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Repentance – it’s not what you think!

What is repentance?

repentanceRepentance, it’s not what you think! In fact, it’s a lot to do with what you think, but I’m playing with words! The English dictionary, defines repentance as: sincere regret or remorse. Unfortunately, this is not what the original word, often translated, repentance means in the Bible.

The Greek word for repent ‘metanoein’ means to change ones mind, or change your thinking.

What is remorse?

Sometimes, in the Bible the word metamelein is used and this word does mean: regret or remorse.

Judas, didn’t repent

A good example of remorse, is Judas after betraying Jesus. He is remorseful and regrets what he’s done but he does not repent. In other words, he doesn’t turn towards God. No, he’s only sorry for himself and that leads him to self-murder (suicide), the ultimate act of selfishness.

Matthew 27:3 “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented (Remorse, regret)  himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.”

Example of remorse

For example, imagine if you ran over and killed a pedestrian because you were drink driving. How would you feel? Now, I’m sure you might regret what you had done and even be very sorry and upset. However, that would not be biblical repentance but remorse.

Other examples in the Bible

Of course, there is nothing wrong with remorse necessarily. If you have done wrong its good to really think about the consequences and even feel sorry.

The Corinthians

For example, Paul takes the Corinthians to task over the sin they have allowed in the church. He doesn’t regret one moment making them sorry, because it made them sorry to repentance (a change of mind). Paul calls this being made sorry after a godly manner.

2 Corinthians 7  “For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent (regret, remorse), though I did repent (regret): for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.”


Esau is another negative example. He throws away his birthright and later regrets the choice he has made. However, even though it looks like he had repented (because of all the tears),  in fact the Bible says he found no way to change his mind!

Hebrews 12:17 “For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears”.

The important point, is that true repentance always involves a turning around towards God. Repentance, is part of the conversion process, a change of mindset and an end to self-reliance.

Acts 20:21 “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Therefore, as Bible teacher Derek Prince says: repentance is not an emotion but a decision.”

Luke 15 and repentance

Luke chapter 15, wonderfully illustrates the truth or repentance in three illustrations: a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. Note, the audience: tax-gathers and sinners.

A  lost sheep

In the first story, the lost sheep, the shepherd (Jesus)  leaves the 99 sheep in the wilderness and  searches until he finds the missing and wandering sheep.  How did the sheep repent? All it did was bleat and not run!

A lost coin

In the second story, the lost coin, the women (the Holy Spirit) lights a lamp and searches until she finds the coin. Again, we are told that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. So, how did the coin repent?

A lost son

In the last story, the prodigal son begins his journey of repentance,  when he “comes to his senses”, making the decision to return to the Father, confess or admit his sin and throw himself on his Father’s mercy. That is repentance!

Sadly, the elder son, who never left his Father’s house, stubbornly refuses to repent (change his mind) when the Father entreats him to join the party!

Therefore, repentance is more about God’s work in our lives.  It is HIS goodness that leads us to repent. (Romans 2:4).

And, repentance isn’t so much what you turn from, it’s who you turn to!

For example, the gentile believers in Thessalonica turned from pagan idolatry to God. They repented.

1 Thess 1:19 ” How you turned to God from idols to serve the true and living God” . That’s repentance!

Again, the prodigal son of Luke 15 repented when he started walking from the pig-stye towards the Father’s house, meeting the Father half-a-mile up the road! Therefore, repentance is not the prodigals prepared speech. No, it’s about his decision and the few steps he makes to return.


Turn over a couple of pages in Luke’s Gospel and  we see a vertically challenged worker from inland revenue: Zacchaeusso captured by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that repentance and restitution become as natural to him as breathing!

Acts 26:20  “that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance”

In other words, the belief change, the changing of the heart and mind, results in a seismic shift and change of behaviour that is a fruit of the work of salvation.  This is the power of the grace. In only one fast-track lesson, Zacchaeus is turned from sinner to a child of Abraham!

Titus 2:11 ” For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world”

Therefore, after reading this article, I hope I have convinced you that biblical repentance is maybe not what you thought it was. Maybe, you need to repent or change your ideas even about repentance!

Grace and Peace to You!

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Further Reading:

Repentance is the key to real change

Other Authors

True Repentance

The Prodigal Son



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