What Is the True Meaning of Repent?
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
2 Peter 3:9
“Without repentance there is no forgiveness!”
Have you ever heard someone yell this? Boy, I sure have. Sometimes in a venomous way. What this individual doesn’t realize is both repentance and forgiveness happen at the same time, evenly and instantly, for everyone who places their faith in Jesus Christ. What they see as their righteousness–which isn’t Christ alone but Christ plus what they stop–this is causing repentance and forgiveness to be separate. Only for them though. Not for us saints.
Jesus chastised a group of jerks with this same mindset in Matthew 7:15-23. They were fixated on their repentant behavior and not on their repentant faith which is the only way to be saved. Ultimately this lot was sent to hell because He never knew them personally, although they claimed they knew Him. They didn’t. They only knew what they did for Him. Satan was happy to give godless signs, wonders, and miracles. This continues today.
When the word repent is contorted the enemy loves it very much because this takes our attention off the finished work of the Cross. He adores the fact that although Christ came to free people, “Repent!” has been turned into a law for Christians.
From the mouths of overbearing, self-centered religious relatives and public figures, to furious preachers who are mean as the dickens; to those who spit and grit their teeth, to the soft-spoken and passive-aggressive, this word has been used as a dagger to stab the souls of countless men, women, and children.
“You never truly repented! You’re not saved! Just look at you!” Maliciousness oozing from people claiming to know Jesus, “Repent you nasty sinner!” has ruined lives and caused many to not give Christ a chance.
Sure, repent is a biblical word used quite often in Scripture, but it has two meanings:
- Change of belief.
- Change of actions and attitudes.
Grace-confused people have mashed the two into one in order to back up their pharisaical doctrine. The truth is the majority of scriptural references for repent is number one, change of belief. By repenting from not believing Christ has forgiven you to believing He has, this causes a person to be reborn instantly in their spirit (see John 3:7,8). Tragically, the person who struggles with the sinful tendency of legalism incorrectly thinks number one doesn’t exist. For them, each and every mention of repent is about what a person doesn’t do any longer.
“Are you saying repentance doesn’t matter?!”
“Yeah, but you gotta repent!”
These are some favorite quotes of theirs.
If we look at the Greek definitions of both words for repent, which are used in the original biblical manuscripts–yes, two different words–it becomes obvious they’re not the same. They’re quite the opposite.
I’ll explain the differences shortly, but first what we must do for each instance of repent in the Bible is look to the context. Who is saying repent or repentance, why are they saying it, who is the audience, and most importantly, was it before or after the Cross? Context is always our friend. It allows believers to enjoy a calming peace.
Those who are addicted to legalism hate context. This is why it seems as if they’re never peaceful. They’re either stressing out about their own sin, having an, “I’m a dirty worm, I’m not worthy,” false humility syndrome; or they’re continually furious over the sin of others because they don’t sin “like them” and “they” need to start living right.
Let’s look to John the Baptist’s usage of repent. He preached a Law-based repentance which is the opposite of what we Christians believe. John’s theology was, “Don’t turn away from the Law but back toward it. Do a better job at obeying the 613 commandments.” John wasn’t referring to just our modern day, cherry-picked top ten plus tithing–but the whole Law.
Nothing John said was directed at Christians. We are New Covenant believers and our Covenant hadn’t yet happened when John was still teaching. His ministry was only directed toward those who were under the Law. He was preaching to the Jews and his message was, “Start obeying Moses better! Repent toward the Law you promised to keep!”
Do Christians need to do this? No, of course not. Although we were never given the Law we’ve still died to the Law so that we can live for Christ (see Romans 6:14, 7:4, 10:4, Galatians 2:19).
When John preached, “Repent of your sins!” he was telling the hypocritical Jews to stop acting like they were obeying the 613 commandments perfectly. When he baptized these repentant Law-lovers that water did nothing special. It simply gave them a clear conscience to give Moses’ commandments a better shot (see Matthew 3:1-12).
What the modern church has confused our forgiveness with–that is, how to be forgiven–John’s water baptism and repentance hounding did not forgive his followers. He had no power to forgive nor did the water he used. Only blood forgave and they all knew it (see Hebrews 9:22, John 1:29).
Instead, this was the Jewish version of “rededicating themselves.”
“I’m really going to commit myself to God this time! Watch me and you’ll see!”
Sound familiar? This happens in today’s churches all the time. Patrons are called up to the front, or to stand, or to raise their hand and be acknowledged for their past week or months worth of screw-ups.
“Are you finally going to sell out?! Then prove it! Be like me and commit yourself this time and stop sinning! Don’t be ashamed to admit your many, many sins! If you’re not ashamed then God won’t be ashamed of you! Recommit your life to God!”
Jesus said something similar to some non-believers in Luke 9:26 and Mark 8:38, before the Cross. Yet the New Covenant has never been about our commitment to God but about the Father and Son’s commitment to each other (see Hebrews 6:16-19, 2 Timothy 2:13).
We don’t need to make a show in church to get right–we are right, because of them. For believers, this happened once and it won’t happen again. We have nothing to be ashamed of. What could possibly bring us shame? Only sins, but the Cross has banished those as far as the east is from the west (see Psalm 103:12, Hebrews 10:17, Romans 8:1).
It’s useless for Christians to be recommitting themselves all the time like the Jews whom John guilted in the wilderness. We simply need to have our minds renewed to who we already are, and then mature (see Romans 12:2, Philippians 1:6).
John the Baptist was still pushing Law repentance in Matthew 3 because Christ had not yet established the New Covenant by shedding His blood on the Cross (see Hebrews 9:5,15, Matthew 26:28, 1 John 2:2, Romans 3:25). John knew the promised Messiah would bring in a better way, a better kingdom than that which was already in force through the Old Covenant patriarchs (see Matthew 3:2,11,12).
This is why Christians can’t look to how John the Baptist used the word repent and then apply it to us. Contextually, we will never be repenting toward the Law. It’s been fulfilled in Christ:
“For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the Law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.” (Romans 10:4)
Further, in Matthew 3, “fruit producing through repentance” is mentioned and the context isn’t about Christians changing our behavior to produce more fruit. John is informing these whitewashed tombs to repent back toward Law observance and show fruit from that. From the Law.
Here it is. Pay close attention to what I’ve underlined. We children of God are not being scorn in this firm rebuke:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-10)
Do you see who he’s aiming at? Mosaic Law-abiding citizens, not us. And do you see the standard he places on them? Produce fruit in keeping up with the Law or else be cut down and thrown into the fire. Wow, sounds pretty harsh, but the Law is nothing but harsh (see 2 Corinthians 3:7, Matthew 5:48).
What’s more is, Christians are not trees, we are branches. Nowhere in the Bible is a Christian referred to as a tree because trees are self-sufficient, not relying on anything outside of themselves. Jesus, however, explains where we get our life and sustenance:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Do you see where our fruit comes from? The fruit mentioned in Galatians 5:22 and 23? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Not from ourselves but from Jesus.
The vine, then the branch, then the fruit.
Yet even this beautiful passage will be ripped apart by those who don’t understand God’s grace nor our relationship to Him through His Son.
“Yeah Matt, if you remain! Jesus said if you remain in me!”
Well, do we? Yes. Yes, we do, as Christians. Birth is final, spiritually, just like birth is final, physically. Does our physical DNA remain once we are born? Yes. Are we working to abide in the physical DNA we were born with? No. Now apply the same to your spirit.
When we were reborn we inherited God’s supernatural DNA. We don’t work to sustain this. We don’t work to abide, or live, in Him. His seed remains in us and us in His seed (see 1 John 3:9, John 17:23). John 15:5 has happened and we are in. Paul said that God has hidden us inside of Himself with Christ and we are now one spirit (see Colossians 3:3, 1 Corinthians 6:17).
Like so many badgered passages, John 15:5 is descriptive of a believer and not pre-scriptive. This isn’t a threat by Jesus but an explanation of what happens as we live our lives.
Unlike John the Baptist, whose ministry of Law had to decrease so Jesus’ ministry of grace could increase (see John 1:15-17, 3:30), Christ mainly preached repentance of unbelief. As in, turn from confidence in the Law, or yourself, toward me.
By exposing the true standards of the Law–perfection or bust (see Matthew 5:48)–He brought people to the end of themselves so their need for grace would be exposed in even greater ways (see Romans 5:20). Why? So they would finally believe God (see Genesis 15:6, John 6:29, Romans 3:20, Galatians 2:16, 3:11).
“Repent toward me. I am enough,” was the Spirit behind everything Jesus said. “You don’t need the Law, you need me.”
The word repent has become a fighting word for a lot of English speaking people. I believe it’s because our translation of the original Greek words for repent cannot express both words properly. There are two, but English speakers only have one. Our six-letter spelling can’t unpack both Greek words accurately in how we communicate in our native tongue. This is where the crap has hit the fan.
Just like so many other Greek-to-English-non-translatable-words, we’ve lumped metanoeo and metanoia into one word, repent, and said, “Voila!”
As a result, a law has been created out of what should be two different Greek words:
- Metanoeo – Change of belief
- Metanoia – Change of actions and attitudes
Two words, two completely different meanings, yet we have, “REPENT!”
Here are the examples:
- Metanoeo – “I am turning from not believing that Jesus has forgiven me to believing He has.”
- Metanoia – “I am going to stop that behavior and I’m going to change my attitude.”
Only number one can save. Number two can be conducted by a believer or a non-believer. Number two can be used by any motivational speaker or pastor who doesn’t understand the New Covenant. But the truth is clear, to be saved we must repent of our unbelief in Christ as our Savior–once (see Hebrews 10:10, 1 Peter 3:18, John 3:16-18, 5:24).
Jesus snapped at the Pharisees and Sadducees all the time but not so much about their behavior. It was mostly due to their absolute refusal to believe He was there to forgive them. When we see repent coming from the mouth of Christ, repentance from unbelief is His core message. The basis of His repent pleading was, “Believe me. Repent from belief in the Law and Moses and turn toward belief in me alone. I’m the only way. Animal blood atonement will no longer work.”
This overall theme is everywhere in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, yet many still assert, “Only faith and repentance saves!”
Do you see the hang-up in this trick statement? Once we understand the two kinds of repentance–metanoeo and metanoia–we realize Christians have repented by faith. Faith and repentance is a two-sided coin of metanoeo.
The “faith and repentance” people are focused on mixing both Greek words of repentance together, metanoeo and metanoia. They’re saying, “Faith repentance and action/attitude repentance, combined, is the only way to be saved.”
Thankfully, this isn’t found in Scripture but the opposite is.
Metanoia is based on works and thoughts and can be conducted by any human. The unbelieving Jews had plenty of metanoia in their lives but they lacked metanoeo. Hence, the repentance and faith camp is wrong. In fact, if there’s a hint of metanoia mixed in with any metanoeo, such is no longer based on grace. Therefore it’s no longer the gospel.
Legalistic-acting people love to boast on their “amazing repentance” but the Bible has much to say in conflict:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
“And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (Romans 11:6)
Let’s look at ten repentance lies to make the true meaning of repent even more clear:
- “God will only forgive you if you repent and you’re sorry.” I know a lot of people who believe this and they’re miserable. If sorrow completes God’s forgiveness what if you’re not sorry enough and how can you tell? Even unbelievers have sorrow for their mistakes at times. That doesn’t make them forgiven. People on stage will guilt us, laying it on thick, “Come forward! Show your repentance! Express remorse!” This is not how God forgives. Be sorry all you like, He only forgives because of faith in blood, which is true repentance. Even Old Covenant forgiveness had nothing to do with remorse but animal blood. The Jews were sorry they broke Moses’ commandments but they still had to wait until the next annual Day of Atonement to hand off an animal to be sacrificed by a Levitical priest at the temple (see Hebrews 7:11-28, 9:11-28, Colossians 1:20, Ephesians 1:7, Luke 22:20). Being remorseful because of our poor choices and bad attitudes is normal and healthy for us saints, but no amount of self-pity can cause us to be more forgiven than we are at this exact moment in time–which is perfectly (see Hebrews 10:14). We learn, mature, and grow from the understanding that God forgave us by the power of Jesus’ blood, not by putting on a show of sorrow, privately or publicly. Always recognize your mistakes and move forward in confidence knowing that you have been forgiven. Never allow religious people nor the enemy to convince you to spend days, months, and even years trying to be sorry enough to be repeatedly forgiven. That’s trash. That’s anti-grace. Jesus was already sorry enough for you.
- “When you sin, God will turn away from you until you repent.” Hold up. I thought He would never leave me nor forsake me? Which one is it, Mr. Double-Talk? And what if I don’t repent on a level suffice to get Him to come back? And how can I be absolutely sure I did repent? A self-righteous person will be more than happy to answer these questions because this is where they find their identity. BEHAVIOR REPENTANCE. METANOIA. Who else had this obsession? The people who killed Jesus. Fortunately this lie is based on what I repeatedly do, yet the gospel is based on what Jesus Christ has done. As His beloved children, God never turns away from us, especially when we sin. The only way He would do this is if Christ died again, and stayed dead. We are brand new creations and He’s always well-pleased with who we are (see Hebrews 7:25, 13:5, Galatians 2:20,21, Matthew 28:20, 2 Corinthians 5:17).
- “If you die with unrepentant sin in your life you will be judged for them on Judgment Day.” For unbelievers, yes, but not for us. For this lie, if it were true, we’d all be shocked when we meet Jesus face to face because we all will have unrepentant sin on our Judgment Day. Unrepentant metanoia galore. Each of us will die while still struggling with some sort of sin. We’re human. If we say we don’t have any sin struggle, that’s a lie, so there you have your unrepentant sin. The good news is, Jesus has already been judged guilty for all of our unrepentant sins. The punishment was death for each one. He died, once, for all of them (see Hebrews 10:10). The author of Hebrews explained this to the Jews who wanted to keep getting forgiveness by way of repeated animal sacrifices at the temple, “No sacrifice for sin is left.” Jesus was the final sacrifice, not our repentant choices and thinking (see Hebrews 10:26-29, John 5:24, Romans 6:10,23).
- “You must repent of each sin every time you sin.” C’mon. If we’re being honest we don’t even know how we’re going to sin, so how can we be absolutely sure we’ve repented properly, let alone each time? “Only willing sins count, Matt!” one might scoff. Friend, all sins are willful. Our wills are involved every time. We are not preprogrammed sin-bots. We did it, we said it, we thought it. “Well if I forget about my sins, God forgets them too!” No, sorry, He’s God. His memory is perfect. That’s a farce. Do you see what we’re doing here? FOCUSING ON SIN. This is a sin-consciousness way of thinking. God wants us to graduate into a righteousness-consciousness thought life (see 2 Corinthians 5:21, 2 Peter 1:3-9, Philippians 4:8,9). He knows we will live out who we think we are, as does Satan. Don’t worry about sinning, just be yourself. Live your life and trust your righteous identity (see Romans 14:23, Galatians 5:13-25, Proverbs 23:7).
- “True belief will show repentance!” This very statement causes many to leave their church. Some give up on being who God recreated them to be altogether because of such nastiness. This is a Mosaic mentality and not grace-based at all. This is a law. Laws don’t work for us. The only thing a law will do is stir up sin and excite the flesh. Shows of repentance to prove belief is exactly what the Pharisees wanted to give. This is why Jesus told them to go show off in a closet and not let anyone know about their deeds (see Matthew 6:1,6, 1 Corinthians 15:56, Romans 6:14, 7:8,11).
- “You gotta repent and believe!” This can be lumped into the “repentance and faith” group I mentioned before this list. Remember the two Greek definitions of repent? Apply the differences to this semi-truth. When you repent–metanoeo–you have believed. This isn’t a process but an instant of faith. It’s one coin with two sides.
- “You must perform deeds to keep up with your repentance.” Unlike John the Baptist’s instructions to the legalists, this is from Acts 26:20. Luke is recording Paul’s journey and right before this statement, Paul said, “Repent and turn to God.” So you can see it is faith repentance first. If this weren’t true, that is, if Paul wasn’t saying they were already saved, then how many deeds would be necessary to keep up with repentance? The person who struggles with the insanity of legalanity will tell you, but the saint will not. You are free, Christian. This freedom will inspire you to perform all your deeds. There is no number. Numbers are laws and you’ve died to those.
- “Repentance is something we must do daily.” This statement isn’t so bad, just murky. I would remove the word must because must is a punishable word. King-Jamesers use the word shalt and others use should. Must, shalt, and should have to go away for us to enjoy our freedom. I would also be clear about the proper definition of repent. We’re not repenting of unbelief daily, but instead, of our choices and coping mechanisms.
- “You’re only forgiven as long as you truly repent of that particular sin, and don’t do it again.” That can be anything. This might be the worst lie of all. If this were true then why did Christ die? This lie can also be said as, “You’re only forgiven of your sins if you stop sinning.” This makes no sense. This means the New Covenant is more difficult than the Old Covenant. Before Jesus, the Jews didn’t stop sinning to be forgiven, they gave their best bull, goat, or lamb to the priest at the temple once a year. This lie causes the Law of Moses to be more appealing than the Cross of Christ. Repent, yes, every single time you sin, but not to be forgiven. Instead, to be your true self and to enjoy your heaven-ready identity.
- “Believers are only forgiven if they continually repent.” So we’re only forgiven until salvation and then the Cross is useless? This theology is demonic. It negates the power of Jesus’ blood and puts the spotlight on ourselves. Yes, again, we should repent–metanoia–each time we sin but never to be forgiven. To be forgiven again would mean Jesus would have to die again. He isn’t in heaven getting up and down repeatedly, on and off the Cross, each time we sin. This would be the only way continual forgiveness could happen. He’s resting just fine after finishing our sin problem once and for all time (see Hebrews 1:3, 9:26, 10:10, John 19:30).
When someone says, “I repent of my sins,” what does that mean? For the Jews, they needed to repent from the dead works of the Law and believe in the Christ (see Hebrews 6:1). For us Gentiles it’s the same except we’re repenting from thinking we don’t need Jesus to forgive us to knowing that He has (see Romans 1:18-20).
God has been kind to all of humanity, patiently waiting for His creation to turn from not believing Him to back to believing Him (see 2 Peter 3:9, Romans 2:4). Unbelief was the first sin. Had Adam and Eve believed God about who they already were–perfect–they wouldn’t have eaten from that tree, seeking satanic knowledge about what is right and wrong.
So today, my friends, know this: Don’t be afraid or angry over the word repent. Repenting of unbelief caused us to become children of God! When we were reborn, babes in Christ, God didn’t hold us in His arms and yell, “Now you better repent, or else!” He speaks to us softly, “I’m so happy to have you as my child. We’re going to do amazing things together. I can’t wait to teach you more and more. I love you so much.”
A prayer for you: Dad, thank you for teaching me the difference in belief repentance and behavior and attitude repentance. It’s helped me greatly. I’ve heard some people say repent means to agree with you, and I like that because it’s true. Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. Many want to know, what would happen if we don’t repent? Through your Spirit you’ve revealed if we don’t repent of unbelief we’ll be eternally separated from you. But as your child, if we don’t repent of our sinful choices and mindsets, we won’t be punished by you. Jesus was punished enough for us. We might have to face earthly punishment but not heavenly. We’re very grateful for this and we don’t want to grieve you, so keep teaching us more about who we are and counsel us moment by moment. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
This devotional is from my upcoming book, The Christian Identity, Volume 2. Check out my other bestselling books here!