Repenting of What?
October 12, 2023
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
Recently I received the following communication:

Dear Bro. Cloud,

I just finished reading your statement on responding to emails, and I fully understand. I have been receiving your Friday Church News Notes and O Timothy for many years, and I really appreciate the material you produce.

I will try to keep this short. I can't think of any time I really disagree with you, but some times i see things a little differently. Repentance is one of those things. Your article in O Timothy on the corruption of evangelism was great, I have been preaching the same thing for many years, and I receive the same kind of responses.

I'm a bit older than you (82), and I regret the change in the definition of repentance. It, as well as the other things you mention in your article, has resulted in many being given false assurance of salvation, and leaving them on the road to Hell.

My question is on what we are to repent of? Many years ago I did a search through the Scriptures looking for the answer. I looked up every place in the Bible where the word repent, in any form, is used. Then I looked up every Hebrew and Greek word that they were translated from. I may have missed something, but I could not find any place where a lost person was told to repent of their sin or sins. I did find a passage where Christians were to turn from their sins, but the Greek word used there is never translated repent.

What I did find was, Hebrews 6:1, which says one of the foundational principles of the doctrine of Christ is "repentance from dead works." Every religion I know of, with the exception of Biblical Christianity, including many so-called Christian denominations, teach that good works are, at least in part, necessary for salvation. I do believe that those who are truly saved will turn from their sin, but it seems to me that we are to repent of our own efforts to save ourselves (good works), and turn to Christ and His work on the cross alone for salvation.

This is longer than I wanted it to be, but your opinion on this, long or short, would be appreciated. I will understand if I don't get any response, but even a short one would be appreciated.

Let me close by saying, keep up the good work you do. I recommend your material to everyone I can because I think the service you give is some of the best available on line.


Hello, Bro. ________. I appreciate the gracious communication. I’m glad to hear that you are still kicking at 82, though probably not as high as in former days.

As for what the sinner is to “repent of,” that is a very, very good question. Since it gets right to the heart of the debate about repentance and evangelism, I will answer your question, though I have written many reports and books on the subject.

For the sake of those who don’t know me, let me say that I have studied this subject pretty seriously since the first year I was saved. In about 1974, I read Bruce Lackey’s “Repentance Is More Than a Change of Mind.” That was about the time I encountered the practice of Quick Prayerism. Like you, in subsequent years, I studied and re-studied every passage in the Bible on the subject of repentance. I’ve read many reports and books on all sides of the subject and communicated personally with a great many men. That doesn’t mean I’m right, of course. It is only to explain my research for those who might not be familiar with it.

Studying Bible words has been my delight for half a century. In defining Bible words, context is king, but there are other important principles. I define Bible words in a multiplicity of ways: by their Hebrew and Greek meanings, including root studies, and by how they are translated in the King James Bible, and by how they are used in biblical context. This is one of the many ways that the King James Bible is the peerless English Bible. It is not just a translation; it is a lexicon of Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac. I examine how the King James translators translated the various biblical words.

You used Hebrews 6:1 to define repentance. Salvation definitely requires repentance from dead works. But that is only one definition from one passage.

As you know, the main Greek word translated “repent" and “repentance" is metanoea (metanoia). Strong defines it as "to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider (morally, feel compunction) … (subjectively) compunction (for guilt, including reformation); by implication, reversal (of (another's) decision)." The Complete Word Study Bible defines it as "change of mind from evil to good or from good to better.” Vine defines it as “to 'perceive afterwards' (meta, ‘after,' implying ‘change,' noeo, 'to perceive'; nous, 'the mind, the seat of moral reflection’) … hence signifies 'to change one’s mind or purpose,' always, in the NT, involving a change for the better, an amendment."

The basic definition of the Greek word doesn’t tell us much about what repentance is. It doesn’t tell us what the sinner is to repent of, for example. For that, we must examine the context of the word in each passage and look at the examples of salvation in Scripture.

Repentance is not to stop sinning (which is works and has no efficacy). Biblical repentance is a change of mind toward God and sin that produces a change of life by the regenerating power of God. I see this everywhere in Scripture. I see it in John the Baptist’s preaching to “bring forth fruits therefore meet for repentance” (Mt. 3:8), in Paul’s “do works meet for repentance” (Ac. 26:20), in how the Thessalonians “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Th. 1:9-10), in how Christ dealt with the rich young ruler (Mt. 19:16-22), in the Prodigal Son’s determination to return to the Father and thus leave the old life behind (Lu. 15:17-19), in Zacchaeus’ change of mind in regard to his business practices (Lu. 19:8-9), in 2 Timothy 2:19, "The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity,” etc. In Acts 17, Paul commanded all men to repent of idolatry (Ac. 17:29-30). We see this in Revelation 9:20-21, where the people “repented not of the works of their hands … neither repented they of their murders nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.” They are condemned in God’s Word for not repenting of their sins. (The second repentance in this passage is the standard Greek word metanoeo.) In the Christian life, repentance definitely has to do with repentance of sin (“repent of her fornication … repent of their deeds,” Re. 2:21-22). See also Re. 2:5; 3:3, 19. (In all of these verses in Revelation 2-3 metanoeo is used.)

Do you believe that someone can be saved when they
have no intention to stop worshipping idols, stop fornicating, stop homosexuality, stop thieving business practices, stop a murder plot, stop an adulterous affair, etc.? I recall a pastor who said that if he witnessed to Dennis Rodman (a pro-basketball player with the reputation of a flaming homosexual) and Rodman told him he did not intend to change anything, he would still try to lead him in a sinner’s prayer. I recall an evangelistic campaign in Maine some years ago in which people were approached as follows: “If I told you that you can be saved today and you don’t have to change anything, would you be interested?” There is a sense, of course, in which you can be saved and not change anything, because there is no change you can make in order to be saved, and the change that does come is by God’s regenerating power. But there is no example of salvation in the Bible without change.

In my 50 years of preaching experience, I have seen large numbers of individuals reject the gospel for the simple reason that they intend to hold on to some pet sin or to a sinful lifestyle in general. It is probably the main reason people don’t get saved. We have seen thousands of people attend services and Bible studies and preaching meetings in South Asia since 1979 and like what they hear and come near to being saved and even “believe," then disappear because of fear of relatives, love of idols, etc.

We don’t preach that people have to turn from sin. We preach that people must repent toward God and exercise faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. (I don’t use the term “repent of your sin,” though I don’t believe it is wrong to use that term, if properly explained.) We preach what Paul preached, that individuals must repent toward God (Ac. 20:21). The way I see it, to repent toward God is to have a change a mind about who is Boss. It is to repent of breaking God’s law, of being at enmity with Him, of being a rebel. Repentance is something that happens in the heart. It is a quiet surrender to God’s authority and holiness and justice. This is what happened to me at age 23. Before that, I “believed” in Jesus from my earliest memories and was a reprobate Baptist church member, but the missing element was biblical repentance. God requires this of every sinner who will be saved. According to Paul’s summary of salvation, repentance toward God is accompanied by faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ (Ac. 20:21). This is to trust 100% in Christ as only Saviour and in His atoning sacrifice. That part requires rejecting all false religions and false christs and self-works. Such a repentance and faith results in supernatural regeneration which always results in a change of life (2 Co. 5:17; Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:11-14, etc.).

We explain to sinners that God, in His love and grace, has purchased the gift of salvation for them at great expense to Himself, and if they will receive Christ, He will give them that gift and change their lives forever. We explain what it means to receive salvation in a biblical fashion.

I have gone into these matters extensively in the Bible courses "
Sowing and Reaping" and “Repentance and Soul Winning.”

We use the "
Seeker’s Bible Study" as an evangelistic tool, and it deals with repentance and saving faith in a practical way. We assign a mature church member to go through Seeker’s Bible Study with every individual who is willing. We have seen good fruit from this.

I pray you will have many more years of fruitful service in this needy world.

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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.

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