Meaning of Repentance, The (Article)

Introduction

It is written in the gospel of Matthew that John the Baptist came preaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”[1]  And, if you turn the page in the same gospel, you can read that after Jesus was baptized by John in the river Jordan, and subsequently led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil, he too began to preach saying: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”[2]  “Repent” – This was Jesus’ and John’s opening statement – their “trumpet call” concerning the kingdom of heaven.  This says to me that this concept of repentance is an important aspect of the kingdom of heaven.

It was the same with the Christ’s apostles:  At the end of the apostle Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, the Book of Acts tells us that people were “pierced to the heart”, and asked Peter and the rest of the apostles what they must do to be saved.  Peter’s opening statement, giving the first step in the salvation process, was: “Repent”.[3]  We see the same thing with another apostle who began preaching the gospel of Christ a little later – the apostle Paul.  In fact, I have chosen something Paul said about repentance as our foundational text in this message, because I believe this particular passage has a lot to offer with regards to communicating the essence of this all-important concept of repentance.  That passage is Acts chapter 26, verses 18-20.

26:18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’
26:19

“So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision,

26:20

but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.

The Context

As a consequence of preaching the gospel, Paul had been brought before the Sanhedrin, the governors Felix and Festus, and then before King Agrippa.  In Paul’s defense before king Agrippa, he gave the testimony of his conversion to Christ on the road to Damascus; and in the specific verses we have cited here, Paul is speaking of the Lord’s call on his life to preach the gospel.

The subject matter is “repentance” because preaching repentance is part and parcel of preaching the gospel.  Luke, who recorded the Books of Acts, also wrote in his gospel that Jesus commissioned His apostles saying: “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name….”[4]  “Repentance” is, in fact, a pre-requisite to receiving the benefits of the gospel.  We must acknowledge the reality of our sin before we can receive the forgiveness of sin.  As I have heard it said:  “You must acknowledge the ‘bad news’ before you can appreciate the ‘good news’.”  And the “bad news”, as it were, is that because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”[5], we all need to repent.  But what does it mean to “repent”?

Repentance:  A Godly Sorrow

Possibly, you already have an understanding of “repentance” as a “godly sorrow”.  This is not really wrong; but more accurately, the Scriptures tells us that “a godly sorrow produces repentance”.[6]  This is the conviction of the Spirit of God – convincing us of our sin, and God’s righteousness and judgment.[7]  Such working of the Holy Spirit brings us to the place of being open and able to change our perceptions of things – being open and able to allow the Spirit of Truth to give us understanding of the things of God.  So, “godly sorrow” certainly is a part of repentance; but I also want us to see the heart of repentance.

Repentance: A Change in Behavior and Lifestyle

Possibly, you already have an understanding of “repentance” as a change of behavior for the good – changing from a sinful lifestyle to a godly lifestyle.  Again, this is not wrong – this is part of “repentance” – maybe the second part, as it were – what the Scriptures call the fruits of repentance”[8] – a phrase I’ll mention again later.  But indeed, when there is a genuine inward change of repentance, there naturally follow visible outward changes in our behavior and lifestyle.  This too is certainly part of repentance; but I also want us to see the heart of repentance.            

The Essential Meaning of Repentance: A Change of Mind / Perception / Understanding

 The passage of Scripture with which we are dealing (Acts 26:18-20) begins by saying that The Lord sent Paul to the Gentiles “to open their eyes”.  Let’s meditate for a moment on that phrase – “to open their eyes”.  We are familiar with phrases of similar meaning:  “to see the light”, “to be enlightened”, etc.  The meaning is to somehow come to an understanding of something.  I believe that this is the essential meaning of the term “repentance” as it is used in the New Testament.  The Greek word translated “repent” is: metanoeo – a combination of two words – meta meaning “change”, and noeo, meaning “mind”, or “perception” or “understanding”.[9]  “Repentance” is coming to a change of mind – a change in our perception and understanding of God, ourselves, and life.

Let’s listen carefully to Paul’s words to another group of non-believers of the Areopagus in Athens: He said:

“Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent….”[10] 

There is a connection to be made between “ignorance” and “repentance”.  If you notice, Paul is tactfully telling the philosophers on Mars Hill that they were “ignorant” of the things of God, and that God was now calling for them to change their perception and gain understanding of the things of God – that is, He was calling them to “repent”.

But I don’t want to give you the impression that this enlightened understanding which comes with repentance is only for philosopher types.  No, this essential meaning of the term “repentance” is also clearly seen in the words of the apostle Peter which he spoke to common people at Solomon’s Porch after the healing of a lame man at the gate of the temple in Jerusalem. Acts 3:17-19 reads:

3:17

“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also.

3:18

“But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.

3:19

“Therefore, repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

Again, we see an ignorance of the things of God, and a preaching of the truth of Christ that calls for, and has the power to effect, a change of perception which gives a new understanding of the things of God.  Repentance is, in fact, a change of perception that enables us to see things from God’s point of viewYes, the Spirit of Truth[11] working in and through the word of truth[12] has the power to change and enlighten our hearts and minds[13] to see Him, to see ourselves, to see everything in life from His point of view – to see things as they really are – in truth and in reality.  This is the heart of repentance – seeing from God’s point of view.

Listen to the beginning of Paul’s wonderful prayer for the Church in his letter to the Colossians – I quote here from a New Testament translation by a man named J.B. Phillips:

“We are asking God that you may see things, as it were, from His point of view by being given spiritual insight and understanding.”[14]  Seeing from God’s point of view – this is the heart of repentance.

As I said earlier, when this inward change is genuine, there are manifested visible outward changes in our behavior and lifestyle – the Scripture refers to these as “fruits of repentance”.[15]  When John the Baptist came preaching repentance, he demanded that the Pharisees and Sadducees “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”.[16]  What are these “fruits of repentance”?

The Fruits of Repentance: Turning From / Turning To / Returning

 Let’s read from our main Scripture reference once more –  Acts 26:18 & 20:

26:18

to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’

26:20b

that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.

Fruits of repentance” are simply the things that follow repentance – the results of repentance.  Paul’s preaching and teaching ministry was to “open their eyes” – that is, change their perception and understanding – “so that” – in other words, the result would be that – “they may turn”.  “Turning” is a “fruit of repentance”.  “Turning” from something and “turning” to something, or Someone.  In this particular passage, Paul specified “turning from darkness to light” – “turning from the dominion of Satan to God”“that they should repent” from the things of the world, the flesh, and the devil, “and turn to God” – and the things of God – to “deeds appropriate to repentance”.

Peter specified some of those “deeds appropriate to repentance” at the end of that sermon he gave on the day of Pentecost – he said: “Repent, and (then) each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.[17]  These things are, on the one hand, acts of obedience on our part after repentance, and on the other hand, gifts of God that follow after repentance.

The apostle Peter also said: “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”[18]  “Turning from”, “turning to”, but also “returning” follows repentance.  A fruit of repentance for the Christian is to “return” to the Lord.  You see, repentance doesn’t happen just once when you first come to Christ – it’s an ongoing process even after we come to Christ.  It is part of the normal Christian life and should be part of the normal Christian church life – a continuous process of repenting and returning to the Lord.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus instructs the churches to “repent”.[19]  And back in the Book of Acts, Peter was instructing the people of God to “repent and return”.  Why?  So that “times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord”.  The instruction is to return from living independently of the Lord to abiding in the Lord – and when we “repent and return”, we find the Lord’s presence in our lives and churches in a fresh and deeper way.  And through the continuous process of “repenting and returning”, we are restored and built up in the Holy Spirit so that the Church may continue on in the Father’s awesome plans and purposes right up to the return of the Son![20]  In this sense, we might say that repentance and returning are linked with abiding.  Returning to the Lord to abide in Himto look at life and live life from His point of viewthese are “fruits of repentance”.  In this regard, let us remember the words of Jesus:

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit….”[21]

*******

FOOTNOTES: 

[1] Matthew 3:1-2

[2] Matthew 4:17

[3] Acts 2:37-38

[4] Luke 24:47

[5] Romans 6:23

[6] 2 Corinthians 7:10

[7] John 16:8

[8] Matthew 3:8, Luke 3:8, Acts 26:20

[9] #3340 Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words

[10] Acts 17:30

[11] John 14:17, 15:26, 16:13

[12] John 17:17 and II Corinthians 6:7, Colossians 1:5, II Timothy 2:15, James 1:18

[13] Hebrews 4:12

[14] Colossians 1:9 The New Testament in Modern English, J.B. Phillips

[15] Acts 26:20

[16] Matthew 3:8

[17] Acts 2:38

[18] Acts 3:19

[19] Revelation 2:5 & 16, 3:3 & 19

[20] Acts 3:20-21

[21] John 15:4-5

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At Christ’s Table – ACTpublications

“Explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” 1 Corinthians 2:13

© 2008

W.D. Furioso, Writer ~ Frances Furioso, Editor

At Christ’s Table Ministries ~ ACTpublications ~  https://www.AtChristsTable.org

 ACTpublications may be freely shared, reproduced, and distributed – unaltered, in digital or print formats. Any quotations or excerpts must also be unaltered and referenced with the above information.

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Quo Vadis

God is always moving forward in His kingdom plans and purposes. He never moves backward. And for those who love Him, He never stops moving in our lives for His glory. But to continue moving on with God “from glory to glory” requires our living “from faith to faith”. It takes an act of faith