True repentance is a radical change in thinking, attitude, and direction. The doctrine of repentance is a fundamental part of the Christian Faith, as it is an essential condition for salvation.
In the Bible, the word “repentance” translates into different Hebrew and Greek terms. Thus, it has different meanings and applications. In the Old Testament, two terms stand out that is translated as “repent” or “repentance”.
The first comes from the Hebrew root naham and means a change of mind, a change of purpose, or a lamentation. This term is seldom applied to men, is more commonly applied to God (Genesis 6:6, 7; Exodus 32:14; Judges 2:18; etc.).
In this case, the word repentance is used to express a change in God’s relation to men, and not a change in God’s very Being, since He is immutable. Learn more about what it means to repent from God.
The second Hebrew term used in the Old Testament comes from the verb shuv which means “to turn”, “to return” or “to convert”. This term is most often used to indicate human repentance. Sometimes he hints at the idea of “turning from sin to God,” that is, turning to the Lord with all one’s heart (2 Kings 17:13; 2 Chronicles 6:26; Isaiah 55:7).
In the New Testament, the word “repentance” primarily translates the Greek term metanoia and its related verb. This term means a “change of thought”, or “change of conviction”. Usually, when this term is applied in the New Testament, it indicates an invitation to men to turn from their sins, radically change their convictions and attitudes, and turn to God.
- 14 Signs of True Repentance vs False Repentance
- 15 examples of genuine repentance
- 8 Prayer for Repentance and forgiveness
The Invitation to Repent in the Bible
The Bible teaches very clearly about the importance of repentance for salvation. The Old Testament prophets insistently urged the people of Israel to turn to God (eg, Isaiah 30:15; Jeremiah 23:22; Ezekiel 14:6; Hosea 11:5; Zechariah 1:3-6).
In the New Testament, the call to repentance appears as a fundamental part of the message proclaimed. The prophet John the Baptist appears prominently preaching about the need for repentance (Matthew 3:2). Jesus continued the message of John the Baptist (Matthew 4:17), and repentance also played a key role in the disciples’ preaching (Mark 6:12). Afterwards, Jesus declared that in his name repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be preached to all nations (Luke 24:47).
Preaching on the need for repentance also marked the beginning of the Christian Church. Repentance was the theme of the apostle Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). The apostle Paul preached repentance to the Gentiles (Acts 17:30; 26:20). In the book of Revelation, five of the seven churches in Asia Minor received an important message from Christ about the need for repentance (Revelation 2:5-22; 3:3,19).
Indeed the Bible leaves no doubt that repentance is a necessary condition for salvation. This means that without repentance there is no salvation. In this aspect, repentance appears directly linked to faith. Know what faith in the Bible is.
The types of regret
Normally theological study makes a distinction between two types of repentance: attrition and contrition. The first, attrition, is a kind of shallow lamentation over sin, especially with regard to its punishment. This kind of repentance does not result in turning from sin, nor does it result in supplication for God’s forgiveness.
This repentance is not accompanied by saving faith but is a human reaction to the punishment for sin. An example of this type of repentance is that shown by Esau (Genesis 27:30-46). At no time did Esau truly repent of his sin. He only mourned the losses he had caused (Hebrews 12:17). Another who demonstrated this kind of empty repentance was Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:3-5).
The second type of repentance is called contrition. This is true repentance that expresses a deep sense of contrition at the recognition of human sinfulness (Psalm 51:3-5). This repentance doesn’t just recognize sin and turn away from it. It also implies a movement against sin, leaning in the right direction, and turning to God.
True repentance can be seen in the words of King David when he asked, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). This kind of repentance can only exist in a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, and surely God will not despise it (Psalm 51:17; cf. 1 John 1:9). It can be understood as a gift of God resulting from regeneration.