What is Repentance?

What do you think of when you hear the word “repentance?” Most people have a bad taste in their mouths from what they have seen from extremist Christians with bullhorns standing on the side of the road with picket signs saying, “turn or burn.” These people are waving the Christian banner, but is this really what the Bible means when it tells us to repent?

What is Repentance?

But what is repentance? The Apostle Peter says in the book of Acts during one of his sermons to the Jews, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out (Acts 3:19).” Biblical repentance is a turning back. In the garden, our first parents sinned against God. They turned their back on him when they sinned. They passed their sin nature onto us like a disease. All of us, when we are born, have a sin nature and our hearts are desperately sick (some translations translate this as wicked) according to Jeremiah 17:9.

Biblical Repentance is turning from our sin and to God and the gospel. 

What Repentance is not.

Before the Protestant Reformation, the Christian church developed a doctrine of penance. When someone sins and they confess it to a priest, they are then prescribed certain works of penance to perform to make it right. According to what Scripture teaches, this is not real repentance. The whole point of the gospel is that God saves people. There is nothing that men can do to save themselves. There is no act of penance that can satisfy a holy God. Instead, Jesus did it all. 

The Bible teaches that repentance is a gift (2 Timothy 2:25). We don’t work to make things right with God. We simply “repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15).”

Godly Grief vs. Worldly Grief

Repentance is also different from simply feeling bad about your sin. Paul makes a comparison between two types of grieves. He says in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “ For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Just feeling bad about our sin doesn’t do anything about our standing with God. It only leads to death and despair. When we are truly convicted by the Holy Spirit we experience a Godly Grief and that leads us to true repentance.

All of the Christian life is repentance. It’s not something that we do once when we first become Christians. Instead, as we grow closer to Jesus and our sinfulness and God’s Holiness both become more evident, we will be more exposed to sin in our own lives that we need to repent of.

Post by Richard Starling, Westside Community Group Leader.