What Is Repentance


     In my post of September 15th  I focused on how Mormonism defined repentance and contrasted that with the Christian view of repentance.  But I did that only briefly.  Therefore I want to focus on the Christian view now since the idea of repentance repeatedly is brought up in comments.

     The Greek word for repentance literally means a change of mind.  The command to repent in the Bible is mainly (but not exclusively) used in mission settings and is addressed to non-believers.  In that context it’s helpful to remember that the root meaning of the word is to change your mind.  In those contexts the call to repentance is a call for people to change their mind from thinking that salvation depends on their efforts and seeing that salvation depends on Jesus’ efforts. 

     One thing that aids that change of mindset is seeing the extent and seriousness of our sin.  When we see how thoroughly sin has corrupted us and how serious each and every sin is, then we are primed to look for help outside of ourselves.  That is why when people think of repentance, they often think of being sorry for their sin. 

     But if that sorrow over sin doesn’t result also in a turning to God it is not repentance.  Judas was extremely sorrowful over his betrayal of Jesus but he didn’t think God could forgive him.  His sorrow didn’t end up in repentance.  Still today there are a lot of people who are sorry for their sins, but they aren’t repentant because they aren’t looking to Jesus.  Now compare Judas to Peter who also was very sorrowful over his denial of Jesus.  But he trusted that God would forgive him.  He was repentant.

    The question has been asked more than once if repentance is a one-time event or a process.  I like to think of it as a state believers are in.   When the Holy Spirit caused me to see the truth about my sinfulness – and Jesus, my Savior, I repented.  That is, I had a new paradigm, a new mindset.  I changed from thinking I had to earn salvation to trusting in Jesus saving me.  That mindset of trusting in Jesus for salvation is the state I now am in.  That is now my mindset.  Therefore I don’t have to daily or weekly or monthly or what have go through the process of repenting by turning away from myself and looking to Jesus for salvation.  As a believer, that is now part of my being – that is my mindset. 

10 Responses to “What Is Repentance”

  1. September 26, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Mark, the believer vs. non-believer thing might work if such a distinction in fact existed in real life.

    But the truth is, we are all non-believers to some extent or other. So the call for repentance is still directed at all of us, I think.

  2. 2 Stephanie
    September 27, 2008 at 3:06 am

    You might not see a distinction in real life Seth, but God sees a difference. He calls them the sheep and the goats. He separates them and throws the goats into hell on judgement day. “Such a distinction” does indeed exist in real life. I would think that God’s perspective is more important than our perspective when it comes to belief. Belief (a saving faith in Christ) is black and white. Christ covers your sins, or He doesn’t. God sees Christ in your place, or He doesn’t. There is no partial salvation, or levels of heaven depending on how much of a believer you are.

    God is black and white when it comes to sin. He cannot allow sin into his presence. Bottom line. There are no varying degrees of sin in God’s eyes, and there are no varying degrees of “believers” in God’s eyes. Do we need to debate what “believer” means now? I am not a non-believer “to some extent.” Nor am I a believer “to some extent.” I simply am a believer. My mindset has changed, as Mark said, and I live in a state of repentance.

  3. 3 Berean
    September 27, 2008 at 4:32 am

    Repentance as defined in the thread topic I would also classify as conversion. This is a one-time event where I made a decision to put my full trust of forgiveness of sins, salvation and perfection in Christ. However, when I daily repent I am confessing my sins that I commit on a daily basis whether it be sins of omission or sins of commission and it’s always both daily because in one form or another I will sin in both of those areas. Realizing that all my sins in the past, present and future are under the blood of Christ I still need to ask forgiveness of those sins on a daily basis (1 John 1:9).

    I’ve often heard the word repentance as defined in a military term that I am very familiar with since I served many years in the Army and that is the term “about face”. In military drill this is where a soldier is standing at attention and with the movement of his feet he turns around while still at attention and is now facing the other direction. This is what happens in repentance. We are looking one way and then the next minute we make an “about face” and now turn the other way. Repentance is a turning away from being a sinner who is lost without Christ to turning to Christ for conversion. So, in this definition of repentance I can see how this would be a one-time event if that is the meaning Mark is implying which I think it is.

  4. September 27, 2008 at 5:20 am

    Yeah Berean, but what if the soldier stops listening and doesn’t about face the next time the drill sergeant yells? What if he doesn’t forward march?

    No, I don’t think it’s ever a one-shot deal. Conversion is never something you do once, and then you’re done.

  5. 5 Berean
    September 27, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I’ll use my example of the military soldier in my earlier post and try to build upon it with an analogy from your expansion and question on that subject.

    I would call the “drill sergeant” in this example the Holy Ghost. He is the one that convicts people of their sins and draws them to Christ. Once the Holy Ghost “drill sergeant” yells the command “about face!” (meaning a turn towards Christ) He is not going to order “about face” again in the opposite direction because the Holy Ghost cannot do that (order someone to turn back to sin). Satan can give that order. Satan would be the enemy soldier standing off to the side of the formation who is not part of the unit but appears to be one of us since he is wearing the same uniform as us (Satan – an angel of light; [2 Cor 11:14]). If the soldier never marches forward once he is given the command by the drill sergeant (Holy Ghost), then that means the soldier was not listening. He did obey the command to “about face”, but when he had to follow through with the next command of marching forward (taking up our “cross” and walking after Christ – Matthew 10:38) the soldier showed that his true allegiance was not to his drill sergeant but rather to the counterfeit soldier who was wearing the same uniform (Satan) who ordered him to “halt” or “about face” again.

    Mormons mistakenly think that Christians don’t believe in obedience. We do, but it’s very different from the obedience given upon Mormons from their Church leadership which is man-made law. Christians will obey the command of the Holy Ghost to turn to Christ for redemption. They will also follow those orders in living the life of a true soldier of the cross. What is the evidence of a true soldier of Christ? The “fruits” that Jesus mentions. This is exactly where James is coming from in chapter 2 in the famous text of “faith without works is dead”. Works CONFIRM saving faith – not CONTRIBUTE to saving faith. Look at verse 24. Mankind can only see the evidence of your faith by your outward actions. One is justified before mankind on whether those fruits are evident in your life or not. Mankind can not see the heart – only God can and He is the One that will judge that and that is the ultimate test. Abraham was justified before mankind for his works/obedience in verse 21, but he was judged by God from what was in his heart and what he believed in verse 23. That made him justified before God. Righteous works are the necessary proof of faith – not the path to salvation. The works confirm what has already genuinely taken place in the heart. Mormons mistakenly place the cart of good works BEFORE the horse of faith. Does God have to see your works to know that you are one of his? True believers will naturally produce “fruit” and obey because it comes from the heart (Rom 6:17) and not out of bondage or obligation put forth by mankind in an attempt at justification (Mormon law).

    I believe in daily confession of sins because we all sin daily in one way or another. However, I hold to the belief, as I mentioned on the other thread, that the actual conversion and coming to Christ to accept Him as Lord and Savior of my life occurs only once. Yes, there are periods in everyone’s life where we hit “dry spots”, our faith is challenged, we wander off, etc. The true soldier of Christ may temporarily stop in his walk or slow down for a moment, but he will never turn around and walk PERMANENTLY in the other direction. He will always come running forward after his moment of lagging behind or temporarily stopping because he hears the voice of his drill sergeant in the distance yelling at him to get his butt in gear and get moving (“my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” – John 10:27).

  6. September 27, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    The expansion of the drill sergeant analogy doesn’t rule out the person mistaking the commands, or not hearing them. I still don’t think you’ve established that conversion is, or ever can be a one-shot event.

    “Mormons mistakenly place the cart of good works BEFORE the horse of faith.”

    I agree this is true of lay Mormons often enough (it is also true of many lay Evangelicals, by the way). But I do not think it is true of Mormon Doctrine. I know you disagree there, but I’m not yet convinced.

    When Mormon scripture speaks of works unto salvation, it means two things:

    1. Repentance

    2. Gospel Ordinances

    You’ll note that a careful examination of Mormon Gospel ordinances are purely devoted to offering up a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” before God. Baptism is nothing more or less than a symbolic manifestation of this conversion or repentance that we are speaking of. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is nothing more than a manifestation of our willingness to listen to God’s promptings. The sacrament is our way of renewing our baptismal covenants each week – which are all about frequent repentance.

    Even the temple ordinances are focused on coming into the presence of God and the claiming of Christ’s atonement to do so (though I, of course, decline to get too specific on that subject).

    I really don’t think we are quite so different on this issue as some think we are.

    Would your theology allow someone entrance into heaven who was IN THE MIDST of open rebellion against God? Or someone who was unwilling to accept Christ’s Atonement? Would not your theology take this as evidence of an unconverted heart that cannot be with God?

  7. September 27, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Sorry, I left the drill sergeant thing unfinished.

    The problem with your analogy of a drill sergeant yelling only once, and for only one direction, is that it doesn’t reflect reality.

    God does not change, but we do, and our situation does as well.

    Which is why it makes more sense to imagine the drill sergeant calling out more than one instruction. It’s as if the drill sergeant where fixed and immovable, but was calling out to a set of new recruits who were stuck in a sort of rotating maze. He isn’t moving, but we are, and our environment, culture, relationships, and everything else are as well. So from where he’s standing, everything may very well be forward-march. But to us, it’s going to be left, right, and even a few about-faces.

  8. 8 markcares
    September 27, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    I find it interesting that, in the Gospels, the only times we hear Jesus being described as preaching repentance is in general statements at the beginning of his ministry or when he enters a new area. This fits into the mission contexts of my posts. After that, when he tells specific groups to repent they are always unbelievers. Where do we hear Jesus tell his disciples, after they believed in him, to repent? We don’t. Neither does Paul, in any of his letters to Christian congregations or individuals,tell them to repent – even though they are problems.
    My point of this is that we don’t see that because repentance is that state believers are in as I stated in my post. Sometimes believers, when they are persisting in a specific sin, need to be told to repent of that specific sin. We see that in the seven letters to the churches in bhe book of Revelation. But it’s also interesting that not all seven churches are told to repent – just those who were persisting in some specific sin – who, at least, look like they have turned away from Jesus.

  9. September 27, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Peter and Thomas are the two most prominent examples.

    The idea that Mark or Berean, or anyone here would think that they don’t need to do any more repenting is, to say the least, a very strange notion to me. Is this really where you guys are coming from?

  10. 10 markcares
    September 30, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    Please give me the reference where Jesus used the word “repent” with Peter and Thomas. You might think this is nitpicking but the post is about the meaning of the word, “repentance”.
    Berean talks about his daily repenting in one of his comments. I talked about being in a state of repentance. What I mean by that is that it is something I am doing “naturally” as a believer. I’m going to try another analogy. Even though I breathe all the time, I rarely have to think about breathing – I rarely have to be told to breathe. Maybe when I am struggling to breathe because of illness, accident, etc. I might have to concentrate on it, but usually it is just something I am doing.
    So also with repenting. I am in the state of having changed my mindset (repentance) and am, as a believer, trusting in Jesus and not trusting in myself. This is soomething I am doing “automatically” as a believer. It is part of being a new creation. It’s when I am in danger of turning away from trusting in Jesus that I have to consciously think about it. But that is not that common of an occurance. The point is that repentance is not a long process as Mormonism describes it.

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