of God! But this verse does not say that sorrow is repentance, even for an unbeliever. Otherwise, Judas would have repented perfectly, because he felt terrible sorrow over his sin.
And as for a born-again believer, sorrow is not necessary anymore because we have been cleansed and made a new creation. Our present condition is awesome! Now, God advises us to rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say rejoice (Philippians 4:4)! Even when you sin, you can remember that you have a perfect sacrifice that saved you and forgave you of that very sin! So as much as we should never rejoice over sin, we can rejoice despite our former sin, because Jesus already took care of it!
1 John 2:1-2 (NKJV) My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins…
Repentance Is Not Changing Your Life
Beyond just sorrow, the church will tell you that changing your life for the Lord is how you repent. But think about it, if repentance was us turning our lives around for Jesus, then how is that different from the Old Testament? The Old Testament law required people to stop sinning and start living for Jesus, and that covenant was completely unsuccessful, because no one could do it!
Hebrews 7:18 (NKJV) For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment [the Old Testament commandments] because of its weakness and unprofitableness…
Our current definition of repentance sounds a lot like the Old Testament law of Moses. In fact, it’s the exact same thing. “Thou shalt not do that anymore!”
In the New Testament, we don’t repent by turning our lives around. The law proved we could never do that. The Holy Spirit Himself transforms us and lives through us, not us ourselves.
2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV) But we all… beholding… the glory of the Lord, are being transformed… by the Spirit of the Lord.
Romans 12:2 (NKJV) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…
Now, don’t get me wrong, if you “repent“ (or should we say, acknowledge the truth) that will certainly lead to transformed actions and words. We just quoted verses to you that say as much. But the changed actions are not the repentance. That is what the Holy Spirit does through us as we renew our minds. The acknowledgment of the truth and the renewal of our minds itself is the repentance.
Repentance Is Changing Your Mind About Jesus
In this day and age, because the word repent has taken on such an ugly, untrue meaning, sometimes it’s better to not even use the word with people. After all, the word “repent“ is just an English word to translate the biblical term “change your mind.“ So it’s probably better to just tell people to change their mind about Jesus. Get right to the point so there’s no misunderstandings.
Repentance is such a beautiful thing when it happens in anyone’s heart. It has nothing to do with sorrow or changing your life for Jesus. Jesus carried our sorrows at the cross, so that as a believer, you no longer have to feel that anymore. You get to rejoice in the Lord always now! And repentance certainly has nothing to do with changing our lives for the Lord — a thing that the Old Testament proved no one can do.
Jesus has been taught so very wrong. He is so much better, and more beautiful, and more gracious than you’ve ever thought before. All He wants is for you to know who He really is. That’s what He calls repentance.
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