Word Study – ‘Repent’

201 word study dictionary

Repentance is about avoiding God’s coming wrath for sin and wrongdoing. It assumes God judges all people by the way they live and rewards or punishes accordingly.

Repentance involves recognising

  • a lifestyle and/or behaviour that is wrong,
  • the right lifestyle and behaviour God desires, and
  • turning around from wrong to right.

God is the righteous king. He executes justice in his kingdom and judges everyone without partiality according to works. He rewards good and righteous acts. He punishes sin and wrongdoing. The goal of repenting is to adopt a lifestyle that pleases God, rather than one which angers him. When God’s kingdom comes he will judge.

If people repent they often receive forgiveness from God (on some occasions God does not pardon, but delays the inevitable punishment till later). Once people have repented they then are expected to continue in a lifestyle which is pleasing to God. Thus they avoid God’s wrath and punishment.

If sinners keep on sinning they will eventually come under God’s wrath and perish.

Calling people to repent is often messy and costly. There can be disputes over what is right and wrong. Sometimes people who are sinning do not recognise they are doing something wrong. They resist the notion they have sinned. On the other hand. Sometimes people who judge are seeing evil and wrongdoing where there is none. Fault finders, they do not distinguish between good and evil.

Calling people to repent affects people’s social standing. People get called legalistic. Friendships may be lost. People offended. But lives can change for the better.

Sequence associated with Repentance

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I’m working with the above mindset.

In the scriptures I believe there is an underlying sequence associated with repentance.

  1. Sinful behaviours should be clearly identified
  2. Sinners are called to turn to God and away from sin
  3. When sinners repent they are forgiven of their sin
  4. Repentance is an ongoing state where the righteous keep bearing good fruit
  5. Sinners need to repent, the righteous who keep bearing fruit, do not
  6. If the righteous sin, they should repent.
  7. The righteous should not associate with so-called ‘brothers’ who keep on sinning
  8. Repentance and Forgiveness should be proclaimed to all nations

Sinful behaviours should be clearly identified

Sometimes people are involved in a particular sin, at other times they are not. The decision is quite often based on the judges worldview, theology and subjective experience. I think sin needs to be recognised in peoples lives before they are accused of it. Not everyone is called to repent. Godly discernment is needed.

In order to call sinners to repent they need to understand what they are doing or have done is wrong. They need to recognise their wrong lifestyle and behaviour. Otherwise they can’t really repent.

So what are the sinful behaviours people should repent of? These are associated with the kingdom of God. Paul is fairly clear. But some of these may require later clarification.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5.19-21)

3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. (Eph 5.3-12)

Paul is clear. God is not partial. Those who persist in these sins will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Perhaps the more prominent and recognisable sins in his lists are;

  • Sexual immorality
  • Impurity
  • Idolatry
  • Jealousy
  • Fits of anger
  • Drunkenness

How would you define each of these such that you could tell when one person persisted in these and another didn’t?

There may be many unbelievers who live apparently good lives and the temptation is that some may think they don’t have to be called to repent. Nonetheless, all sinners without exception do not regard Jesus as Lord. Hence they reject his authority. Nor do they love God as commanded by Jesus (Lk 10.27) even if they do love their neighbour.

Sinners are called to turn to God and away from sin

When the apostles went about preaching the gospel they saw a lot of people involved in sinful lifestyles. So in addition to preaching the gospel (telling people about Jesus, his life, death and resurrection, declaring his King and announcing his kingdom) they called sinners to repentance.

When they saw people involved in sinful lifestyles they called them to repentance because they knew when Jesus came again he would judge.

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but know he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 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 by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17.16-18,29-31)

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20.17-21)

When people repent they are forgiven of their sin

4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mk 1.4)

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2.36-38)

Both John and Peter state both repentance and baptism is important for the forgiveness of sins.

Repentance is an ongoing state where the righteous keep bearing good fruit

Initial repentance moves a C1 sinner to become one of the C3 righteous. ‘Repentance’ is also described as an ongoing state. Once people have repented they need to bear good fruit in keeping with their earlier repentance.

Bearing good fruit is not something simply assumed. People are commanded to bear good fruit after they have repented.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Mt 3.7-12)

7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Lk 3.7-9)

19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26.19-23)

6 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. 4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and shave shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Heb 6.1-6)

Note here what the author of Hebrews says, ‘repentance’ is likened to an ongoing state someone who has ‘faith towards God’ can fall away from.

8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Pet 3.8-9)

Peters use of repentance here suggests an ongoing state. Its something to be attained to.

Sinners need to repent, the righteous who keep bearing fruit, do not

Not all people are called to repent. Some people live in sinful lifestyles. Others do not.

Jesus said;

32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Lk 5.32)

He also said;

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Lk 15.7)

Note the distinction Jesus makes between sinners and the righteous. Not everyone is called to repent.

In the Gospels – The gospel John the Baptist, Jesus and his disciples was the future coming of the kingdom of God and Jesus as its King (therefore the Judge). This gospel message was connected with repentance because when the King comes he will judge.

Sinners were urged to repent in light of this future judgment. They had to change, to stop sinning, to obey God in order to live in a manner (righteous) that would not draw God’s wrath and judgment.

Provided sinners repented, became righteous and kept doing good deeds they would be considered to be righteous (Mt 25.31-46), healthy (Mt 7.16-19) and worthy (Lk 20.35). Therefore when judged they would receive eternal life, enter / inherit the kingdom.

Jesus did not call the righteous to repent. They didn’t have to. But he had compassion on sinners, he called them to repent.

If the righteous sin, they should repent, otherwise they might fall away.

However temptations abound in this world and the righteous can still sin. If the righteous sin they need to repent and these passages apply.

6 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. 4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and shave shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Heb 6.1-6)

Believers should be warned against sin and falling away. They cannot be restored to the state of repentance.

3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Lk 17.3-4)

6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. (2 Cor 7.6-11)

19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and gall for your upbuilding, beloved. 20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced. (2 Cor 12.19-21)

2 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ (Rev 2.1-7; cf Rev 3.3,19)

The righteous should not associate with so-called ‘brothers’ who keep on sinning

You can tell who the righteous are by their lifestyles. This works in reverse as well. People who claim to be followers of Jesus but deny him by their works are really still sinners.

4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 Jn 3.4-10)

Believers should not associate with so-called ‘brothers’ who keep on sinning.

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor 5.9-13)

This second passage in particular calls us to discern good from evil. To know when people are really sinning and when they are not. When the righteous sin, they repent. Believers are commanded not to associate with so-called ‘brothers’ if they persist in sin and do not repent.

Quite often I’ve seen Christians exhibit an inability to discern the difference between people who keep on sinning with those who don’t. Fault finders, they think everyone continues in a lifestyle of sin. Hence they call everyone sinners. According to this passage they should avoid fellow ‘brothers’ who persist in sin.

Personally I don’t think Paul had that mindset. He could tell the difference between Sinners and Saints. He called sinners to repent. He commended his brothers when they lived as they should.

Repentance and Forgiveness should be proclaimed to all nations

Jesus commanded that all believers proclaim repentance and forgiveness to all nations.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Lk 24.44-47)

In all nations, there are people involved in sinful lifestyles who do not love God or live with Jesus as Lord. Believers are called to recognise sin as sin. It will be judged and Jesus will punish. Sinners need to be called repent of their sin for the forgiveness of their sins, turn to God and bear good fruits in keeping with that repentance.

Other considerations

The call to repent and the offer of forgiveness is not the gospel message

The gospel is not the call to repentance. The gospel is not the offer of forgiveness. These things happen when people believe through the story of Jesus that Jesus is the risen Christ and Lord. But the message itself does not have to include a call to repentance and an offer of forgiveness. Sometimes it does, but not always.

The gospel is what the scriptures say the gospel is.

15 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15.1-5)

Paul says nothing about repentance and forgiveness in his outline of the gospel.

Just because justification is mentioned in one gospel message (Acts 13.39). It doesn’t mean that every gospel message has to say something about justification. In the same way just because repentance is mentioned in a couple gospel messages doesn’t meant that every gospel message must have a call to repent in order for it to be the gospel.

See Gal 3.8, Rom 1.1-4 and 2 Tim 2.8. The gospel message does not need a call for people to repent and an offer of forgiveness to be the gospel.

In Acts 10 Peter shares the good news.

10 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” 4 And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, 8 and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. (Acts 10.1-8)

Note in Acts 10.2 how Cornelius is commended by the angel of God.

30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” (Acts 10.30-33)

Note again in Acts 10.31 how Cornelius recounts his commendation by the angel of God.

34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ he is Lord of all, 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed:

38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. (Acts 10.34-45)

Cornelius is not called to repent. I acknowledge forgiveness is mentioned. But he is commended for his behaviour rather than urged to repent.

Interestingly, Peter explains to others the same incident.

10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11.10-18)

Even though Cornelius and his household were not called to repent, their act of believing the gospel is described as repentance. They ‘repented’ and entered the state of ‘repentance’ without being called to repent!

God repents

There are a couple examples where God also repents. These are exceptions and should be taken differently from the others. God doesn’t sin, so he cannot repent in the sense he turns away from wrong to right.

In both cases God repents in the sense that he changes the way he is operating. He turns from one way to another.

5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen 6.5-7 ESV)

The verb rendered as ‘regretted’ in Hebrew is נָחַם, it is transliterated ‘nacham’ and according to Strong’s normally means to be sorry, to console oneself, and or repent. The LORD changes in the sense he decides to blot out man whom he has created. The LORD has changed [repented] from sustaining man to destroying man.

10 The word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night. (1 Sam 15.11 ESV)

Same Hebrew word is being used here. We later find out that God has rejected Saul and will choose another king (1 Sam 15.26-28). God has changed from accepting Saul to rejecting him as king.