What is Repentance?

“Repent!” was the common message of John the Baptist, of Jesus, and of Peter. Peter having been baptized with the Holy Spirit preached the good news about Jesus to his murderers and the others and they were deeply convicted and convinced of their need of Christ and His forgiveness and cried out “What must we do?” (Acts 2:38) Peter’s answer was “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”.


I think it is odd then that some people teach that a sinner must “clean his life up” (repent) before he can become a Christian. And, because of this teaching I have given the good news about Jesus to men who have responded, “I am not good enough yet”, or “I am not ready yet, I need to change some things in my life”. Asking a sinner to change his life is like asking a corpse to wave at you, it is impossible.


Repentance is not unlike faith as I discussed in my last post. Repentance is not subjective, but like faith it is objective. Faith’s object is Christ. Acts 2:21 says it well, “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”. I made the case that biblical, saving faith, begins at a moment in time and is proved up by corresponding works. In the same way repentance occurs at a moment in time and is proved up by a lifestyle change. Consider these verses that clearly make this clear. Stopping bad behavior and beginning good behavior is not repentance but rather the evidence you have repented.


Bear fruit in keeping with repentance(Matthew 3:8) 

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.” (Acts 26:20) 

Just as with faith, good works show that you have faith, they are not the cause of it, so too good deeds show you have repented, they are not repentance. The person who has truly repented will live differently. His lifestyle will show he has repented.


To those who are depending on their own works of righteousness the Hebrew writer said “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.” (Hebrews 6:1) Here it is clear that repentance and faith are foundational, they are the starting point of becoming a Christian. It should be noted that one of the things a penitent sinner should change is to stop depending on dead works (self righteousness).


Repentance, like faith, is given by God. The ability to truly repent is given by God.


“God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:31) 

“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 11:18) 

“…Correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth”.(2 Timothy 2:25) 

Only when the Holy Spirit has done His blessed work will a sinner trust Christ and change his mind about the direction of his life. Repentance and faith are so closely joined together that they can’t be understood well apart from each other. No person can fully trust Christ without a change of mind about how he is living. And, no person can fully repent who does not place his trust in Christ.


Repentance is no more than a divinely enabled choice to do a mental U-turn. Repentance is to change one’s mind and thus the direction of one’s lifestyle. It is impossible to turn to Christ and not turn away from sin. And it is impossible to turn from sin without turning toward Christ.


How can you tell if a person has repented? This is the way the Bible describes it. Jesus spoke to Paul saying in part “I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
(Acts 26:17, 18) The same truth is stated again “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (1Thessalonians 1:9) People who have truly repented will not only have a change of mind but a change of life.


The message has not changed. “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 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 17:30, 31)


Jesus Christ will be the measure God uses to judge sinful men. You will both be justified, and finally saved at the resurrection because you have repented and turned to Christ, or you will be lost. Those who depend on their good deeds as a substitute or a supplement to what Christ has accomplished are living dangerously. “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. (2 Corinthians 10:12) If you judge yourself to be right with God because of what you do, I ask you, to whom are you comparing yourself? Only when you compare yourself to Jesus’ holy life will you see your need of him. Perhaps it is time to repent.



4 comments on “What is Repentance?

  1. Acts 2:21 says it well, “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”. I made the case that biblical, saving faith, begins at a moment in time and is proved up by corresponding works. In the same way repentance occurs at a moment in time and is proved up by a lifestyle change.

    Royce, I could not agree more with what you are saying here, all the time we have spent talking, I must have been talking in “an unknown tongue” because that is exactly what I have been trying to convince you of.
    Believing in Jesus is not the end, it is the beginning, of faith.
    Having faith in Christ, is the beginning, not the end. (the beginning of doing what we are asked to do)
    Repentance, is not the end it is the beginning.
    (the beginning of a better life, before God)
    Baptism, is not the end it is the beginning.
    (Baptism is the first action/work of that new beginning)
    Either of these things that is not followed by “works” is a sham and not worth the time spent.
    “lifestyle change” is works too Royce.

    I believe it was James who said “Faith without works is dead” let me add “works with out faith is great, but it won’t save your soul”

    The difference between me and you is perhaps subtle but very real. I don’t believe what I do is “efficacious”, you do. Good deeds are not a means of grace they are an outward fruit of grace. Only what Christ has accomplished for sinners is efficacious, or salvatory, and only by trusting him are we saved.


  2. Royce said, “Only what Christ has accomplished for sinners is efficacious, or salvatory, and only by trusting him are we saved.”
    James, the brother of Jesus said
    Jms:2:14: What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
    Jms:2:24: Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

    Who do you think I am going to believe?

    Obviously, you are going to believe what you want to believe. I can put up dozens of verses that teach salvation is not of works and that we can never earn our way to heaven.

    Anyone who thinks he will find God’s favor because of his own personal goodness will be disappointed. ONLY in Christ and upon His merit and worth are any of us accpted.

    No two opposing views can be true in the Bible or any place else. If you had understood my previous post you would have likely understood there is no conflict between Paul, Peter, James, and Jesus about the faith vs works idea. “Faith that works by love” is what matters.

    It is desgraceful to say that what Christ has done is not enough. It was a serious sin when the legalists in the area of Galatia taught such heresy and it is a sinful thing today. The grace of God is null and void to those who trust themselves. The way Paul put it is “you have fallen from grace” when you add to the gospel taught by Paul.

    I should expect no less from a guy who denies the deity of Jesus and his bodily resurrection. In reflection, you have every reason to doubt your salvation.

    There comes a time when enough is enough and that time is today.


  3. Many have a misconception of repentance. We often mistake restitution for repentance. Repentance isn’t works of restitution. Repentance is a change of heart. We change the direction of the things of the heart. We no longer serve self but now set our hearts on Jesus. Our heart no longer resides in the world but an the moment of repentance now resides in Christ. Thanks Royce for your words of wisdom. dell kimberly

  4. Hello,

    I’m a newbie here looking for some information on repentance. I have been a believer since I was a young girl, but recently heard a bible teacher talking about fruit. Which prompted me to examine my life, and it appears there is a lack of fruit, which then cause me to doubt my salvation, etc. In talking to my pastor, a wise and gentle-spoken man, he suggested that perhaps the element of repentance was missing in my salvation experience. I know I have “repented” of my sins many times… however he suggested to me that I had not repented to the Lord for who I AM (a sinner capable of the vilest acts), as opposed to what I do (sins). Do you see any biblical grounds for this idea, or any value to making this distinction? I appreciate your thoughts. Thanks for this post.

    The short answer is no, I don’t make such a distinction. If you are sorry for your sins and want to forsake them that is repentance.

    The source of your salvation is Christ himself who is your life (eternal) and He is the basis of it, not you or what you have done or not done. Simple trust in Him is sufficient.

    What about “fruit”? Many times people take out of context the passage in Matthew 7 where the Lord is talking about false teachers, not individual Christians. Or, some will say, “The fruit of a Christian is another Christian”, an ideal that we all aspire to but that is not the “fruit” in my view. The fruit you should bear is in short “Love”. Read about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 and ask yourself it these qualities are present in your life. Of course not one of us perfectly displays all of these qualities of love all the time. We are living in a flesh body that is God’s enemy, so we all come short of God’s ideal, even after we become Christians.

    You, and I, should on purpose do all we know to do to please God and to love people unselfishly for His sake. It seems to me that because of the fact that you are asking and show concern you are likely on the right track. Satan does not motivate anyone to please God.

    Just keep looking to Jesus, trust Him with all you are, and try earnestly to live a pure life while loving others in His stead. He will make you stand. Even when we are unfaithful, He is always faithful and we can depend on His promises.


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