Sentinels For Christ :: Repentance.. Essential Elements

Repentance.. Essential Elements

Posted by jimgrier on July 28, 2016

It is somewhat surprising to press into this message, and worse to have to subject those reading it to a word study on basic spiritual principles intrinsic to the Christian worldview.  But we can't assume anymore that folks in the culture know our jargon in the church and whats more there is some confusion inside the church as well on what are jargon should be! Let's talk though about what is Christian repentance and what the word “repentance” means from the perspective and context of how it’s used in the Bible. For some who might be considering becoming a follower of Jesus, I think this will be helpful.  For some who may have been inadvertently delivering a message inconsistent with scripture or what I think scriptures teaches clearly on the subject, well consider yourself forewarned!    

So let’s clear up exactly what New Testament teaching on “repentance” is. Recently I have heard it used in multiple church formats in a way not intended.  Popular thinking and perhaps more forward and learned scholars of certain persuasions will teach and emphasize the word repent means strictly “rethinking everything” or “changing your minds.”  While these concepts are certainly found in the meaning of the words use in the Bible, it is not remotely a primary representation of the word, nor is it representative of the context in which the word us used in the New Testament.  Such representation is what is referred to as a partial definition of a words somatic domain.

This would be a good time for you to go, “Oh no, I’m not going to get caught up in this!” and go read something productive!  Or, you can stick around and draw your own conclusion.  One comment before we begin if the subject of “repentance” wasn’t being represented ad hoc on a regular basis and I had not heard this repeatedly, I wouldn’t be addressing it and no harm done.

Let’s consider one of the most easily recognizable uses of the word “repent” in the Bible; Matthew 3: 2, the call of John the Baptist.  We’ll have take a short look into a word study so be patient.  “Repentance” when using a Greek interlinear New Testament comes from the Greek word “metavoeite.”  For purposes of this discussion I’ll spare the reader the phonetic pronunciation as this is not overly intended to bore you!  Metavoeite however, looks like this: metanoite, in Greek.  The word is a compound word consisting of two words. The first being “meta” denoting “accompaniment” or “amidst” implying a progression of phenomena or thought” or as we would understand in English as “following” or “as consequence of” or “subsequent to.  That’s a mouthful.   In the New Testament, whenever the word “repentance” is used it is attached (like a compound word in English) to another word (or for you word geeks a word form).  The second word which in Greek which completes the word for repentance is “noew” which means to: contemplate, consider, ponder, understand comprehend and when used in a religious moral context includes directly not suggestively “a feeling of remorse, regret, or sorry.”  The other primary word form used in Greek which follows “meta” is the word “noia” which likewise involves this feeling of remorse or regret in respect to ones acts as a reflective act of the conscience.  Repentance is by the way connected with changing your behavior, not thinking about but in conjunction with considering it.  You may not be successful at changing our behavior (as change takes work!)  but repentance implies an intentional choice to change.  Your Strong’s Concordance if you use it to review repentance will reveal when used in religious moral contexts it implies a cognitive process producing a “compunction from guilt.”   

My apologies, as all this is a sophisticated way of saying the word “repentance” in the New Testament infers “to think really hard and soberly about yourself and your life reflectively as a transgressing of God’s moral law and character, feel sorry for it as a matter of personal responsibility for which we all will be held responsible.”  Contrary to what progressive Christian thinking may assert, the remorse part of repentance is part of the package and cannot be separated from the word repentance in any of its forms with any intellectual honesty or legitimately recognized study of the Bible.   

Repentance is confrontation, not consideration...

The repeated notion that tries to redefine repentance as simply “changing your thinking” or “rethinking everything” is not taught in the gospels or anywhere in the New Testament.  To draw this conclusion is to word parse a spiritual principle for the simple fact people from the dawn of history until now don’t want to hear their guilty, they are responsible and they need to change if they want life after this one.  Why the church is so confused with such a basic moral ethic, (even the courts expect us to feel guilty when we commit crimes!) is amazing.  All of us, from the least to the greatest regardless of our degrees or acts of kindness have lived lives resulting in nailing Gods Son to the cross.  That’s a foundational Christian principle and regardless of whether you accept it or not, (as you have the choice to or not) it’s unfortunately and confrontationally true.    Modern repentance definitions are fostered by those advocating the type of repentance referenced by God in Jeremiah 15.  This is the repentance of “cognitive accent” without behavioral change or remorse that according to  God “wearies him.” It’s the “cheap grace” mentioned by Dietrich Bonheoffer embarrassingly by those who quote Bonheoffer. Pulpits today are increasingly spiritually castrating principles in the Bible claiming “exegesis” under the banner of cultural relevance. That’s about as direct as I dare go on the subject but why are they doing it?  Ultimately God knows, but when anyone using scripture to build a case for a belief system that is out of context with a spiritual principle or a consistently taught meaning (or principle) of word in the New Testament they have an agenda.  Agendas are not always bad, after all you could have an agenda to help the poor (that’s a good thing) but the parallel consequence of a personal agenda overriding a spiritual principle that distorts or withholds truth on a foundation issue such as the process by which salvation is accomplished in the life of a human being, (and yes it is not completed without repentance!) is spiritually catastrophic.   By the way Jesus saves, not our repentance but our repentance does convey to him we understand the gravity of sin.

Let’s make an observation, when John the Baptist came preaching “repentance,” the Jewish people understood exactly what he was saying as this was a familiar message from the prophets repeatedly delivered involving restoration in God that was preached from the Judges through Malachi! When Jesus said it they understood it the same way.  If you are under the impression Jesus and John somehow had a different message you are greatly mistaken.  Repentance, remorse, feeling sorry for what one has done and then participating in behavioral change (made possible by the Holy Spirit) and our responsive thankfulness was and is firmly part of our reconciliation with God.  Why in the world would those who heard John’s message ask what they were to do in accordance with repentance?  John tells them:  “Stop sinning and repent!” (my paraphrase see Luke 3: 10-14).  God didn’t think up a new philosophy in and send Jesus to “water down” the issue of our standing with God because John the Baptist and the Prophets “were just too mean spirited!” Even those who heard John preach understood the concept not only involved remorse, it involved action to accompany it.  You see when we don’t feel sorrow and remorse for our actions we don’t change.  Now you can’t tell me that doesn’t resonate with most of us.  Need some more convincing?  Turn to 2nd Corinthians chapter 7 where Paul lays it out very clear to a church who has been treating him very poorly and engaging in lewd behaviors while professing to be followers of Christ.  The moment (or context) of this section is that the Corinthian believers have regretted what’s happened but not before Paul ended up spiritually engaging in a difficult struggle with them. Starting at verse 8:

“For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.”

We will talk about what “without regret” means in the future.   Suffice it to say it’s a wonderful spiritual concept that surpasses anything we could experience on our own!  Thankfully I trust some of you reading this already know and have experienced this.

The words for repentance used in the 2 Corinthian passage by the way...It’s the same word form as used in Matthew, 3:2, 3:8, and a host of other New and Old Testament references using the word “repent.” While the suffixes may differ, it’s the same word with the same intent.  I don’t know about you but when I was told at 16 why I needed Christ, I certainly wanted the forgiveness and salvation the musicians were talking about but I clearly understood and felt remorse for how I had lived offensively to God and at the expense of others.

Now if I may be even more direct perhaps you have a problem with this definition of repentance and you don’t like feeling bad for your personal offenses to God or others and reject such a narrative as “intrusive” or “offensive” or judgmental.  I can recall (more than I would like to) times in my walk with Christ when I resisted what God was trying to do in my life.  I had to realize (rethink, consider, ponder) I had a significant spiritual sickness in my faith and my attitude and stubbornness required an honest asking of forgiveness from God (repentance) and then behavioral change had to follow.  Still unconvinced?  Check out Psalm 51: 10-14.  This is not a dialogue on who is and who is not saved.  Although frankly the way this question is resolved may in fact affect the issue for the individual. I would rather stay consistent with nearly 40 years in my faith at this point and potentially ruffle some feathers than promote a belief which I believe originates from confusion.  We remember who the father of confusion deception and lies is right?

Repentance in the eyes of God and as taught in the New Testament is not some ignorant contemplation that you “may not have all the answers” or that “perhaps your life could be better or more fulfilled if you would consider an alternate path”.  It is a direct knowledge, supernaturally revealed that our life is completely messed up and we have individually transgressed God’s law, his character and, dare I say committed acts worthy of judgment.  It is a spiritual “Aha!” moment when Gods reveals to you, you must change, not you should consider changing. We are not, when it comes to salvation interviewing for a job!  While you may not know specifically the full scope of ways you might be offending God at that moment or “sinning” by committing acts grievous to his character, make no mistake; we are well aware of things we are engaging in or have engaged in that are “against God.”  That is what the supernatural phenomena of repentance involves.  I’ll add this for free.  Any pastor of preacher who waters down this issue concerning the transformation in the life of the unsaved or the saved Christian be wary.   You and I will be held accountable not only for our words but whether or not we presented the message of the Cross accurately.  Don’t indirectly be responsible for promulgating and advocating spiritual complacency with sin and defiance against God. Grant it, no pastor or any one of us need push anyone over the edge of remorse in their relationship with God.  If an individual loves God and understands even a part of who God is they will individually experience remorse sufficient enough for a relationship with God to move forward and transformation in Christ to accomplish itself.  This is one of the critical direct lessons learned from the parable of the prodigal son. (Luke 15)  We all love to hear about the forgiving father don’t we?  Note however the restoration with the father does not occur before repentance. Jesus knew what he was teaching and not one word spoken by him was happenstance. Not one.

So that joy we all seek?; that good feeling of peace and assurance we desire and gravitate to when we hear the good news about Jesus and what he did for us to reconcile our problem of sin is attainable. Jesus does promise peace, (see John 14: 27) what he doesn’t promise is shortcuts.

So why are preachers preaching this watered down definition of repentance? It is unfortunately becoming part and partial in seminary doctrine today to emphasize it.  It also fills churches by removing the gravity of sins true nature which when we confront it is a sobering albeit painful spiritual moment and rightly filled with remorse.  Christians, especially leaders are charged to “preach the word” (2nd Timothy 4: 1-4) which means all of it, the good, the bad, the ugly, (one of my favorite westerns by the way). 

I think I can accurately use Dallas Willard when I quote the following:

 “I think that one of the greatest dangers for the cause of Christ today is that we Evangelicals will not understand our need for genuine repentance: repentance, not about what we aren't, but about what we are...”

Strangely enough even churches that cite Dallas Willard, R.C. Sproul, J.L. Packer et al. preach this dysfunctional definition of what repentance is i.e. “rethinking everything” or “changing one mind”  Listen I’ve been a pastor in the past. I’ve shared Christ publically on numbers of occasions and I understand all too well the temptation to back off the directness of the Gospel in some respects. But to soften an issue or message that might result in someone’s decision regarding their salvation is not something I believe you’ll hear “Well done good and faithful servant” for! You might be saved granted, but I would rather have a God that says “I love you.” “Welcome into my Kingdom but what were you thinking when you said that?” If you’re so insecure about the offense of the Cross and what it means and you can’t present it accurately (boldy) with love, (please note the “with love part!) wait.  Do what it takes to develop your spiritual courage (or spiritual formation as Dallas Willard coins it) so you can articulate a Jesus that’s accurate.  Don’t water him down or present a concept of repentance that has nothing in common to why Jesus died on a cross for us! 

Dear friend if you are struggling to follow Jesus and have come to suspect repentance is an ongoing part of following Jesus, welcome to the Kingdom of God, It is ok to feel sorry when you blow it, that’s why Jesus died for us.  If you are a tormented Christian trying to reach some spiritual peace that reflects an absence of spiritual struggle or any form of guilt or remorse because someone has passed off some unachievable form of Christianity (probably because they are confused themselves), quit wrestling with disproportionate guilt and the frustration of trying to attain the unattainable!

Friend if you are responsible for perpetrating a false presentation that could directly be resulting in someone missing the gospel, first God forgives you  but you need to repent and you need to straighten out what spiritual discord you’ve created to the best of your reasonable ability.  God will handle the rest.

I think a little insight from Dwight L Moody might help us and our consciences (mine as well today)

“Oh sinners go to Him and ask His forgiveness.  This is repentance.  It is coming in with a broken heart and asking the King of Heaven to forgive you.   Don’t say you can’t.  It is a lie. It is your stubborn-will- It is your stubborn heart.”  D.L. Moody.

If you want to do your own research on the subject (I will gladly encourage it), you will need an interlinear New Testament (that’s a New Testament with both the Greek and English language), a lexicon for the Greek, language and I would recommend Strong’s Concordance.  I’m betting though long before you pick up these tools this message will resonate as Gods spirit which I believe lives in the Christian is quite capable of making itself known certainly better than I can write!  (John 14: 25-26).  I welcome any questions or comments.  Email me at 

J.P. Grier

M.S. Counseling 

J.P Grier is a writer and developer at SentinelforChrist com – Sentinel-For-Christ is a network of Christian men helping each other to press deeper in Christ.

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