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1. Introduction

There is a difference between the way both Jesus and the apostles preached repentance, compared to how modern reformed and pentecostal theology teaches repentance. Many people say that repentance is mandatory to the preaching of the gospel. Yet in Biblical evangelism of Gentiles we found this not to be the case.
So how is repentance defined, or what is the meaning of repent?

2. Defining Repentance

The definition of repent in the original Greek is the word metanoia, which simply means “Change the Way you Think!”.

That’s it, nothing more, nothing less. It does not mean “turn away from your sins, and turn to God”. Although in the long term it will be the outcome of repenting, through the transforming process of salvation (See Transformation Through Salvat

3. The Message of Repentance by John the Baptist

This is the first New Testament mention of the word repent.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Matthew 3:2

Using the word for repent as above, we can translate this to: “Change the way you are thinking, let your thoughts be about the kingdom of God which is coming soon.”

A. Who Is John the Baptist?

John is the last of the Old Covenant prophets (and the law):

For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.

Matthew 11:13

And was preparing the way for the one who would baptise in the Holy Spirit:

I indeed baptize you with water unto 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.

Matthew 3:11

B. John is Talking to Jews, not Gentiles

John aimed this at the Pharisees who wanted to keep the law according to the Old Covenant. Yet John is saying that the Messiah is coming and He is going to set up His Kingdom as promised. But the religious leaders thought this was going to happen through obeying the Old Covenant.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Matthew 3:7

He is talking to the Jews, upon whom wrath is coming. The wrath he is referring to, is the Great Tribulation, as prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24:34, that would happen to that generation 40 yers later in AD70:

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.

Matthew 24:21

Therefore John was preparing the way for the end of the Old Covenant and then the new birth that would come through the New Covenant.
That was His message. Change the way you think, the Old Covenant is about to to be replaced!
The New Covenant is coming where everyone who believes will enter the Kingdom of God.

4. Jesus Starts His Earthly Ministry- “Repent and Believe”

This is the second biblical mention of the word repent.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:15

Do you notice something powerful here? There is no message of ‘godly sorrow’, there is no message weighing people down with guilt and shame about their sins! It is simply, “Change the way you think and believe the gospel.” The gospel is about the Kingdom that is now in us as we discovered in God’s Kingdom Here NOW.

5. Jesus Last Evangelism was without Preaching Repentance.

While Jesus was on the cross there was a criminal next to Him was already soft-hearted towards God. As a result Jesus did not include repentance in His massage. His entrance into the family of God is based simply on His faith.

But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:40-43

6. Jesus Preached the Gospel, Which Means Good News.

I ask myself this question before I preach, “Is my message really good news?”

We, as followers of Jesus are to do the same works he did. Heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead and simply tell people to sin no more.
Jesus only rebuked the religious people for their sins. Whenever anybody sincerely came to Him with a need, He did not turn them away.

Remember we learnt that the Kingdom of God came when Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father, in our study God’s Kingdom is here now.

6. Repentance and Godly Sorrow

Some christians have an expectation that new believers need to immediately show godly sorrow as evidence of repentance. And unless they do, they are not born-again, but this is not a necessary requirement of the born again experience.

Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.

2 Corinthians 7:9

A. Case Specific Godly Sorrow

The scripture reference that they use is about a church that was approving of sexual immorality.

In the first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul confronted the believers who were straying from the truth. They were in an incestuous relationship that even non-believers would consider wrong.
Moreover, the Corinthian church was not repentant but rather proud of the fact – that they were showing unconditional ‘love’.

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

2 Corinthians 7:10

B. Repentance by Leadership

The expectation of repentance by a church leadership is totally different than a new believer becoming born again.
Yet the reference to godly sorrow is specific to a particular instance – sexual sin where the church was proud of it:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.

1 Corinthians 5:1-2

There is no biblical requirement of godly sorrow for new believers.

C. Will People Have Godly Sorrow Before They are Born-Again?

Yes absolutely SOME will, because the Holy Spirit’s job is to convict the world of sin. But that doesn’t mean that EVERY person will have evidence of godly sorrow, until after they are born again. And remember that ‘godly sorrow’ was for the Corinthian church leadership, for not addressing the sexual sin within the church.

7. The First Gospel Message Preached to the Gentiles Did Not Mention Repentance:

Please refer to Biblical Evangelism of Gentiles for a full study on this subject.

8. The First Gospel Message to the Jews Included the Word ‘Repent’

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

Acts 2:38-39

Remember that this was to those who followed the law, in verse 36 Peter is talking to the house of Israel.

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Acts 2:36

They needed to change the way that they were thinking (repent) because the Old Covenant had just been nailed to the cross (Col 2:14-15) and the New Covenant was now in effect for whosoever believed. This required a complete change in the way that they thought.

In summary then, let us change the way that we think about sin, sickness and torment through kingdom thinking, not looking for some sin in our lives unless God brings it to light. All we have to do is confess our sins, and He will forgive our sins and FORGET our sins – we need to forgive OURSELVES and forget our sins once we have confessed them. That may require repentance for some of us!

9. Repentance from Dead Works

In Hebrews 6 we find that repentance from dead works is one of the elementary truths:

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,

Hebrews 6:1

However we need to read this in context. The whole of Hebrews is talking to the Jews who were still trying to keep the Old Covenant. The writer to the Hebrews (probably Paul), is explaining to them the superiority of faith in Jesus – versus the law, angels, Moses and the priesthood. He refers to the faultiness of the Old Covenant, and the establishment of the New Covenant. He also teaches on the superiority of faith in the letter to the Hebrews.

So we need to have a closer look at the six elementary truths in total:

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

Hebrews 6:1-2

We notice that the word AND is used to compare the things of faith from those of dead works.
The dead works he is referring to is the law.
The entire letter to the Hebrews is written to encourage the Jewish believers to leave Jerusalem. This is because the sacrifices are no longer pleasing to God, the High Priest has been replaced, and the temple is just a reflection of the Heavenly Temple.
The Old Covenant is faulty and there is a New Covenant in place, the reason why Jesus died.

10. Change the Way you Think (Repent) about your Lifestyle

We need to change the way we think about every aspect of our life. It affects the way we speak, treat ourselves, treat others. We will need to change the way we think about sin, lying, thieving, addictions, wrong relationships.

Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Notice how it starts with changing the way you think, which is repentance!

11. Fruitfulness in the Kingdom is the Sign of True Repentance

The evidence of repentance is good fruit.

Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

Luke 3:8

A. General Population – Be Generous to the Poor

He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

Luke 3:11

A fruit of repentance will be a change in our thinking when it comes to finances. He is saying if you have surplus then you should share it with those who have none.

B. Tax Collectors – do not Steal

And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”

Luke 3:13

The tax collectors were stealing from people, taking advantage of their lack of mathematical skills.

C. Jewish Soldiers – do not Manipulate or Intimidate

Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?”
So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

Luke 3:14

Some people think that this means John was also talking to the Gentiles. However it does not say Roman soldiers – just soldiers. I like what John Gills Exposition says on the topic:

Some think these were Gentile soldiers, since it does not look so likely that the Romans would employ Jews as soldiers in their own country; though it is more probable that they were Jews, in the pay of the Romans, who belonged to Herod, tetrarch of Galilee, or to Philip of Ituraea, whose dominions lay near the place where John was: since it is certain, that there were many of the Jews that betook themselves to a military life; and seeing John instructed them in no part of natural or revealed religion, but what was suitable to their character and employment: for upon these men saying,

John Gills Exposition of the Bible

D. Jewish Soldiers – False Accusations

Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?”
So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

Luke 3:14

It is interesting to ponder on the things God hates – and this is one of them

These six things the LORD hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that are swift in running to evil,
A false witness who speaks lies,
And one who sows discord among brethren.

Proverbs 6:16-19

E. Jewish Soldiers – Financial Contentment.

Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?”
So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

Luke 3:14

A simpler lifestyle, not chasing after getting money as your priority is evidence of repentance.

Being sorry for your sins is not fruit of repentance,
a change in lifestyle is.

12. Using Repentance in Your Gospel Message.

I use repentance carefully in my crusades. The gospel is good news and so when using ‘to repent’ I am careful to define it, explaining it means change the way you think. I do talk about sin, and that sin has consequences – broken relationships, loneliness, despair, worry are some examples. The purpose of repentance is to bring liberty for the person, because sin always has consequences. Everybody is aware of the consequences of sin. However repentance is not a necessity for every person to be born again, as we saw with Cornelius in Biblical Evangelism of Gentiles.

But I focus on what they will be ‘saved from’ when they repent.
Maybe the focus needs to be on sickness, and the person needs to change the way they think about the goodness of God.
Or they need to change the way they think about torment, and ask Jesus to deliver them.
Maybe it is sin that is the crux for them? If it is – then Jesus is the answer. Everybody needs to have their sins taken away, and only belief in Jesus can do that.
Please look at Transformation Through Salvation for further teaching on these subjects.



© Use by Permission Awakening Impact Ministries/ Dr Neville van Eerten 2021