Related Article: Notes on Repentance

A Primer on Repentance

July 23, 2023

by Rosaria Butterfield

Rosaria Butterfield, a former professor of English and women’s studies at Syracuse University, converted to Christ in 1999 in what she describes as a train wreck.
Rosaria is married to Kent Butterfield, a Reformed Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina, and is a homeschool mother, author, and speaker.
She is the author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Openness Unhindered,
The Gospel Comes with a Housekey, and Five Lies of our Anti-Christian Age (forthcoming, 2023).

I first heard the expression “Repentance unto Life” in Pastor Ken Smith’s dining room on an uncharacteristically hot and humid August afternoon in Syracuse, NY, in 1996. The window fans vented in full blast where I was having dinner at the home of my Christian neighbors. I was in a lesbian relationship, about to be tenured at a first-tier research university, and discipling a hearty crop of young LGBTQ+ radicals to follow in my footsteps. 

As an unbeliever, linking “repentance” with “life” by the conjunction “unto” was easy to reject. How could “life” be the event that happens after “repentance”—and deductively, only after repentance? What kind of life? How could someone like me, writing books, teaching students, and leading an academic department, be counted among the dead? 

By God’s mercy, I would soon learn I was lost in my sin, and my soul was rotting under the stench. I was spiritually dead, with my sins condemning me through every thought, word, and deed. I had broken every commandment under God’s moral law (Exodus 20: 1-17). I was an atheist (1st), I worshipped the gods of LGBTQ (2nd), I despised God’s truth and his name (3rd), I committed all manner of sin on the Lord’s Day and denied God respect and worship (4th), I despised authority (5th), I advocated for abortion (6th), I practiced and promoted homosexuality (7th), I stole glory from God and loved material goods (8th), I spoke untruth by believing that I was gay and that “gay is good” (9th), I coveted an influential career promising independence from all authority (10th). By God’s grace alone, He justified and adopted me, drew me to repentance, forgave me of my sins, and continues to lead me in sanctification, prayer, repentance, and joy in the Lord.  

The Lord taught me the safest posture to strike is on bended knee. Indeed, the Christian faith paints it in bold letters: in repentance, there is life. Repentance is a Christian grace highlighting that God and man are binary oppositions because God is inherently distinct from his creation. Repentance of sin keeps the man/God binary front and center.

Evangelicals agree with all of this in general terms, but a civil war is currently raging in the particulars. Does God define our existence and values, or do they define God? In today’s heresy du jour, a temper-tantrum-throwing idol represented by the letters L, G, B, T, Q, and the symbol +, our values define God. Here are just a few examples of flagrant sin:

When my word count for this article prevents me from citing more examples, I hope you see the problem: there is a lot of sin in the evangelical camp. But as evangelicals, we are divided about what to do about this. Some say public sin requires public repentance. Others believe self-improvement is all that we need. Because the doctrine of repentance has fallen on hard times, I offer to you a primer, taken from the Puritan Thomas Watson’s The Doctrine of Repentance(1668). Watson deems repentance “pure gospel grace,” something so vital that “no one is saved without it” (13). Watson ranks repentance as the trustworthy visible sign of salvation: “Repentance came in by the gospel. Christ has purchased in his blood that repenting sinners shall be saved” (13).   Watson provides six ingredients to true repentance:

So why is it so hard for public figures to repent of sin publicly? 

One reason for this is that the evangelical church has invented new sins that soften the existing moral law of God. For example, consider whether a Christian should attend a gay wedding. While a believer is in clear sin if he does so because he is promoting evil, the evangelical church he attends might call this an act of grace because affirmation “keeps the peace.”

The last decade has shown us that public figures are more comfortable with course correcting and self-improvement than repentance. So, we must ask: does it matter? What exactly is the theological difference between repentance and self-improvement/course correction?  Enter again the Puritan Thomas Watson. According to Thomas Watson, self-improvement/course correction is a form of counterfeit repentance–that serpentine seduction about which Augustine referred when he warned that repentance damns many.

What are the three ingredients of counterfeit repentance?

All forms of counterfeit repentance want to make good changes in the flesh. Counterfeit repentance rejects the need for or value of true repentance and, in so doing, wants God’s grace without God’s law. 

Putting our hope in self-improvement and denying the need for repentance denies God His glory. Our hell-bent fetish of self-improvement is one of the many ways evangelicals cede the moral language to the left, thus denying that the Bible has a moral language to which we, as Christians, are bound. Course corrections and self-improvement are our “Achan in the camp,” and the fig leaves of our own making aren’t covering our sins. 

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Notes by Lambert Dolphin 


Related Article: Notes on Repentance

"Repentance" is a loaded word in our culture. Probably most people know that repentance has something to do with changing one's behavior, turning to God from sin for instance.

At Mount Sinai, God disclosed His character to the newly formed national people Israel, by means of the Law of Moses (which includes the Ten Commandments). When they crossed the Red Sea the Jews were "baptized into Moses, in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). At this is the point in time they were no longer a collection of tribes led by patriarchs, they were a nation living under a covenant relationship with the living God. In addition to the Law, Yahweh gave Israel a priesthood to provide forgiveness and covering for human failure to live up to the standards of the Law. The Tabernacle in their midst symbolized the presence of God with His people.

When the Jews left Egypt they were in a state of accommodation to the pagan gods of Egypt and they were indifferent and complacent to the God of Abraham and their forefathers. The increasing stress on them at least brought them to call out to Yahweh for deliverance.

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, "I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt." When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here am I." Then he said, "Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." And he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the LORD said, "I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt." (Exodus 3:1-10)

Unlike the gods of the rest of the world, the God of Israel is holy and just. He is a personal God who desires fellowship and intimacy with His people. Obviously if people are to live with God as His people radical adjustments in thinking and life-style changes are necessary.

And God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. "You shall have no other gods before me. "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it. "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you. "You shall not kill. "You shall not commit adultery. "You shall not steal. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's." (Exodus 20:1-17)

Israel immediately agreed, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." (Exodus 14:7b) However, the Law of Moses was intended to be a mirror revealing the depths of human evil in our hearts, to the end that we would cry to God for mercy and approach Him by means of a suitable sacrifice.

We all tend to respond to the Law by resolutions, by minor reforms in our outward behavior, and by "trying harder." The Law provokes self effort and self-effort brings inevitable failure (see Romans 7). We can not attain to God's standards on our own.

"Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:19-20)

The history of Israel after the Exodus as recorded in the Old Testament tells us of continual failure. Israel's prophets called God's people to return to knowing, loving and serving God as the number one priority in life. Great truth about the one true God has been given to them. Israel was to be a model for the rest of the world, a light to the nations. By the end of the Old Testament period only a small believing remnant remained with a mostly unbelieving nation.

Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another; the LORD heeded and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and thought on his name. "They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse." (Malachi 3:16-4:6)

Four hundred years later John the Baptist came to announce that Messiah had come. Israel was apathetic and ill-prepared for an event which had been promised them since the beginning of their national history.

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:1-6)

It is appropriate to call people to repent---to turn back to God, abandon all idolatry and change their life styles. They had previously been informed about what living with God entailed and they had no excuse.

Likewise the message of the Apostles to Israel immediately after Pentecost was a call for repentance.

"Men of Israel. The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name, by faith in his name, has made this man strong whom you see and know; and the faith which is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. "And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old. Moses said, `The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul that does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.' And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came afterwards, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God gave to your fathers, saying to Abraham, `And in your posterity shall all the families of the earth be blessed.' God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness." (Acts 3:12-26)

After the national rejection by the Jews of Jesus as their King and Messiah, God turned to the Gentiles (who were previously ignorant of the Law of Moses and the nature of God). The message of the gospel emphasizes God's forgiveness, mercy and good favor:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit; the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him." (John 3:16-21, 34-36)

Still, whether we are Jew of Gentile, all of us are called to repentance:

For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God." So each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:10-12)

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for `In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your poets have said, `For we are indeed his offspring.' Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:24-31).

The entire record of the Bible is therefore about the love and mercy a just God has for human beings who are rebels and anarchists in His universe. External religion means very little to God, and He has a special hatred of hypocrisy.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat." He answered them, "And why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, `Honor your father and your mother,' and, `He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.' But you say, `If any one tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.' So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: `This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'" And he called the people to him and said to them, "Hear and understand--not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man." Then the disciples came and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?" He answered, "Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." But Peter said to him, "Explain the parable to us." And he said, "Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man." (Matthew 15:1-20)

Repentance involves seeing oneself differently and making appropriate changes. Superficial repentance may mean only covering one's tracks, changing one's outward image and demeanor, and even perhaps an apology or retraction. "Saving face" can be important to us if we need to protect our reputation or our jobs or our standing with other people. But God cares little about changes in our lives that are merely cosmetic.

Because sin blinds us and because we easily deceive ourselves, rationalizing our wrong behavior. Most of us do not make deep changes until God shines some light into our hearts. Unless we are very stubborn and hard-hearted our Lord does this gently and graciously-a little at a time. Awareness of sin involves seeing clearly that our actions and life-styles have hurt others, hurt and offended God and hindered our progress towards wholeness and development. Genuine repentance is therefore often painful and may cause us temporary grief and sorrow:

"For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death." (2 Corinthians 7:10)


Everyone Needs to Repent

Ray Stedman says, Everybody needs to repent. Whenever we hurt someone else, or we ourselves are hurt by our own actions, whenever we break a law, whenever we tell a lie, whenever we steal someone else's property or name, whenever we smear some other person's reputation we need to repent, because repentance means a change of mind, a change of attitude. Whenever somebody accuses you of not being right, whenever somebody tells you the truth about yourself, it hurts. It can produce one of two reactions, what Paul calls either "godly grief," or "worldly grief." Grief is a word for "hurt," here. We all feel hurt, but the question, of course, is: "Is it godly hurt, or is it worldly hurt?" Here is the difference, as the apostle points out: Godly grief is the pain of suddenly becoming aware of something about yourself that has been hidden to you. That something wrong about yourself that you have not been able to see always creates a sense of anger, perhaps, of defensiveness, of injury, and oftentimes of tears. It is the moment of self-awareness. It is what we call a "moment of truth." Have you ever had that happen to you? You were tooling along, thinking you were doing OK, when somebody came along and told you something about yourself. Even as he said the words there was a stab in your heart that said, "That's right, isn't it?" You may be defensive, you may argue, you may fight back, you may strike back, but deep inside you know that is true. It hurts, but if it is godly hurt it leads to repentance. It makes you change. You alter your behavior.

Jesus told a story about a man who had two sons {cf, Matt 21:28-31}. He said to the first one, "Go and work in the field." The boy answered, "I will not." But later he repented; he changed his mind and did go. Then the father said to the other son, "Go and work in the field." The boy said, "All right, sir, I'm going," but he did not go. Jesus asked the question, "Which of those two boys repented and did the will of his father?" The answer, of course, is the first one.

Repentance is an action that you take. Some people think that if you feel sorry for what you have done that is repentance. No, it is not. The feeling sorry is the hurt, but if it is right hurt it leads to a change of action, which is repentance. That is where the repenting comes in. Repentance means to turn around. As Isaiah put it:

"...let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts:and let him return unto the Lord...and He will abundantly pardon." (Isa 55:7 RSV)

That is repentance, and that, in turn, Paul says, leads on to freedom, "salvation," he calls it. He is not talking about salvation from sin. These people were already Christians. He is talking about salvation from self, a sense of freedom, of deliverance. The result of worldly grief, of course, of that kind of reaction, is that there is no repentance. There may be a temporary change until the tumult dies down, but no real change, no sense of being wrong, rather a defensiveness instead, the result of which is death.

Corporate Repentance

When Jonah announced that judgment was soon coming to Ninevah, the whole city repented:

"Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he cried, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Then tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh, "By the decree of the king and his nobles:Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God; yea, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?" When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it. (Jonah 3:3-10)

Churches need to repent and change their corporate behavior just as individuals do. There are times when national repentance is all that will save a whole nation from impending judgment. Peter reminds us of this:

"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And "If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?" Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator. (1 Peter 4:12-19)

The failure of men, of churches, of nations to repent and to bring themselves into harmony with the living God means that God's judgment is inevitable. He must judge us because He is Just. He must punish wrong-doers. correct injustice and relieve oppression.

We do everything we can to make light of judgment. We use every stratagem we can find to avoid dealing with the consequences of sin. But God will not let us off. He will not indulge our inattention. He will be taken seriously. In a pause between trumpet blasts an eagle cries its warning. However practiced we become at tuning out sounds that we do not want to hear, including the sound of God's displeasure at sin, God finds new ways to penetrate our defensive deafness. The eagle cry catches us off guard. (Eugene Peterson)

What we are seeing in the judgments of the last days is really nothing new. It is simply commonly experienced penalties for evil increased in amount to an incredible degree. God has been sending judgments like this all through the history of mankind. There have been volcanic eruptions, meteors falling upon the earth, red rain from the skies, poisoned waters, etc. All these terrible disasters have struck before, but now they grow to a climax. Yet we must not misunderstand them, for they are for our own good. I list for you five effects of judgment upon us since we are all being judged in some degree, more or less. Hardships, trials and difficulties are all a part of the judgment of God upon human evil, and we all experience it.

First of all, judgments frighten us. They are intended to. They are sent to arrest our attention. They chill our blood. They alarm us. They scare the living daylights out of us. Like children at a horror movie we are fascinated by them but we want to hide our eyes from them and not look fully at them. That is the first effect of judgment. It arouses fear. Then, because it terrifies us, judgment also sobers us. We [have] heard many testimonies of people saying, "I'll never take life as lightly again. That taught me a lot. I began to see what is really important." That is also what judgments do. They help us reassess our lives. They change our priorities.

C. S. Lewis well says that fear or pain or judgment is "God's megaphone to reach a deaf world." And so judgments correct us. They force us to face unpleasant facts about ourselves. We do not like that. We do not like to be told that we are not perfect. We know we are not, but we do not like anyone else to say so. We are uneasy at having these things pointed out. But judgment strips away our illusions. It restores us to reality. We begin to think accurately, clearly, as God thinks. We plan more carefully. We live more thoughtfully. That is why God sends judgment. And fourth, judgment humbles us. We begin to see that we are really not in control. We do not run everything about our lives. We are not autonomous creatures. We are not little gods, capable of making anything we want to of ourselves, as the media keeps trying to tell us. We are not in charge. We see how foolish we have been in the past, that we have made many mistakes when we thought we were right. We begin at last to welcome guidance, to listen to others, and especially, to seek out the wisdom of the Word of God. Finally, judgment reassures us. It comforts us. It answers Habakkuk's great prayer, "In wrath, remember mercy," {Habakkuk 3:2}.

We learn that God does not like judgment either. He calls it, in Isaiah 28:21, his "strange work." He keeps it as brief as possible. He gives ample warnings before it gets unbearable. He sends anticipations of it, forceful reminders, that this kind of thing can happen so that we might pay attention and act before it gets out of hand.

All this supports the view that the Bible gives everywhere of a loving God, "slow to anger and plenteous in mercy," {Psalm 103:8 KJV}. Is it not strange that people who do not read the Bible very much almost invariably say, when you talk about judgment, "Well, the God I worship is a loving God; he would never do anything like that!" My friend, it is the very love of God that makes him judge! God must judge in order to eliminate evil once for all from his creation and bring about the world of universal blessing which men have longed for throughout all of human history.

From Egypt to the Promised Land to New Jerusalem

God is not asking us to revisit Mount Sinai where the Law was given. He has called us instead to the New Jerusalem where He Himself will live in constant intimate fellowship with His people.

...I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."

And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment. He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."...And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, and its gates shall never be shut by day---and there shall be no night there; they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever. And he said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true...Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy."

"Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practices falsehood.

"I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star."The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price... He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!... (Revelation from 21-22)

Dictionary Reference Notes

Old Testament: TO REPENT

nacham, "to repent, comfort." Nacham apparently means "to repent" about 40 times and "to comfort" about 65 times in the Old Testament. Scholars assert several views in trying to ascertain nacham's meaning by connecting the word to a change of the heart or disposition, a change of mind, a change of purpose, or an emphasis upon the change of one's conduct.

Most uses of the term in the Old Testament are connected with God's repentance:" It repented the Lord that he had made man..." (Gen. 6:6); "And the Lord repented [NASB, "changed his mind"] of the evil which he thought to do unto his people" (Exodus. 32:14, KJV). Sometimes the Lord "repented" of the discipline He had planned to carry out concerning His people:"If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them" (Jeremiah 18:8); "If it do evil in my sight, that it obey, not my voice, then I will repent of the good... " (Jeremiah 18:10); "And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and repenteth him of evil" (Joel 2:13). In other instances, the Lord changed His mind; obviously, He changed when man changed to make the right choices, but He could not change His attitude toward evil when man continued on the wrong course. As God changed His actions, He always remained faithful to His own righteousness.

In some situations, God was weary of "repenting" (Jeremiah 15:6), suggesting that there might be a point beyond which He had no choice but to implement discipline. An instance of this action was in Samuel's word to Saul, that God took the kingdom Israel's first king and intended to give it to another; Samuel declared; "And also the Strength of Israel will not lie, nor repent; for he is not a man, that he should repent" (NASB, "change His mind" (I Sam. 15:29).

God usually changed His mind and "repented" of His actions because of man's intercession and repentance of his evil deeds. Moses pleaded with God as the intercessor for Israel: "Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people" (Exodus. 32:12). The Lord did that when He "...repented [changed His mind] of the evil which he thought to do unto his people" (Exodus. 32:14). As God's prophet preached to Nineveh, "...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..." (Jonah 3:10). In such instances, God "repented," or changed His mind, to bring about a change of plan. Again, however, God remained faithful to His absolutes of righteousness in His relation to and with man.

Other passages refer to a change (or lack of it) in man's attitude. When man did not "repent" of his wickedness, he chose rebellion (Jeremiah 8:6). In the eschatological sense, when Ephraim (as a representative of the northern branch of Israel) will "repent" (Jeremiah 31:19), God then will have mercy (Jeremiah 31:20)."

Man also expressed repentance to other men. Benjamin suffered greatly from the crime of immorality (Judges 19-20):"And the children of Israel [eleven tribes] repented them from Benjamin their brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day" (Judges 21:6; cf. v. 15).

Nacham may also mean "to comfort." The refugees in Babylon would be "comforted" when survivors arrived from Jerusalem (Ezekiel 14:23); the connection between "comfort" and "repent" here resulted from the calamity God brought upon Jerusalem as a testimony to the truth of His Word. David "comforted" Bathsheba after the death of her child born in sin (2 Sam. 12:24); this probably indicates his repentance of what had happened in their indiscretion.

On the other hand, the word was used in the human sense of "comfort." Job asked his three companions, "How then comfort ye me in vain, seeing in your answers there remaineth falsehood?" (Job 21:34), he meant that their attitude seemed cruel and unfeeling. The psalmist, looked to, God for "comfort," thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side" In an eschatological sense, God indicated that He would "comfort them with, the restoration of Israel, as a mother comforts her offspring (Is. 66:13).

New Testament:REPENT, REPENTANCE . A. Verbs.

METANOEO lit., to perceive afterwards (meta, after, implying change, noeo, to perceive; nous, the mind, the seat of moral reflection), in contrast to prone, to perceive beforehand, hence signifies to change one's mind or purpose, always, in the N.T., involving a change for the better, an amendment, and always, except in Luke 17:3, 4, of repentance from sin. The word is found in the Synoptic Gospels (in Luke, nine times), in Acts five times, in, the Apocalypse twelve times, eight in the messages to the churches, 2:5 (twice), 16, 21 (twice), R.V., "she willeth not to repent" (2nd part), 3:3,19 (the only churches in those chapters which contain no exhortation in this respect are those at Smyrna and Philadelphia); elsewhere only in 2 Cor. 12:21.

2. METAMELOMAI, meta, as in No. 1, and melo, to care for, is used in the Passive Voice with Middle Voice sense, signifying to regret, to repent oneself, Matt. 21:29, R.V., "repented himself;" ver. 32, R.V., "ye did (not) repent yourselves" (A.V., "ye repented not"); 27:3, "repented himself;" 2 Cor. 7:8 (twice), R.V., "regret" in each case; Heb. 7:21, where alone in the N.T. it is said (negatively) of God.

B. Adjective.

AMETAMELRTOS, not repented of, unregretted (a, negative, and a verbal adjective of A, No., 2), signifies "without change of purpose;" it is said (a) of God in regard to his "gifts and calling," Rom, 11:29; (b) of man, 2 Cor. 7:10, R.V., "repentance which bringeth no regret" (A.V., "not to be repented of"); the difference between metanoia and metamelomai, illustrated here, is briefly expressed in the contrast between repentance and regret.

C. Noun.

METANOIA, after-thought, change of mind, repentance, corresponds in meaning to A, No. 1, and is used of repentance from sin or evil, except in Heb. 12:17, where the word "repentance" seems to mean, not simply a change of Isaac's mind, but such a change as would reverse the effects of his own previous state of mind. Esau's birthright-bargain could not be recalled, it involved an irretrievable loss.

As regards repentance from sin, (a) the requirement by God on man's part is set forth, e.g., in Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8; Acts 20:21; 26:10; (b) the mercy of God in giving repentance or leading men to it is set forth, e.g., in Acts 5:31; 11:18; Rom, 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25. The most authentic mss. omit the word in Matt. 9:13 and Mark 2:17, as in the R.V.

Note: In the O.T., repentance with reference to sin is not so prominent as that change of mind or purpose, out of pity for those who have been affected by one's action, or in whom the results of the action have not fulfilled expectations, a repentance attributed both to God and to man, e.g., Gen. 6:6; Ex. 32:14 (that this does not imply anything contrary to God's immutability, but that the, aspect of His mind is changed toward an object that has itself changed.

In the N.T. the subject chiefly has reference to repentance from sin, and this change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God. The parable of the prodigal son is an outstanding illustration of this. Christ began His ministry with a call to repentance, Matt. 4:17, but, the call is addressed, not as in the O.T. to the nation, but to the individual, In the Gospel of John, as distinct from the Synoptic Gospels, referred to above, repentance is not mentioned, even in connection with John the Baptist's preaching in John's Gospel and First Epistle the effects are stressed, e.g., in the new birth, and, generally, in the active turning from sin to God by the exercise of faith (John 3:3 ; 9:38; I John 1:9), as in the, N.T. in general.


I. KATALLASSO properly, denotes to change, exchange (especially of money); hence, of persons, to change from enmity to friendship, to reconcile. With, regard to. the relationship between. God and man, the use of this and connected words shows that primarily reconciliation is what God accomplishes, exercising His grace towards sinful man on the ground of the death of Christ in propitiatory sacrifice under the judgment due to sin, 2 Cor. 5:19, where both the verb and the noun are used (cp. No. 2, in Col. 1:21). By reason of this men in their sinful condition and alienation from God are invited to be reconciled to Him; that is to say, to change their attitude, and accept the provision God has made, whereby their sins can be remitted and they, themselves be justified in His sight in Christ.

Rom. 5:10 expresses this in another way: "For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son" that we were "enemies" not only expresses man's hostile attitude to God but signifies that until this change of attitude takes place men are under condemnation, exposed to God's wrath. The death of His Son is the means of the removal of this, and thus we "receive the reconciliation," ver. 11, R..V. This stresses the attitude of God's favour toward us. The A.V. rendering "atonement" is incorrect. Atonement is the offering itself of Christ under Divine judgment upon sin. We do not receive atonement. What we do receive is the result, namely, reconciliation."

The removal of God's wrath does not contravene His immutability. He always acts according to His unchanging righteousness and loving-kindness, and it is because He changes not that His relative attitude does change.

When the writers of the NT. speak upon the subject of the wrath of God, "the hostility is represented not as on the part of God, but of man. And this is the reason, why the Apostle never uses diallasso [a word used only in Matt. 5:24, in the N.T in this connection], but always katallasso, because the former word denotes mutual concession after mutual hostility [frequently exemplified in the Sept.], an idea absent from katallasso" (Lightfoot, Notes on the Epistles of Paul, p288).

The subject finds its great unfolding in 2 Cor. 5:18-20, which states that God reconciled us (believers) to Himself through Christ," and that the ministry of reconciliation consists in this, "that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." The insertion of a comma in the AV after the word "Christ" is misleading; the doctrine stated here is not that God was in Christ (the unity of the Godhead is not here in view), but that what God has done the matter of reconciliation He has done in Christ, and this is based upon the fact that "Him who knew no sin He made to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." On this ground the command to men is "be ye reconciled to God."

The verb is used elsewhere in I Cor. 7:11, of a woman returning to her husband.

2. APOKATALLASSIO, to reconcile completely apo from, and No. 1), a strong form of No. 1, to change from one condition to another, so as to remove all enmity and leave no impediment to unity and peace, is used in Ephesians 2:16 of the "reconciliation of believing Jew and Gentile in one body unto God through the Cross;" in Col. 1:21 not the union of Jew and Gentile is in view, but the change wrought in the individual believer from alienation and enmity, on account of evil works, to reconciliation with God; in ver. 20 the word is used of the Divine purpose to reconcile through Christ "all things unto Himself, whether things upon the earth, or things in the. heavens," the basis of the change being the peace effected "through the blood of His Cross." It is the Divine purpose, on the ground of the work of Christ accomplished on the Cross, to bring the whole universe, except rebellious angels and unbelieving man, into full accord with the mind of God, Ephesians 1:10. Things " under the earth," Phil. 2:10, are subdued, not reconciled.

3. DIALLASSO, to effect an alteration, to exchange, and hence, to reconcile, in cases of mutual hostility yielding to mutual concession, and thus, differing from No. 1 (under which see Lightfoot's remarks), is used in the Passive Voice in Matt. 5:24, which illustrates the point. There is no such idea as "making it up" where God and man are concerned.

B. Noun

KATALLAGE, akin to A, No. 1, primarily an exchange, denotes reconciliation, a change on the part of one party, induced by an action on the part of another; in the N.T., the reconciliation of men to God by His grace and love in Christ. The word is used in Rom. 5:11 and 11:15. The occasioning cause of the world-wide proclamation of reconciliation through the Gospel, was the casting away (partially and temporarily) of Israel. A new relationship, God-ward is offered to the Gentiles in the Gospel. The word also occurs in 2 Cor. 5:18, e.g, where " the ministry of reconciliation" and "the word of reconciliation " are not the ministry of teaching the doctrine of expiation, but that of beseeching men to be reconciled to God on the ground of what God has wrought in Christ. See No. 1, above.

Note: In the O.T. in some passages the A.V. incorrectly has "reconciliation," the R.V. rightly changes the translation to "atonement" e.g., Lev. 8:15 ; Ezekiel 45:20, R.V., "make atonement for" (A.V. "reconcile").

A. Verbs,

I. EXAGORAZO, a strengthened form of agorazo, to buy, denotes to buy out, (ex for ek), especially of purchasing a slave with a view to his freedom. It is used metaphorically (a) in Gal. 3:13 and 4:5 of the deliverance by Christ of Christian Jews from the Law and its curse; what is said of lutron (RANSOM) is true of this verb and of agorazo, as to the death of Christ, that Scripture does not say to whom the price was paid; the various suggestions made are purely speculative; (b) in the Middle Voice, to buy up for oneself, Ephesians 5:16 and Col. 4 5, of "buying up the opportunity " (R.V. margin; text, redeeming the time," where "time" is kairos, a season, a time in which something is seasonable), i.e., making; the most of every opportunity, turning each to the best advantage since none can be recalled if missed.

Note:In Rev. 5:9; 14:3, 4, A.V., agorazo, to purchase (R.V.) is translated "redeemed."

2. LUTROO, to release on receipt of ransom (akin to lutron, a ransom), is used in the Middle Voice, signifying to release by paying a ransom price, to redeem (a) in the natural sense of delivering, Luke 24:21, of setting Israel free from the Roman yoke; (b) in a spiritual sense, Tit.:2:14, of the work of Christ in, redeeming men "from all iniquity" (anomia, lawlessness, the bondage of self-will which rejects the will of God); 1 Pet. 1:18 (Passive Voice), "ye were redeemed," from a vain manner of life, i.e., from bondage to tradition. In both instances the death of Christ is stated as the means of redemption.

Note: While both No. 1 and No. 2 are translated to redeem, exagorazo does not signify the actual. redemption, but the price paid with a view to it, lutroo signifies the actual deliverance, the setting at liberty.

B. Nouns.

1. LUTROSIS, a redemption (akin to A, No. 2), is used (a) in the general sense of deliverance, of the nation of Israel, Luke 1:68, R.V., "wrought redemption;" 2:38; (b) of the redemptive work of Christ, Heb. 9:12, bringing deliverance through His death, from the guilt and power of sin. In the Sept., Lev. 25:29, 48; Numb. 18:16, Judges 1:15; Psalm 49,:8; 111:9 ; 130:7; Isa. 63:4.

2. APOLUTROSIS, a strengthened form of No. 1., lit., a releasing, for (i.e., on payment of) a ransom. It is used of (a) "deliverance" from physical torture, Heb. 11:35, the deliverance of the people of God at the Coming of Christ with His glorified saints, "in a cloud with. power and great glory," Luke 21:28, a redemption to be accomplished at the "outshining of Parousia," 2 Thessalonians 2:8, i.e., at His Second Advent; (c) forgiveness and justification, redemption as the result of expiation, deliverance from the guilt of sins, Rom. 3:24, " through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; " Ephesians 1:7, defined as " the forgiveness, of our trespasses," R.V. ; so Col. 1:14, "the forgiveness of our sins," indicating both the liberation from the guilt and doom of sin and the introduction into a life of liberty, "newness of life " (Romans 6:4) ; Heb. 9:15, "for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant," R.V., here "redemption of" is equivalent to 'redemption from,' the genitive case being used of the object from which the redemption is effected, not from the consequence of the transgressions, but from the transgressions themselves; (d) the deliverance of the believer from the presence and power of sin, and of his body from bondage to corruption, at the Coming (the Parousia in its inception) of the Lord Jesus, Rom. 8:23, 1 Cor. 1:30, 1 Ephesians 1:14, 4:30.


From ISBE: The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

REPENT [Heb. niphal of naham (hithpael in Nu. 23:19)]; NEB also CHANGE ONE'S MIND, THINK BETTER, etc.; [Heb.:sub] (I K. 8:47f. par. 2 Ch. 6:37f.; Psalm 7:12 [MT 13]; 78:34; Isa. 1:27; Jeremiah 5:3; 9:5 [MT 4]; 34:15; Ezekiel 14:6; 18:30; Zechariah 1:6); NEB also TURN (BACK, AWAY), LEARN ONE'S LESSON, COME BACK, etc.; [Gk. metanoeo, metamelomai (Mt. 21:29, 32; 27:3), metanoia (2 Tim. 2:25; He, 12:17)); AV also REPENTANCE (metanoia); NEB also BE SORRY, CHANGE ONE'S MIND, BE SEIZED WITH REMORSE, etc.; REPENTANCE; REPENTING [Gk. metanoiaj; NEB also CHANGE OF HEART.

"Repent" in contemporary English means either (1) to regret (a thought, attitude, or act) or, (2) much more frequently, to regret and change from one attitude or allegiance to another. To get an accurate idea of the precise meaning of this highly important word in the Bible, it is necessary to consider the original Hebrew and Greek terms that it translates. The psychological elements of repentance should be considered in the light of the general teaching of Scripture.

I. OT Terms
II. NT Terms
III. Psychological Elements
A. Intellect
B. Emotions
C. Will
IV. Relation to Salvation

1. OT Terms. All uses of "repent" in the RSV OT except the thirteen verses listed above after sub represent Heb. naham, an onomatopoeic term that implies difficulty in breathing, hence "Pant," "sigh," "groan." Naturally it came to signify "lament" or "grieve" when the emotion was produced by the desire of good for others it merged into compassion and sympathy, and when incited by a consideration of one's own character and deeds it came to mean "rue," "repent." This word is translated "repent" about twenty-seven times in the RSV OT (about forty times in the AV OT; the RSV sometimes substitutes "be sorry" [Gen. 6:6f.], "be moved to pity" [Judges 2:18], "have compassion" [21:6, 15], "relent" [e.g., Psalm 106:45; Jeremiah 4:28], "change one's mind" [Psalm 110:41, etc.). In nearly all cases the subject of naham is God; conversely, wherever God is the subject of "repent" in the RSV OT, the Hebrew term thus translated is naham (a possible exception is Jonah 3:9, where both sub [twice] and naham occur). The verb indicates the aroused emotions of God, which prompt Him to a different course of dealing with the people. Most such uses refer to God's change of mind about intended punishment ("evil"). Jeremiah 18:10, however, refers to His change of mind about intended good, and I S. 15:11, 39 report His change of mind about making Saul king (cf. Gen. 6:6).

The idea that God will change His mind about intended punishment occurs especially in the prophetic books. It is first mentioned, however, in Ex. 32:11-14, which narrates a prayer in which Moses reasons with God about destroying the people for making a golden calf. It occurs also in 2 S. 24:16 par. I Ch. 21:15, where God stays the hand of the destroying angel before the punishment affects Jerusalem. Am. 7:3, 6 tell of two punishments about which God "repents," apparently in response to Ames's plea for the people. According to Jeremiah 18:8; 26:3, 13, 19, it is the people's changing of their evil ways that leads God to "repent" of intended punishment (cf. Joel 2:13f.:Jonah 3:9f.; 4:2). In Jeremiah 42:10 God says "I repent" regarding evil that He had already inflicted, probably meaning that the process of punishment had ended. The idea that the people's evil ways have continued so long that God is past the point of changing His mind about punishment is expressed in Ezekiel 24:14. The idea that God changes His mind does not fit easily with concepts of His perfection and power, and Nu. 23:19 and I S. 15:29 reflect an awareness that, in spite of appearances and the anthropomorphic manner in which the divine will must sometimes be communicated to human beings, God is true to Himself and does not change His mind in the way that people do.

When human beings are its subject in the RSV OT, repent represents naham only in Ex. 13:17; Job 42:6; Jeremiah 8:6; 31:19. In Ex. 13:17 the meaning is non-religious, simply "regret" or "have second thoughts." In the other passages, however, it clearly indicates a consciousness of personal sin.

All other uses of "repent" in the RSV OT represent Heb. sub, a common verb with the basic meaning "(re)turn." Along with its several non-religious meanings, sub came to have a religious sense, indicating a (re)turn to God, or to His ways, will, law, etc. (most often the RSV translates it "turn (again]" or "return"; see RETURN). In this sense, Sub expresses the scriptural idea of genuine repentance. The prophets use it extensively to make prominent the idea of a radical change in one's attitude toward sin and God. The term implies a conscious, moral separation and a personal decision to forsake sin and enter into fellowship with God. Very frequently it is employed to describe a turning away from sin to righteousness (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:30; Neh. 1:9; Psalm 7:12 [MT 131; Jeremiah 3:14), the thorough spiritual change that God alone can effect (Psalm 85:4 [MT 5]). But it also refers quite often to God in His relation to people (Ex. 32:12; Josh. 7:26). When the term is translated "return" it has reference either to human beings, to God, or to God and human beings (I S. 7:3; Psalm 90:13 [both terms, naham and sub]; Isa. 21:12; 55:7). Both terms are also sometimes employed when the twofold idea of grief and altered relation is expressed, and are translated by "repent" and "(re)turn" (Ezekiel 14:6; Hos. 12:6 [MT 71; Jonah 3:9).

11. NT Terms.

In secular Greek the terms metanoia and metanoeo originally referred to knowledge acquired later, then to the change of mind to which such knowledge could lead. Since a change of mind implies a recognition that an earlier opinion was wrong, the terms acquired the sense of regret or remorse. Thus the terms came to have an emotional as well as an intellectual sense, although not necessarily an ethical sense. Even when used in ethical contexts, they tended to refer to individual acts or thoughts, not to the course of a person's whole life (cf. TDNT, IV, 976-980). With the development of meaning of this word group, it was eventually seen as similar in meaning to the metamel- group, or even synonymous with it.

In the LXX both metanoeo and the Mehetabel word group are used to translate Heb. naham (e.g., I S. 15:35). They are never used, however, to translate Heb. sub (which is always rendered by Gk. epistrepho or apostrepho). Thus it appears that in the LXX these two word groups continue to be associated with the idea of "regret" or "remorse." Nonetheless, just as Heb. naham and sub can be used in apparent parallelism in some texts, so metanoeo and epilapostrepho can be used together in apparent synonymity. In fact, in LXX Jeremiah 8:6; 38:19 (MT 31:19); Isa. 46:8 metanoeo refers to a complete change of attitude, not just a change of mind about specific acts, thus taking on a meaning that is not found in secular Greek and anticipating its use in the NT. Such usage appears to have increased in other Greek translations of the OT (see TDNT, IV, 990).

The writings in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha also make frequent use of metanoeo and metanoia in the sense of a complete change of one's way of life, a complete turning from sin and to (the ways or laws of) God. In other Hellenistic Jewish literature (e.g., Philo De virtutibus 175-186; Joseph and Asenath 15) metanoia is used for the conversion of Gentiles to the ways of God.

In the NT itself metanoia and metanoeo occur fifty-six times, most frequently in the Lukan literature (twenty-four times in Luke, eleven times in Acts) and Revelation (twelve times, eight of them in the letters to the seven churches, chs. 2-3). The terms are rare in the Pauline literature (five times) and do not occur at all in the Gospel or Epistles of John. Usually these terms express repentance in the full sense of a complete change of one's way of life (although the sense of regret is operative in Luke 17:3f.), the spiritual change implied in a sinner's return to God. Thus metanoeo is used as an equivalent to Heb. sub, "turn," in the OT. It is employed in this sense by John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles (Mt. 3:2; Mk. 1:15; Acts 2:38). The idea of repentance expressed by this word group is intimately associated with different aspects of spiritual transformation and Christian life. It is associated with processes in which human agency is prominent, such as conversion (Acts 3:19) and faith (20:21), and also with those experiences and blessings of which God alone is the author, such as remission and forgiveness of sin (L.uke 24:47; Acts 5:31). It is sometimes conjoined with baptism, an overt public act that proclaims a changed relation to sin and to God (Mk. 1:4; L.uke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4). Repentance manifests its reality by producing good fruits appropriate to the new spiritual life (Mt. 3:8).

The NT sometimes uses the verb epistrepho (usually translated "turn" in the AV and RSV NT) to bring out more clearly the distinct change wrought in repentance. In Acts this verb is used frequently to express the positive side of the change involved in repentance, i.e., to indicate the return to God of which the turning from sin is the negative aspect (e.g., Acts 9:35; 11:21; 26:20; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9).

The true NT idea of repentance is very difficult to express in other languages. The Latin version renders metanoeo by poenitentiam agere ("exercise penitence"). But "penitence" etymologically signifies "pain, grief, distress," rather than a change of thought and purpose. Thus there developed in Latin Christianity a tendency to present grief over sin rather than abandonment of sin as the primary idea of NT repentance. Since it was easy to make the transition from penitence to penance, Jesus and the apostles were represented as urging people to "do penance" (Lat. poenitentiam agite). Eng. "repent" is derived from Lat. and inherits the problem of the Latin, making grief the principal idea and keeping in the background the fundamental NT conception of a change of mind (i.e., purpose) with reference to sin. But the exhortations of the ancient prophets, of Jesus, and of the apostles show that the change of mind is the dominant idea of the words employed, while the accompanying grief and reform of life are necessary consequences.

111. Psychological Elements.

Psychology shows repentance to be profound, personal, and all-pervasive. The change wrought in repentance is so deep and radical as to affect the whole spiritual nature and involve the entire personality, including the intellect, the emotions, and the will.

A. Intellect. Repentance is that change of a sinner's mind that leads him or her to turn from evil ways and live. Intellectually, human beings must apprehend sin as unutterably heinous, the divine law as perfect and binding, and themselves as falling short of the requirements of a holy God (cf. Job 42:5f.; Psalm 51:3f. [Matt. 5ff]; Rom. 3:20).

B. Emotions. It is possible to have a knowledge of sin without abhorring it as something that dishonors God and ruins humanity:the change of view may lead only to a dread of punishment and not to the hatred and abandonment of sin (cf. Ex. 9:27; Nu. 22:34; 1 S. 15:24f.; Mt. 27:4). A change in emotional attitude is necessarily involved in genuine repentance. A penitent cannot be emotionally indifferent to sin. Before there can be a hearty turning away from unrighteousness, there must be a consciousness of sin's effect on humanity and its offensiveness to God. While sorrow for sin is not the equivalent of repentance, it may be a powerful impulse to a genuine turning from sin. But the type of grief that issues in repentance must be distinguished from that which simply plunges into remorse. There is a godly sorrow and a worldly sorrow:the former brings life, the latter death (cf. Mt. 27:3-5; L.uke 18:23; 2 Cor. 7:9f.). True repentance involves not only a conviction of personal sinfulness but also an earnest appeal to God to forgive according to His mercy (Psalm 51:117., 10-14 [MT 3f., 12-16]).

C. Will. The most prominent element in the psychology of repentance is the volitional. This aspect of the penitent's experience is expressed in the OT by Heb. Mb (usually translated "turn" or "return") and in the NT by Gk. metanoeo ("repent") or epistrepho ("turn"). These terms chiefly emphasize the will, the change of mind or of purpose (cf. Jeremiah 25:5; Mk. 1:15; Acts 2:38; 2 Cor. 7:9f.). The demand for repentance clearly implies human free will and individual responsibility, but it is equally clear that God is represented as taking the initiative in repentance. This paradox reflects the mysterious relationship between the human and the divine personalities. God will accept no external substitute for the necessary internal change. Sackcloth for the body and remorse for the soul are not to be confused with a determined abandonment of sin and a return to God. Not material sacrifice, but a spiritual change, is the inexorable demand of God (cf. Psalm 51:17 CMT 191; Isa. 1:11; Jeremiah 6:20; Hos. 6:6).

IV. Relation to Salvation.

Repentance is only a condition of salvation and not its meritorious ground. The motives for repentance are found chiefly in the sinner's experience of God's kindness (Rom. 2:4), love (John 3:16), and earnest desire that sinners be saved (Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Tim. 2:4), of the inevitable consequences of sin (L.uke 13:1-5), of the universal demands of the gospel (Acts 17:30), and of the hope of spiritual life (John 3:16) and membership in the kingdom of heaven (Mk. 1:15). The first four Beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-6) describe the steps by which penitent souls pass from the dominion of Satan into the kingdom of God. A consciousness of spiritual poverty dethroning pride, a sense of personal unworthiness producing grief, a willingness to surrender to God in genuine humility, and a strong desire developing into spiritual hunger and thirst, are all part of the experience of one who wholly abandons sin and heartily turns to the God who is able to grant eternal life. (ISBE)

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September 24, 2001. Corrections 2/5/08. May 30, 2020. August 14, 2021. September 6, 2022. April 19, 2023. July 24, 2023. December 3, 2023.