What Repentance Is Not

by Joe R. Price
via The Spirit's Sword, 2009

The verb translated “repent” in the New Testament (metanoeo) literally means “to perceive afterwards”; so that repent means “to change one’s mind or purpose” (Thayer). God commands all men everywhere to repent of their sins (Acts 17:30). That is, God commands a change the mind and purpose concerning sin in one’s life. Turning to God for salvation cannot occur unless first there is repentance (a change of mind) toward sin. Repentance is not turning; it is the change of mind that produces turning to God. Paul declared the gospel “to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance” (Acts 26:20). First comes the repenting, then the turning.

Godly sorrow results in repentance that leads to salvation: “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorry of the world produces death” (II Corinthians 7:10). Godly sorrow is directed toward God. Since sin is against Him, our sorry for our sin must first be turned heavenward (cf. Psalms 51:4).

The fruit of repentance is borne in a changed life. Since what we do comes from the heart, when our heart changes our life will show that change. The person who continues to practice sin after claiming to have repented is deceiving himself (Romans 6:1-2; Revelation 9:20-21).

There are many misconceptions about repentance. This is not surprising, since our adversary the devil is a liar whose aim is to distort the truth. Sinners remain lost in their sins whenever repentance is redefined and misunderstood. It will help us better understand repentance by learning what it is not.

Repentance is not denying and covering up sin.

There is no change of mind toward sin when our intent is to refuse to acknowledge our sin to God or to those we have sinned against. “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Sin is only truly “covered” when it is forgiven by God: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalms 32:1). Repentance is necessary for that forgiveness to occur.

Repentance is not simply being sorry for sin.

Judas was “remorseful” (NKJV) when he saw that Jesus was condemned to death, but his sorrow led him to suicide (Matthew 27:3-5). That’s not the action of godly sorrow that leads to salvation without regret (II Corinthians 7:10)! Herod was “exceedingly sorry” when Herodias’ daughter asked for John’s head on a platter. But, he stood by his rash oaths to save face, and killed John (Mark 6:26). Just being sorry for your sin does not mean you have repented (changed your mind and purpose about it).

Repentance is not merely a promise to stop sinning.

When John preached repentance to sinners he said they must “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8). When the people asked him, “What shall we do then?”, he did not say, “just promise not to do it again.” No, he gave specific instructions on changing their conduct as a result of their repentance (Luke 3:10-11). One does not repent by just saying, “I won’t do it again.” Repentance will result not only in promising not to sin, but also in changing one’s life to reflect a change of heart. The liar must stop lying; not just promise to stop while continuing to be dishonest.

Repentance is not confessing sin.

Many people confess (acknowledge) their sin but never repent. Certainly one must admit his sin in order to be forgiven (I John 1:9). But confessing sin does not mean one has changed his mind about the sin. The drunkard or the adulterer may confess their conduct is sin yet continue to sin, never changing his heart about the sinful action.

Repentance is not being afraid because of one’s sin.

Felix was afraid when he came face to face with his sin, but he did not repent (Acts 24:25). Demons believe and tremble, but they are still lost (James 2:19). It can be good to be afraid of our sins when that fear moves us to godly sorrow, a changed mind and a changed life. But fear alone does not mean you have repented of your sins.

Repentance is not merely reformation.

An alcoholic may reform because his liver has been damaged; not because his soul has been damaged. Reformation alone is not “repentance leading to salvation” (II Corinthians 7:10). He is sorry for his poor health and he reforms; but his soul is still in sin. Changing your conduct without changing your heart is not repentance.

Repentance is not “going forward.”

Making a public confession of public sin may be one of the results of your repentance. However, “walking the aisle” does not necessarily mean you have changed your heart toward God and toward your sin. Unfortunately, “going forward” is sometimes more about “reporting” than it is about “repenting.”

Repentance is not prayer.

The disciple Simon was told to repent and pray in order to be forgiven (Acts 8:22). Praying and then continuing to commit sin is not repentance.

Repentance is not baptism.

Repentance and baptism are commanded “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Both are required to escape sin.

Repentance – changing our mind about our sin – is not easy, but it is possible. It helps to know what is not repentance in order to truly repent.