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Theology > Salvation > Work of Salvation > Conversion > Repentance


Repentance and faith are the immediate manifestations of conversion. It is foolish to discuss which comes first, for they occur simultaneously; they are two sides of the same coin. In Redemption, Accomplished and Applied, Murray writes: “The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance” (113). Thus he combines the two words and speaks of them as unified: “penitent faith” and “believing repentance”—a creative way of describing conversion.

“Repent” translates metanoeō, a verb which literally means “to turn in one’s mind.” Essentially to repent is to change, to change the mind, to think differently, to adopt a new viewpoint. It is much more than an emotional response to Truth; it is profound in that it affects the total person, bringing a correct and correcting worldview, and a new and growing desire for the moral as exemplified in devotion to Christ.

In repentance one’s basic frame of reference is changed from the earthly to the heavenly, from man to God, from humanism to Theism. All of life comes to be interpreted in terms of Revelation, the Word of the living God, rather than in terms of reason, the musings and rationale of man. Human volition is made to submit to the Divine determination (see: God is Sovereign and Theistic Determinism). The old is put off and the new is put on; it is both instantaneous and progressive. The mind is renewed and begins the experience of being renewed.

Repentance is a change of mind, resulting in a change of direction; it must be affirmed that all of the life is changed, not perfectly but truly. Repentance has been called a moral miracle. It is more than regret, remorse, or sorrow for wrong committed, more than anxiety or despair; it is an inner change that exhibits itself in outward conduct.

Repentance denotes a fundamental transformation in the relationship of a person to God. Instead of guilt before the Judge, there is delight in the Father. Life no longer centers in “I,” rather the focus is “God.” The sojourn on earth is no longer for the accumulation of things because I understand that this is not my home—I am a pilgrim just passing through. Days are no longer filled with the selfish pursuit of personal satisfaction, rather, they are lived in order to seek, find, and do the will of God. Repentance brings a transformation of life, and heaven takes note. Only of repentance does the Bible affirm: “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lu. 15:10). To repent is to desire purity of heart which pursues only the Good.

Repentance is anchored in and motivated by fear of God. It is fear of His person, His spoken Word, and His judgment that is future. It causes one to evaluate the past, contemplate the present, and to anticipate the future—all of this involves the volitional, the emotional, the ethical, the intellectual, and the spiritual side of man. In light of the convicting pressure, the individual realizes that he must think and do differently, so repentance is really a radical change in the individual’s disposition that relates more than just to the mental. The individual is admonished, even commanded, by the Spirit to repent, and the individual repents.

On the Divine side of things, on which all things depend and await His determination, the Scripture reveals that repentance is of God, that is, it is His doing:

Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31);

When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18).

Observe that in the second verse that the Gentiles did indeed repent, but their repentance was granted by God. And for this grace given to them other believers glorified God. So the doing of God is neither questioned nor debated nor critiques but praised. Viewed from this perspective repentance becomes a miracle of grace.

Biblical repentance, however, involves a fundamental renunciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil: including the spirituality, experiences, and moral efforts in which one has trusted. The whole self must be turned away both from self-trust and from the autonomy that demands final say as to what one will believe, whom one will trust, and how one will live (Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, 580).

Repentance is required and recorded in both Testaments; it is a consistent and continuing theme in Scripture. “God . . . commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). The command of God is the message of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2, 8; Mk. 1:4; Lu. 3:8) and the message of Jesus (Matt. 4:17; Mk. 1:15: Lu. 13:3, 5; 15:10). In order to be a part of the kingdom which was announced by both John and Jesus as at hand the potential followers of Christ are informed by both persons that they must repent and believe. The last prophet of the old era and the initial Prophet of the new era had the same message: “Repent.” Even John’s baptism was called “a baptism of repentance,” that is, his baptism was associated with various aspects of repentance: the confession of the need of repentance, the determination to give evidence of repentance, and the testimony by the individual of his repentance. Additionally, repentance is the message of the Church (Acts 2:37-38; 3:19; 5:31; 17:30; Rom. 2:4; II Cor. 7:10).

Note: Christ gave an illustration of repentance:

A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, “Son, go, work today in my vineyard.” He answered and said, “I will not,” but afterward he changed his mind and went (Matt. 21:28-29).

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