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Repentance is a well-known subject in the Christian circles. Sermons have been preached where people are then called to repent from their sins and be saved. You may have heard or attended sermons where Christians are also told to repent. This term is quite popular. But what is it, really?
I first want to note that there is a difference between repentance and forgiveness of sins. Let us see what the Bible has to say about that in Acts 2:38;
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission (forgiveness) of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
Both terms are seen here in Peter’s statement. This shows how different they are. They cannot be used interchangeably. Did you notice that repentance came first? After repentance comes being baptized for the forgiveness of sins. If repentance is not the same as forgiveness, then what is it?
In the Old Testament, two original Hebrew words were used for the term ‘repent.’ They were the words “nacham” and “shuwb.”
“Nacham” simply means to change one’s mind in regret, to feel sorry or to console. This word can be seen in Exodus 13:17,
“And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:’"
God did not led them through the shorter way of of the Philistines, because He knew they would be attacked; and when they experience war at such an early stage, they will regret and change their minds to return back to Egypt. Notice here that, this had no correlation to sin? It was simply a change of mind out of regret.
The next Hebrew word often translated in English as “repent” is the word, “shuwb.” This word means to turn back, return or bring back. It was translated as “repent” in this Bible verse:
"Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways," says the Lord GOD. "Repent (shuwb), and turn (shuwb) from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.” (Ezekiel 18:30)
The direct translation should be “Return, turn from all your transgressions…” This word shuwb in this case was used in correlation to wrongdoings. They were told to turn back from their wrongdoings and return to him. Another instance in scripture where shuwb is seen is in Genesis 3:19:
“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return (shuwb) to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return (shuwb)."
When Adam disobeyed, mankind was made mortal and hence their bodies return back to being dust (soil), when they die. Shuwb simply means to return or turn back.
New Testament Repentance
In the New Testament, the word ‘repent’ or ‘repentance’ was used as a translation of two original Greek texts. The New Testament was written originally in ancient Greek. These words are “metamellomai” and “metanoia.”
Metamellomai stands for changing of mind in regret just like the Hebrew word nacham. It was used in this verse:
“Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented (metamellomai) himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, what is that to us? See thou to that.” (Matthew 27:3-4)
Judas regretted what he did against Jesus. He changed his mind because of that and returned the money they paid him for his betrayal.
The next Greek word translated as ‘repent,’ is the word metanoia/metanoeo. Metanoia/metanoeo simply means to think differently or afterwards, to simply change your mind or to reconsider. It stems from two words, meta which means with or after; and noieo which means to exercise of the mind or to think. This word was used in this bible verse:
“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance (metanoia), so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
This passage advises the ministers (servants) of God on how to approach the unbelievers with the gospel. That they should teach in patience and humility; and if done right God may change their minds (grant them repentance), that they may come to their senses and escape the hold of the devil.
Understanding all these forms of repentance, which term was used in Peter’s preaching that converted about 3000 people to Christ (same one we reviewed earlier)? Let’s return (shuwb) to it, shall we?
“Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2: 38)
Can you guess the original Greek word used for ‘repent’? It is the word metanoeo. What was Peter actually telling them? He told them to think differently, or reconsider the message given them; change their minds and get baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
Repentance can be used on any person at all, believer or unbeliever. Peter 2:9 speaks of “all coming to repentance.” It is simply a change of heart or mind towards or away something. Whether it is toward God, better deeds, or away from bad deeds or decisions like Judas and the Israelites. For those in Christ, you may repent when you find out that you’ve been going contrary to something in the Word. You may also repent when you realize that your relationship with God isn’t as it was before. You don’t need an altar call for that. Just simply change your mind and start doing the things you used to do. Revelation 2:4-5 speaks about it.
“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. ‘Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place--unless you repent (metanoeo).’”
They simply had to change their thinking and revert back to the works they were doing right before they began to dwindle in their relationship with God.
Anytime you gain new knowledge or revelation, contrary to the way you once thought or believed, you can simply repent by changing your thinking and walking according to your newly acquired knowledge.