What Is Repentance?

by | Oct 20, 2023 | Theology | 0 comments

Luke 13 opens with a sad story of how Pilate had killed some devout men whom he killed as they were sacrificing to God. On hearing this, Jesus used it as a segway to remind his listeners of the importance of repentance. He said, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:3).

What Is Repentance?

The word repentance means to make a 180-degree turn. If you were headed North, you would turn and start heading South. When you repent of your sins, it means you make a complete turnaround and start living like a new person. 

The theme of repentance is ubiquitous in the Bible. In some cases, the word repentance is used while in others, only the act is visualized through a passage. 

Repentance in the Old Testament 

In the Old Testament, two Hebrew words “shub” and “nacham” are translated as repent. The word “nacham” means “to regret something or to be sorry for something.” A good example of this meaning is in Job 42:6 where Job repents in dust and ashes. The second word that is used to mean repentance is shub. It means to turn around. More precisely, it means to turn away from evil and to turn towards good. A good example is when God repented the evil that he was about to do to his people (Exodus 32:14). 

In addition to these words, there are also lots of idioms that are used throughout the scriptures to illustrate repentance. These include:

  • wash your heart from wickedness’ (Jer 4:14)
  • circumcise yourselves to the Lord (Jer 4:4)
  • incline your heart unto the Lord your God (Josh 24:23)
  • break up your fallow ground’ (Hos 10:12)
  • rend your hearts and not your garments (Joel 2:13)
  • Etc

Repentance in the New Testament

There are three Greek words that have been used in the New Testament to mean repentance. The first word is “metanoeo” which denotes an ethical or religious change in thoughts and actions. It may also be used to denote a change of heart or to be converted (e.g. Mathew 3:2, Luke 17:3, 4). The second word is “metamelomai”, meaning to feel regret. It means a change of mind due to regret. The third Greek word that is translated as repent is Metanoia. It means to have a change of heart that results in behavior change (e.g. Romans 2:4). 

While the different words that are used to denote repentance may have different connotations, they have one overarching component – a remorseful heart that is often portrayed through sorrow. Repentance is not in the emotion but the emotion often precedes the action of repentance. For instance, it is not uncommon for people to break down in tears when confessing their sins. 

Repentance plays a pivotal role in the gospel. Because unless one repents, he can’t partake of God’s kingdom. This explains why repentance was the first thing that Jesus preached when he returned from the wilderness after 40 days of fasting and being tempted.

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Mathew 4:17)

The fact that God invites us to repent means that sin is not irreparable. We can repent and get a fresh start in God. This is why Paul writes:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

This scripture means that once a person repents, they become a totally new person. It is not possible to repent without any visible change in lifestyle. A good illustration of this is what happened when Zacheus the tax collector met Jesus. After conviction hits him, he not only decides to stop defrauding people but also commits to pay back all those he had defrauded. Even though the word repent was not used in the passage, it is clear that Zacheus repented due to the complete turnaround witnessed in his life (Luke 19:1-10). 

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the biblical definition of repentance, and how does it differ from the common understanding of the term?
  2. In the passage from Luke 13, why does Jesus use the tragic event involving Pilate and the Galileans to emphasize the importance of repentance? What message is He trying to convey?
  3. In the Old Testament, repentance is described using various Hebrew words and idioms. How do these different expressions help us understand the concept of repentance more fully?
  4. Similarly, the New Testament uses different Greek words for repentance. What nuances do these words carry, and how do they contribute to a deeper understanding of repentance in the context of the New Testament?
  5. Repentance often involves a change of heart and sorrow for one’s actions. Can you provide examples from the Bible where individuals experienced genuine repentance, and how did it manifest in their lives?
  6. The role of repentance in the Gospel is highlighted, as Jesus preached it when He began His ministry. Why is repentance considered a fundamental aspect of entering God’s kingdom, and how does it relate to the concept of salvation?
  7. What does the verse from 2 Corinthians 5:17 (“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature”) mean in the context of repentance? How does repentance lead to a transformation in one’s life?
  8. Reflect on the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. How did his encounter with Jesus lead to repentance, and what practical changes did he make in response to his repentance?
  9. In your personal belief or experience, how does repentance play a role in your spiritual journey and relationship with God? How have you seen repentance bring about positive change in your life or the lives of others?
  10. Discuss the idea that repentance signifies that sin is not irreparable. What hope and encouragement can be drawn from the concept of repentance in the context of faith and spirituality?

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About: Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.
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Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.

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