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The Real Meaning of the Word Repentance

Leaving the Pigsty


There are certain words that aren't popular with today's popular preachers. One of them is the word "repentance." We are told that people don't understand its meaning. If that's the case, we should then educate them as to what it means, rather than dumb down the message. Even the secular news doesn't do that. When a criminal is unrepentant, the reporter will say "The man was unrepentant." He doesn't bother to explain the word. If you want to know what he's talking about, you have to come up to his standard of syntactic linguistic ambience. But we want people to have an understanding of what we are saying, so we should use spiritual words and then take a moment to explain their meaning.


There are some preachers who use the word "repentance," but then explain that it means "a change of mind." While it is biblically correct to say that the word used in the New Testament for "repent" is metanoeo (which means to change one's mind), it can be misleading to say that that is all that is required when it comes to salvation. This is why: The Bible says, "Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts: Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy; and to our God For He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:6-7). Isaiah saw fit to tell sinners to forsake their "way" and their "thoughts." That is what happens with biblical repentance. The change of mind is clearly evidenced in Proverbs 28:13: "He that covers his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy" (Italics added). To say that it is only a change of mind is to say that the prodigal son simply needs to change his mind about his state and his relationship to his father. The reality is that the genuineness of his change of mind is seen by his getting up and leaving the pigsty.


While it is correct to say that a sinner should change his mind about God, to fail to tell him that he should forsake the pigsty of his sins is like telling a child to change his mind about a stick of lit dynamite that he's holding. If I care about the child, I'm going to tell him that he should change his mind in relationship to the dynamite, and then cast it away from him. Our obligation to the world, is to (with the help of God) give them understanding as to the way to be saved. He cannot change his mind about God without casting sin and the world behind him. He cannot continue to serve sin.


In Acts 14:15-16 Paul didn't simply tell idolaters to change their mind about their sin. He told them to turn from it to God: "And saying, Sirs, why do you these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach to you that you should turn from these vanities to the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways" (Italics added).


Someone told me that I was in error when I told sinners that "repentance" meant to turn from sin. He said that that was called "Lordship salvation." I suspect that he thought that I was saying we are saved by repentance. Obviously we are not saved because we repent. We are saved by grace through faith (see Ephesians 2:8-9), but we access that grace through repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Then the fruit of true repentance is evidenced by obedience to God -- "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him . . . " (Hebrews 5:8-9, italics added).