What is repentance?

Romans 2:4
Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

2 Corinthians 7:9-10
Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

Repentance or to repent, might be one of the most misunderstood words in the world today. For many people, to repent is to to say you’re sorry. For others it also involves doing something good to try and “blot out” the bad thing. Part of the confusion comes from the English translation of the original Greek word “metanoéō”. Look at the definition below:

metanoéō  (From Strong’s Concordance)
(from metá, “changed after being with” and noiéō, “think”) – properly, “think differently after,” “after a change of mind”; to repent (literally, “think differently afterwards”).

We see above that repentance is not saying sorry but changing of the way you think about something. It’s doing a complete 180 degree turn in your thinking! The Bible tells us that there are two things that bring about this radical change of thought. One is understanding just how good God is and the other is feeling sorry about something in a godly way. Lets look at both in more detail below.

The goodness of God:

God is totally good and He only wants good things for us. Getting an understanding of how much He loves us and how He only wants us to do well, will change the way we see God. We will want to follow His ways as we understand that every instruction God gives is for our protection and upliftment.

John 3:16-17
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

James 1:17
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

Psalm 103:1-5
Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Godly sorrow:

The Bible (2 Corinthians 7:9-10) contrasts worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. It says worldly sorrow produces death and godly sorrow leads to repentance and salvation. Worldly sorrow is the kind of sorrow that is not really heart felt. Worldly sorrow often comes with being caught out by others, we feel embarrassed and say sorry but its more a “sorry you caught me” than an understanding of the destructive nature of our actions. The person who is expressing worldly sorrow is not interested in changing their ways in the long term. Godly sorrow is a realisation that the  actions performed, the sin, is destructive to all involved. Sin in any form brings death and when we understand this it produces a radical change in the way be think of sin. Sin becomes our enemy and not something we want to do, we see it’s true nature and turn from it to God.

Acts 20:20-21
how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

While it is always good to say sorry when we do something wrong, what we want is a changed and transformed mind. When we are born-again, our spirit is reborn but our soul (our mind, will & emotions) still function according to the world, until we renew them through the Word of God. Romans 12:2 and Ephesians 4:17-24 explain this process to us.

Romans 12:2
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Ephesians 4:17-24
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Let’s be transformed as we replace the lies we learned from the world with the truth of God’s Word. This is repentance that brings results, that brings change and life!

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