Word Study: Repent

What is “Repent” as used in Scripture?  In the New Testament, there are two main Greek words used: 

1. The verb “metanoeoo”, translated as repent, repented;  this is the root word.  It is a compound word from “meta”, meaning after and “noeoo” meaning the exercise of the mind.  Together as a compound the words for “repent” and its variations mean “to have a change of mind, to think afterward, to think differently”

2.  The noun “metanoia”, translated as “repentance”.   It is also a compound word meaning to “have a compunction for guilt, to reverse another’s decision”.

These two words are used in a variety of contexts, and can sometimes mean a change of conduct,  However, in each usage, there is an aspect of the change of mind that comes before a change in conduct.

“Repent” and it’s variations have been used by many in the past to imply, or to even demand, that a person changes their conduct with regard to sinful acts.  While repenting does deal with sin, it initially deals with the exercise of one’s mind.  To put it another way, how can one change their conduct regarding sins if those sins are not understood to be such? 

It is my belief that the biblical definition deals with the proclamation of God’s Word from which sin is named and exposed, the individual is declared guilty of disobedience and is therefore under God’s condemnation, and that the Lord Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for that disobedience.  When this is proclaimed from God’s Word, repenting is an agreement with what God has said, changing one’s mind about how God forgives sin and believing God’s Word.

Repentance is both a gift (2 Timothy 2:25) and a command (Acts 17:30).  The result is a change of mind regarding God’s Truth and then the conduct changes accordingly.

Finally, when doing a word study it is sometimes helpful to look for the first uses of the word, for that can determine how it is used subsequently.                                                    

Examples of using “Repent” or metanoeoo

I.  Matthew 3:1,2: “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”     RSV

           John the Baptist has started his ministry of preparing the way of the Lord Jesus.  He is out preaching and baptizing people. His message is one of repentance, believing God’s promise written in the Old Testament that the promised Messiah is coming.  The people are told to “repent” , or, think differently about how you have understood God’s promise of the coming Messiah.  They are not being told to change their conduct, but to change their belief and the result is a change of conduct.  Repenting will always take this order.

II.   Mark 1:15, : “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”      RSV

Jesus now preaches the same message that John the Baptist did, that people must “repent and believe the Gospel”.  As with John, Jesus first proclaims the Gospel message, telling people that they must have a change of thinking regarding how sins are going to be forgiven, and Who the Messiah is.  Believing comes from hearing the message (Romans 10:17), and repenting is agreeing that God is correct.

III.  Luke 11:29-32: When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nin’eveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nin’eveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”      RSV

In this passage, Jesus speaks about how people in the Old Testament responded to God’s Word.  This was in contrast to how those of Jesus’ day refused to hear God’s Word.  Repentance is directly linked to hearing and accepting God’s Word.

IV.   Acts 2:37-42:   “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”  40 And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”     RSV

A similar passage is in Acts 3:19.  In both cases, the Word of God is proclaimed and the people are convicted by it, and they are then told to Repent.  As in all other cases, repenting is directly linked to hearing God’s Word, agreeing with Him.  After this, then faith enters in, believing what God has said and responding.  A changed life comes as a result of repenting.

V.   Revelation chapters 2 and 3.   In these two chapters are the seven letters to the seven churches.  In 5 churches (not Smyrna or Philadelphia) the people are told to “repent”.  This deals directly with their sinful beliefs and conduct.  They are given God’s Word and told to repent according to the truth given. 

Examples of using “Repentance” or metanoia

I.  Mark 1:4-5:  “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”      RSV

John the Baptist is preaching to the people from God’s Word and calling them to repentance.  Baptism was a ceremonial washing from the Old Testament.  The people understood that they needed to understand their personal guilt for sin and disbelief, change their thinking, and publicly commit to making changes according to God’s Word.

It is important to note here, that God’s Word will always teach eternal truth and require a response. The response is always agreement with God and a corresponding change in thinking, attitude, and conduct.  Nothing is said about a change of conduct bringing about a change of mind, it is always the mind that changes first.

II.  Matt 3:7-10:   “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit that befits repentance, 9 and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree, therefore, that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.      RSV

In this passage, John is telling the religious leaders who do not believe God’s Word that they must prove their repentance by producing proper changes of conduct.  John knows that these men do not believe the Word of God, yet they have shown up to be baptized as a show for the people.  John is challenging them for this.  There is not true repentance if one claims to hear God’s Word, agree with it, but then not change the conduct.  This is proof that they did not truly change their thinking and therefore have not truly repented.”

III.  Luke 5:31-32:  “And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”      RSV

This is the first recorded instance of Jesus using the word repentance.  He has come to preach the Gospel, calling those who hear to repentance.  He is not telling people to repent of their sins first but to repent as a result of healing the Gospel and agreeing with God.

IV.  Acts 20:17-21:  “And from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you all the time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which befell me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”     RSV

The Apostle Paul has been ministering for many years.  He calls together the elders from Ephesus and reminds them of how he ministers the Word of God to them, which is meant to draw people to repentance.  Notice he says “repentance toward God and Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.  First is hearing God’s Word about sin and salvation, agreeing with God, then believing His Word and trusting in Jesus Christ.

The Command and Gift

I.  Acts 17:29-31   “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.”      RSV

The Apostle Paul is speaking to the religious people in Athens.  He preaches God’s Word to them and proclaims Jesus Christ.  He then reveals that God has commanded all men everywhere to repent.  This follows after he says that God has overlooked ignorance of God’s Word in the past, but now will not.

II.  2 Tim 2:24, 25:  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth…”     RSV

Timothy is instructed by Paul on how to act as a pastor.  In this passage, he is instructed to gently bring correction to those who oppose or do not believe the Truth of Scripture.  Timothy was in a place where there were many pagan beliefs, and it was not always easy to teach the truth.  It was not certain that repentance will be given, but apart from the Word there is no possibility of repentance.

God’s Word is powerful, is the Sword of the Spirit.  It is by His Word that repentance is granted, it is a supernatural activity of God.

In the modern age, we are to teach the Truth from the Word in the same hope.  There is no need to figure out how to make the Word palatable, or to coerce people into church by offering superficial experiences or teachings.  Rather, as Timothy did, teach the Word and allow the Holy Spirit to work in the minds of those listening.  This has always been God’s method of bringing people to true repentance.

Other Considerations of Repent

I.  “metamallomai” – this word is translated repent and carries the meaning of regret.  It is used in Matthew 21:29,32; 27:3; 2 Corinthians 7:8; Hebrews 7:21.  In each of these three is a changing of mind and conduct after giving consideration to what was taught or commanded.

II.  “ametamelatos” – this word is translated as repent and carries the meaning of something that is irrevocable. It is used in Romans 11:29 and 2 Corinthians 7:10.

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