What Does Repentance Mean?

Thabiti Anyabwile
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The call to repent of sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ reverberates throughout the New Testament. We first hear the call to repentance and faith in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:1–12). Jesus Himself, when He commences His public ministry, calls His hearers to repent and believe (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:15). And the apostles after Jesus insisted that their audiences respond to the gospel in precisely the same way (Acts 2:37–38, 41; 26:20).

True response to the gospel has not happened where repentance is lacking.

Theologian Wayne Grudem offers a helpful definition of biblical repentance: “Repentance, like faith, is an intellectual understanding (that sin is wrong), an emotional approval of the teachings of Scripture regarding sin (a sorrow for sin and hatred of it), and a personal decision to turn from it (a renouncing of sin and a decision of the will to forsake it and lead a life of obedience to Christ instead).”[1]

Repentance basically means “to turn” intellectually, emotionally, and volitionally from sin and idols to God. That’s the response early church leaders commended when they proclaimed the gospel. For example, that’s how the apostle Paul recounts the events in Thessalonica:

“The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” (1 Thess. 1:8–10)

True response to the gospel has not happened where repentance is lacking. One preacher described faith in Jesus without repentance as a hundred dollar bill with print on only one side. It may look like genuine currency, but what it lacks invalidates the whole.[2]

Like repentance, faith involves the entire person—his or her mind, emotions, and will. Faith is knowing the truth about Jesus Christ and what He has done for our salvation, accepting those facts with a joyful heart, and making a personal decision to trust Jesus to save you. The person who has faith or believes in Jesus Christ depends on Jesus to deliver him or her from the judgment of God against sin. Their confidence is in Jesus and not themselves for eternal life.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 310.

[2] C. John Miller, Repentance and 21st Century Man (Fort Washington, Pa.: CLC Publications, 1975), 26.

For Further Reading:

The Gospel for Muslims

by Thabiti Anyabwile

There are over three million Muslims living in the United States today. Soon, if not already, you will have Muslim neighbors and coworkers....

book cover for The Gospel for Muslims