Whew, even the sound of that particular word, repent, evokes all sorts of negative images in the minds of many people, doesn’t it? Those negative images are wrong. Honestly! They really are. The concept of repentance has been given some pretty bad and untrue publicity by Hollywood movies, by some fictional novels, by hellfire and brimstone preachers, by some Christian TV personalities, and by some poor teaching about what the Bible really teaches about repentance.
As just one negative example among many…. The other evening my wife and I watched the movie “Evan Almighty.” There’s one scene in the movie where a freshman Congressman, Evan, tells another, long-time Congressman, Mr Long, that he needs to repent. You could just see on Mr Long’s face what he was thinking when Evan told him he needed to repent; it was a totally negative image of repentance that Mr Long had in his mind. To him, the very thought of repenting was humiliating, ugly and distasteful. That’s because his idea of repentance was wrong.
There are two words (and their derivatives) used in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages of the Bible which have been translated “repent” or “repentance” in English. The most basic meanings of those Hebrew and Greek words are to change one’s mind, or to expand that definition just a little, it means to set my mind in opposition to a self-filled life and in favor of a Jesus-filled life. That’s it. That’s all repent means—to change one’s mind. Maybe right now you’re thinking that it means a lot more that that . . . but it doesn’t! It simply means to change one’s mind. It does not mean to cry, to moan, to sob and weep at a church altar or in a church revival meeting, to be extremely sorry for wrongdoing, to promise never to do something again, to promise to turn away from sin. Nope. None of those. It means to change one’s mind. Period!
That’s a real basic definition. Let’s expand it a little to give you just a bit more of a feel for what it means. Here’s an expanded, amplified meaning: Repentance is to live in a continual state of changing mental and attitude awareness whereby we see life and reality more and more as God sees them, and think more and more like God thinks. How do we reach such a state of awareness and comprehension?
By continually reading and studying the Bible and letting Holy Spirit point out what we need to change our minds about. It means that—based upon the Bible’s teachings—we are constantly changing our minds throughout our lifetimes so that we develop godly minds and think more and more like God thinks. There are many references in the New Testament that teach this concept; I’ll let you look up those references for yourself. The life of a follower of Jesus is a continual, lifelong state of repentance, of changing our minds.
Repentance is never just a one-time act a person commits in order to be saved! It’s a lifelong process of changing our minds. Also, it does not mean “doing penance” for a period of time after we repent or continuing to be “penitent” for a period of time after we have repented. The concepts of Penance and Penitence are man-made traditions not found anywhere in the Bible! Oh, after we have repented of a particular sin, transgression, or wrongdoing, there may be a period of remorse or regret; there may be a time when we feel contrite; that’s pretty normal for most people; that’s okay.
But, nowhere does the Bible teach there should be a volitional period of penance or penitence after we have repented (changed our minds) about something. So, go ahead and feel remorse or regret or contrition if you have sinned and repented of it. But don’t feel there needs to be a time of penance or penitence to make the repentance “stick;” that’s simply not taught anywhere in the Bible.
You may be asking, “Bill, isn’t it almost blasphemy to teach we can think like God thinks?” I’ll let you answer that question for yourself after you read and ponder just a few references from the Bible: Romans 12: 1 and 2; 1 Corinthians 2: 16; 2 Corinthians 10: 5; Ephesians 4: 23 and 24; Philippians 2: 5; and Hebrews 8: 10. Don’t all such references say either directly or by inference that we are to develop the mind of Jesus? How do we develop the mind of Jesus so we think like He thinks? By constantly repenting—constantly changing and renewing our minds based upon what we read and study in the Bible!
There are three basic reasons (actually there are many, many reasons) why we need to develop a lifestyle of repentance. I want to make this point first—before we go any further: God doesn’t change our minds for us, and our minds don’t change by means of some sort of spiritual magic. No! We change our own minds using the inner power of Holy Spirit God has already placed within us. Once we change our minds, then Holy Spirit empowers us from within to change our thinking, attitudes, and our behavior—based upon our change of mind.
Here are those three reasons why we need to repent—change our minds. First, God commands us to repent. You can read about that in Acts 17: 30 and 31. Repentance is not optional. Does God have the right to command us to repent? C’mon now. Who’s in charge? Who has the final word? Yes, the Almighty God—the Creator of the entire universe and of you—has the right to command us to repent. It’s not a suggestion. We are commanded to change our minds. And, when God directly commands us to do something, it’s probably smart of us to obey Him. Disobedience can get us into all sorts of negative situations.
Second: Please refer to Romans 2: 4 for this one. We need to practice changing our minds because God is a good God—not a bad God. God is always good and never bad. (also see Psalms 119: 68) One significant flaw in the lives of many followers of Jesus is that they really don’t think God is good. If we really believed that God is good—everything about Him, everything He does—our lives would change dramatically. When we begin to see that God is altogether good—not a stern, judgmental, vindictive tyrant—we will just naturally want to change our minds in order to be more like Him. Not to become “goody-goody” or “holier-than-thou,” but just good: loving, upright, honorable, honest, clean, reliable, wholesome, dependable . . .
There are some followers of Jesus and congregations of Jesus; followers that seem to feel a need to constantly remind people they need to keep hearing about the severity and judgment of God—his “badness”—all the time in order to get them to repent. They almost have a mindset about God’s “badness” rather than God’s goodness. Such followers of Jesus seem to constantly dwell on “hell fire and brimstone,” on the horrible judgments of God, on all the bad things that happen to people, on the awful calamities that people experience because they are lost and hopeless sinners.
The Bible is very clear in Romans 12: 3; it is the goodness of God that leads people to repentance, not his “badness.” Most people know they are sinners without us followers of Jesus constantly reminding them of their sin and its consequences. See John 16: 7 and 8, which makes it quite clear that Holy Spirit is very capable of convicting everyone of sin all by Himself, without us feeling we need to assist Him in that endeavor!
Third: Read 2 Corinthians 7: 10. It says “Godlike sorrow produces repentance.” You might ask: “Does that mean I have to weep and moan and be sorry for something?” Nope, not necessarily, although sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a good cry and being sorry for something we’ve done wrong; as mentioned above, it’s okay to feel remorse, sorrow, and contrition. That’s not what this reference is saying, however. It’s saying: If you have sorrow which is like God’s, you will change your mind.
What is sorrow like God’s? When is God sorrowful? Well, for starters He’s sorrowful when He sees how we hurt ourselves and are often negative about ourselves. He’s sorrowful when we choose not to live up to our full potential as his sons or daughters. He has sorrow when we hurt and are in pain . . . when our relationships become broken or fragmented . . . when we hurt ourselves and others physically or with the strange, negative mind games we sometimes play with one another . . .
Yes, God sees all those things in our lives—and more—and it causes Him to be sad and sorrowful—not angry. That reference is about how God feels toward us at times. Sometimes we need to see ourselves as God sees us—how most often we are our own worst enemies and cause ourselves so much pain and harm. Sorrow about things we say and do—from God’s viewpoint—causes us to repent. This is not referring to a human type of sorrow which is usually only a mere emotion or feeling and doesn’t result in lasting and meaningful changes in our lives; in contrast with fleeting human sorrow, when we have godly sorrow it does produce meaningful and lasting changes in our behavior.
Those, then, are three main reasons provided in the Bible why we regularly and consistently need to practice the process of changing our minds . . . day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year throughout our entire mortal lives on planet earth.
At this point, your “homework assignment” is to stop where you are and turn to our companion teaching on this web site titled: “Change Your Mind.” Honestly, stop what you’re doing and study that teaching before you come back to this one. Please . . .
Okay, that ends our teaching about Repentance—if you’ve read my companion teaching, “Change Your Mind.” If you haven’t read that teaching, then my teaching—for you—is not complete. If you haven’t read that teaching, you’ve missed out on an entire body of teaching about this subject and you will not have a complete view of what repentance is all about. Please read that teaching before you go any further!
Revised and Updated February 2023