What is the Meaning of Repent?

There are certain terms found in Scripture that have spiritual significance, but are not used very often in the secular realm. Repent (verb), or repentance (noun), is one of these terms. Just because it is not used in everyday occurrence, however, does not negate its importance to us in Christian living, either in the kingdom of God or the world in which we live.

Some equate sorrow with repentance. While repenting does involve a godly sorrow, repentance is more than simply being sorry for doing something wrong, as the sorrow of the world produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10). There are a variety of reasons why a person can feel sorrow, which have nothing to do with being right with God. You can be sorry because some act you engage in has ceased, along with the opportunity to participate in it. You can be sorry for getting caught in a wrong and having to suffer the penalty for it. None of these are a godly sorrow, a sorrow that leads to repentance. Judas was sorrowful for betraying Jesus, but he only committed suicide, not genuinely repenting of the act itself (Matthew 27:3, 5).

To repent of something is to engage the entire person in making a change in oneself. It is a change of mind, which creates a change of heart, which brings about a change of life. In contrast to Judas was the apostle Paul. He persecuted Christ by persecuting His church (Acts 9:5; Galatians 1:13). Learning the truth of the gospel, however, he changed his mind and attitude, turning his life away from being a persecutor to one who became persecuted for the sake of the truth, for living and preaching the gospel (Galatians 1:23). The Christians in Thessalonica showed genuine repentance when they realized, by the preaching of Paul, that idols were false and God was genuine and true. He reminded them, "For they themselves report concerning us what manner of entering in we had unto you; and how ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God" (1 Thess. 1:9). The very nature of repentance demands one abandon a life of sin to seek the righteousness of God instead, if one would find salvation in Christ. On the day of Pentecost, those who realized they had killed the Messiah asked Peter and the rest of the apostles what they should do (Acts 2:37). Peter responded, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins" (2:38).

Repentance is not a onetime act, something one only does to be saved from one's sins. It is part of a lifestyle in Christ, something done throughout one's life to have a spiritual walk that pleases God. We are faced with many temptations throughout our lives, and we should always examine ourselves, repenting of those things in our lives that do not please God. Paul could write the Christians in Corinth, who had repented and obeyed the gospel earlier, that he would "mourn for many of them that have sinned heretofore, and repented not of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they committed" (2 Corinthians 12:21). Repentance must be a constant part of Christian living, as we seek to become less like the sin around us, and more like the Father in His holiness (1 Peter 1:16). Do you understand the truth of the gospel? Are you willing to repent of sin and dedicate yourself to living by the will of God? This is how repentance leads one to forgiveness and God's promise of life.

Robert Johnson, Longview, TX