Biblical repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of life. It is a change of mind, but it is not a change of mind only. It is a change of mind so dramatic that it results in a change of life. The root meaning of repentance is to turn, to change directions. It is the response of a sinner to the convicting work of the Spirit as described in John 16:8-10.
In the book Repentance and Soul Winning, we exegete every passage in the Bible on repentance. This study is the source of the definition “Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of life.” Repentance and Soul Winning can be obtained from https://www.wayoflife.org/books/
The following study is a brief summary of this important issue.
Repentance Preached by Bible Preachers
Bible preachers proclaimed repentance. If faith is the same as repentance, this would make no sense. Those who follow the Bible will preach repentance and will require evidence thereof.
John the Baptist (Mt. 3:1-8)
Jesus Christ (Mt. 4:17; 9:13; 11:20-21; Lu. 13:1-5; 15:7, 10; 24:46-48). Christ’s goal in dealing with men was not merely to lead them in a sinner’s prayer, but to bring them to repentance and genuine salvation. He described salvation in terms of coming to repentance.
Peter (Ac. 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 8:22-23; 2 Pe. 3:9)
Paul (Ac. 17:30; 20:20-21; 26:20).
In these key passages we see the following fundamental lessons that give a good understanding of repentance: (1) Repentance is a commandment of Christ; He repeated it twice by way of emphasis (Lu. 13:2, 5). (2) Repentance is to be preached as part of Christ’s Great Commission (Lu. 24:46-48). (3) God commands all men to repent (Ac. 17:30). (4) Both repentance and faith are to be preached (Ac. 20:21). (5) Repentance is toward God, because it is God that man has offended by his sin and rebellion (Ac. 20:21). (6) Repentance is turning to God (Ac. 26:20). (7) Repentance has fruit. It produces works. The works are the evidence of true repentance (Mt. 3:8; Ac. 26:20).
What Repentance Is Not
Repentance is not reformation.
Men have the ability to reform their own lives in some sense. It is not uncommon for men who have gotten into trouble to come to their senses and to change their ways. Drunkards have stopped drinking; wife beaters have ceased from their violence; thieves have become honest citizens; harlots have turned from a life of infamy. This, in itself, is not biblical repentance.
Reformation is man-centered and this-world-centered; whereas repentance is God-centered and eternity-centered. The man who merely reforms has his eyes on the people he has offended and the consequences of his actions in his present life. The gospel, on the other hand, calls for “repentance toward God…” (Acts 20:21). The Prodigal Son’s repentance was demonstrated by his change of attitude toward God as well as toward his father. “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I HAVE SINNED AGAINST HEAVEN, and before thee” (Luke 15:18).
Repentance is not penance.
Many Catholic Bibles translate “repentance” as “do penance.” Penance is a Catholic sacrament whereby sins “done after baptism” are absolved by the priest upon the confession and good deeds of the penitent. Addis and Arnold Catholic Dictionary as “a payment of the temporal punishment due to sin through works which are good and penal and are imposed by the confessor.” This is not biblical repentance.
Repentance is not mere remorse.
The Bible tells us that men can be remorseful about their actions without exercising genuine repentance unto salvation. This is described as the “sorrow of the world” in 2 Co. 7:10. There are key examples of this in the Old and the New Testaments. King Saul is the prime Old Testament example. He was sorry that he got caught in various sinful acts, but he did not demonstrate repentance because his actions did not change (1 Sa. 15:24; 24:17; 26:21). Judas is the fearful New Testament example of a man who was remorseful but did not repent toward God (Mt. 27:3-4). Like reformation, remorse is man-centered rather than God-centered. Those who repent, change their mind about their relationship with God and this results in a change in the way they live.
Repentance is not mere confession of or acknowledgement of sin.
Repentance is also not mere acknowledgement of sin. Pharaoh did this, but he did not repent toward God and his actions did not change (Ex. 9:27). While working in a county jail ministry for several years, I saw many men and women who acknowledged that they had sinned, but most of those did not exercise repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Repentance is not merely changing from unbelief to belief.
The late Pastor Jack Hyles, First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana, who was a very influential independent Baptist preacher, defined repentance as turning from unbelief to belief. He stated this in his 1993 book, The Enemies of Soul Winning. One chapter is titled “Misunderstood Repentance: An Enemy of Soul Winning.” He builds his doctrine of repentance largely on human reasoning, as follows: Since unbelief is the only sin that sends men to hell (so he claimed), unbelief is the only sin that must be repented of. That sounds reasonable, but it is contrary to the clear example and teaching of the Word of God. Biblical repentance as preached by John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the apostles, involved a change of mind TOWARD GOD AND SIN. Note the following summary of Paul’s gospel message: “But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and DO WORKS MEET FOR REPENTANCE” (Ac. 26:20). The gospel message preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost and by Paul after Pentecost required repentance and defined that as a turning to God from evil works. Biblical repentance is a change of mind toward God and sin that results in a change of life. To say that it has nothing to do with one’s attitude toward sin is to throw away 19 centuries of Christian preaching.
Repentance is not merely changing one’s mind.
Another man who has widely influenced the doctrine of repentance is the late Curtis Hutson, former editor of The Sword of the Lord. His 1986 booklet Repentance: What Does the Bible Teach? has been distributed widely. Dr. Hutson boldly denied that repentance means to turn from sin (p. 4). He denied that repentance is sorrow for sin (p. 8). He even denied that repentance means “a change of mind that leads to a change of action” (p. 16). He claimed that repentance is simply “to change one’s mind” and that it did not necessarily result in a change of life. Hutson quoted Scripture that appears to support his position, but he ignored the Scriptures that plainly refute his position. He misquoted the writings of men like his predecessor John R. Rice. He also mixed in a heavy dose of human reasoning. For example, he said that repentance couldn’t mean to turn from sin because man cannot turn from all sin. That is a smokescreen, because no one has defined repentance as turning from all sin. The historic definition of repentance, as it applies to salvation, is a change of mind toward God and sin that results in a change of life. Repentance is not turning from all sin in the sense of some sort of sinless perfection; it is a change of mind toward sin so that the sinner no longer intends to walk in rebellion against God.
Repentance is not the same as believing.
Dr. Dwight Pentecost is among those who define repentance as believing in Christ. “Repentance is not a prerequisite to salvation; for if repentance is required, salvation is based, at least in part on works. ... We would suggest to you from the Word of God that repentance is included in believing. It is not a separate act which conditions salvation, but rather it is included in the act of believing” (Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine, 1965, pp. 70, 71). This sounds right to many, but it is wrong. First, as to repentance being a works salvation, that is nonsense. To say that repentance results in works is not the same as saying that repentance is works. Saving faith also produces works, but this is not to say that saving faith is works (Eph. 2:8-10). Repentance, in fact, is so far from a work that it is a gift of God’s grace. “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Ac. 11:18).
I will reply to the idea that repentance is the same as faith by asking the following questions:
1. If repentance and faith are the same, why does the Bible make such a plain distinction between them? “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ac. 20:21).
2. If repentance and faith are the same, why did all of the New Testament preachers proclaim repentance? Many arguments have been given to justify not preaching repentance, but the bottom line is that the Bible preachers proclaimed repentance. If repentance is totally wrapped up in believing, why did the Lord Jesus Christ preach “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Lu. 13:3)? Why did Peter preach, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted” (Ac. 3:19)? Why did Paul preach, “God ... now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Ac. 17:30)? Or, “[men] should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Ac. 26:20)?
3. If repentance and faith are the same, why did the Lord Jesus Christ say that repentance is a part of the Great Commission? “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Lu. 24:47). The answer is that repentance is to be preached, and faith is to be preached. While these doctrines are intimately connected, they are not the same. Biblical salvation involves both: “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ac. 20:21).
Illustrations of Repentance
1. Repentance is the Prodigal Son coming to himself, confessing his sin against God and his father, and returning home (Lu. 15:17-20).
2. Repentance is the Thessalonians turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Th. 1:9).
3. Repentance is Zacchaeus turning from corruption to uprightness (Lu. 19:8-9).
4. Repentance is a sinner raising the white flag of surrender to God. Repentance is the sinner who is at enmity with God (Ro. 8:7) raising the white flag of surrender and submitting to the One against whom he was before in rebellion.
5. Repentance is the thief returning the stolen property. “I believe we ought to make right what we can make right. What if I was staying with a group of preachers and one of them stole my wallet while I was sleeping? The next day he comes up to me and tells me he is terribly sorry and asks me to forgive him. I would be glad to hear that he is sorry for stealing my wallet, but I would certainly want and expect more than that from a repentant thief. I would want my wallet back! I don’t believe he has really repented unless he brings my billfold back. I DON’T BELIEVE YOU HAVE REPENTED UNTIL YOU GET RIGHT AND SAY, ‘LORD, I’M GOING TO LIVE DIFFERENTLY FROM NOW ON,’ AND BY THE GRACE OF GOD YOU WILL LIVE DIFFERENTLY” (Lester Roloff, Repent or Perish).
Why Isn’t Repentance Mentioned in the Gospel of John?
First, no one part of the Bible can be isolated from the rest of the Bible. The Gospel of John also does not mention the virgin birth of Christ, but that does not mean the virgin birth is not a doctrine that we are to preach. The other three Gospels mention repentance at least 29 times (Mt. 4:17; 9:13; Mr. 1:15; 2:17; 6:12; Lk. 5:32; 13:3, 5; 15:7, 10; 24:47). The book of Acts describes how the apostles in the early churches preached the gospel, and they preached repentance (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 11:18; 13:24; 17:30; 19:4; 20:21; 26:20). This is our example, regardless of what any one particular biblical book teaches. To base one’s doctrine and practice upon one isolated part of the Bible, while ignoring other parts, is the technique of false teachers.
Second, though the Gospel of John does not use the term “repentance,” it does use the concept of repentance. The book of John tells us plainly that while it is “believing on Christ” that saves, the biblical term “believe” means far more than it commonly means today. In John’s Gospel, salvation is described as receiving Jesus Christ (John 1:11-12). To receive Jesus Christ means to receive Him as everything He is, both Lord and Savior. John also describes salvation as coming to Christ (John 6:35). To go to Christ involves turning one’s back on the life of sin and idolatry. The Christians at Thessalonica show us what true salvation is: “ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Th. 1:9). To claim that salvation is anything less than this is to ignore what the New Testament plainly states from one end to the other. John 2:23-25 tells us that the Lord Jesus did not commit himself to all of those who “believed in his name.” Why? Because many of those who “believed” did not do so in a saving manner. They “believed” in Jesus Christ only as a miracle worker or as a food provider or as a deliverer from political oppression, and they did not believe on Christ in the saving sense of bowing their knees to Him and trusting Him as their only Lord and Savior. Many of the people who “believed in his name” in John 2:23 turned away from Him in John 6:66.
The Gospel of John also tells us that salvation always produces a change in a person’s life, and that those who do not live in obedience to Christ do not truly know Christ as their Savior. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31). John describes salvation as being “born again” (John 3). That is a dramatic expression which instructs us that salvation produces a real change in a person’s life. In his first epistle, John also teaches that salvation is always accompanied by a change of life. He lists three marks of salvation: obedience (1 Jo. 2:3-4; 3:3), love (1 Jo. 3:14), and truth (1 Jo. 2:20-27).
There is no Quick Prayerism in the inspired writings of John, and to use the Gospel of John to defend this unscriptural practice is a great error.
Third, while many arguments have been given to justify not preaching repentance, the bottom line is that the Bible preachers proclaimed repentance. If repentance is totally wrapped up in believing, why did the Lord Jesus Christ preach “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3)? (The Gospel of Luke is just as inspired as the Gospel of John!) Why did Peter preach, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted” (Acts 3:19)? Why did Paul preach, “God ... now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30)? Or, “[men] should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20)? The answer is that repentance is to be preached and faith is to be preached. While these things are intimately connected, they are not the same. Biblical salvation involves both: “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). That is what the Lord’s apostles preached, and they are our only infallible guides.
Fourth, biblical repentance and biblical faith for salvation are so intimately connected that one can sometimes stand for the other WHEN PROPERLY UNDERSTOOD. They are not the same, but they are impossible to separate in practice. As the Baptist Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention stated in 1925, “We believe that repentance and faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces…” To have faith in Christ in a biblical fashion means to have a repentant faith. J. Frank Norris described it as “penitent and obedient faith.” A.C. Dixon, in his messages to the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England, in 1915, noted that repentance and faith are “like the Siamese twins, they are joined together by a living ligament. To cut them apart is to kill both. … When you are truly repentant, it is because you have faith in Christ; and when you turn from sin to Christ, it is because you have repented.”
This is what John’s Gospel and the rest of the New Testament teaches. Biblical faith involves repentance, and biblical repentance involves faith.
Sharing Policy: Much of our material is available for free, such as the hundreds of articles at the Way of Life web site. Other items we sell to help fund our expensive literature and foreign church planting ministries. Way of Life's content falls into two categories: sharable and non-sharable. Things that we encourage you to share include the audio sermons, O Timothy magazine, FBIS articles, and the free eVideos and free eBooks. You are welcome to make copies of these at your own expense and share them with friends and family. You may also post parts of reports and/or entire reports to websites, blogs, etc as long as you give proper credit (citation). A link to the original report is very much appreciated as the reports are frequently updated and/or expanded. Things we do not want copied and distributed are "Store" items like the Fundamental Baptist Digital Library, print editions of our books, electronic editions of the books that we sell, the videos that we sell, etc. The items have taken years to produce at enormous expense in time and money, and we use the income from sales to help fund the ministry. We trust that your Christian honesty will preserve the integrity of this policy. "For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward" (1 Timothy 5:18). Questions? firstname.lastname@example.org
Goal:Distributed by Way of Life Literature Inc., the Fundamental Baptist Information Service is an e-mail posting for Bible-believing Christians. Established in 1974, Way of Life Literature is a fundamental Baptist preaching and publishing ministry based in Bethel Baptist Church, London, Ontario, of which Wilbert Unger is the founding Pastor. Brother Cloud lives in South Asia where he has been a church planting missionary since 1979. Our primary goal with the FBIS is to provide material to assist preachers in the edification and protection of the churches.
Offering: Offerings are welcome if you care to make one. If you have been helped and/or blessed by our material offerings can be mailed or made online with with Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or Paypal. For information see: www.wayoflife.org/about/makeanoffering.html.
Way of Life Literature
Publisher of Bible Study Materials
Way of Life Literature
Publisher of Bible Study Materials