What Is Biblical Repentance? Answered by Justin Perdue
Hi, this is Justin. Today I am answering a question from Brandon. He asks, “What is biblical repentance?” The word for repentance in the New Testament, metanoia, literally means a change of mind, and so we might ask, well, a change of mind about what?
Firstly, it would be a change of mind about God, about who he is, what his character is like, and what he requires of us as his creatures. We come to understand that God is good, that he is righteous and holy and just, and therefore requires perfect obedience from us, his creatures. Repentance is a change of mind about ourselves, about who we are and what we are, as we stand before God. We come to agree with God that what he says about us is true, that we stand guilty and condemned, that we are corrupt, and that we don’t have a righteousness of our own upon which we could stand, and that therefore we are in tremendous need before God.
Repentance is a change of mind also about Jesus and the way of salvation. We realize that the righteousness that we need and don’t have can only be found in Christ. The forgiveness, the atonement, and the absolution that we need for our sins can also only be found in the Lord Jesus, by faith in him.
Biblically speaking, this may be clear already in what I’ve said up to now, but I want to be explicit and redundantly clear. Repentance and faith, biblically, go together. Repentance and faith are not things that we should attempt to pull apart. It’s very clear, as we’ve thought about this change of mind that happens in us, that repentance assumes faith and faith incorporates repentance. In thinking about those things, repentance and faith and how they go together, what I’m about to say I trust is also clear, but this is something that we tend to get wrong in the church in our context. If you hear anything that I say, hear this, repentance is not something we do. It’s not a work that we do, but rather, it is a gift that we receive from God. It is something that God does for us, and that God works in us. So in one sense, it’s right for us to say that God repents us. Just like God gives us the gift of faith, he gives us the gift of repentance as well. It’s a turning that God produces in us, and that turning is always away from ourselves and toward Christ in faith.
So, this has a lot of implications for us as we think about repentance. It’s a situation where we need not focus so much on how we’re doing it, the quality of our repentance, or the sincerity of our repentance. That kind of assessment and that kind of thinking rarely if ever lead anywhere good. When we remember, biblically, that repentance and faith go together, and that they are both gifts from God, and that they are something that God does in us and for us and through us and to us, we’re starting to think biblically and we’re on the right track in thinking about this change of mind. Praise God for his grace in the ways that he works in us and the ways that he shows us our sin and drives us to Christ who is our only hope for redemption and salvation.
I hope this is helpful to you in thinking about repentance and faith and how all these things go together, and in thinking as well about our gracious and merciful God who gives us these wonderful gifts.