Imagine a man who gets married but continues to live with bachelor-priorities. He may be in love, but he’s not ready to become a husband. Marriage requires a change in priorities and in lifestyle for both husband and wife. Decisions will be made differently, money will be shared, and each person’s actions affects the other.
In the same way, no one becomes a Christian without repentance. It is not enough to hear the gospel and intellectually believe it. Faith in Christ leads to confession of sin and repentance. Sin must be confessed and repented of, or Christ will merely be viewed as the safety net to protect us from hell.
What is Repentance?
At the simplest, repentance is to do an “about-face.” It means to stop, turn around, and walk in the right direction.
The most common word for repentance in the Old Testament (especially among the prophets) was the word šûḇ meaning, “to turn around, return.” Meanwhile, the most common New Testament word was metanoeo which carry the meaning of, “to think differently or to change one’s mind.” Repentance begins with a change of mind but immediately leads to corrected action.
It is inconsistent and unintelligible to suppose that anyone could believe in Christ and yet not repent. Repentance is such an important aspect of conversion that it is often stressed more than faith, as when Christ said that there is joy in heaven among the angels over one sinner that repents (Luke 15:7). The apostles described the conversion of the Gentiles to Christ as God granting them “repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). Both John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministries with a call to repentance (Matt. 3:2; 4:17)—a call which many of the social outcasts and “sinners” of that day answered (Luke 19:1–10), while the religious people of that day rejected it (Luke 11:39–44; 18:9–14).
Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words, “Repentance”
What’s the Difference Between Confession & Repentance?
It is common (and easy) to confuse confession and repentance. Confession and repentance go together and you rarely encounter one without the other… but that doesn’t mean they are the same. The distinction is important. It is also important to clarify there are two kinds of confession.
- Confession means to “acknowledge, agree fully.” 1. To confess sin is to acknowledge your sinfulness, guilt, and neediness before God. 2. To confess Christ as Lord is to agree fully that not only is he God, but he is your master and Lord. (Sometimes people distinguish these by talking about confession and profession.)
- Repentance, as mentioned above, is to “turn around” or to “change one’s mind.” Repentance leads to action.
There can be no repentance without confession, because how can you repent of something you haven’t first confessed? However, it is frighteningly common to hear evangelists and ministers proclaim the gospel and invite people to confession without repentance. For more thoughts on the pastoral/evangelistic implications, read an article I wrote for the Rooted Ministry, “Inviting Students to Count the Cost.”
How to Repent
- Confess your sin to God. General confessions are good, but specifically naming your sin before God drags them out of the closet of your heart and places them at the foot of the cross.
- Confess/Profess faith in Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, that your sin was paid-for-in-full by Christ’s death and believe that you share in his victory over sin and death by his resurrection from the grave. This is the foundation of Christian freedom from sin.
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to daily empower you to resist temptation and to pursue godliness.
- Seek Christian community. No one follows God alone. Strengthen brothers and sisters in Christ the same way you need to be strengthened by them. The Church is not merely a place for friendship, but for pursuing Christlikeness together.
Calling yourself a Christian without living in a habit of confession and repentance makes you dangerously self-deceived. Remember, the Christian who doesn’t live in ongoing repentance is like the married man who lives like a bachelor. Don’t forget, repentance is God’s method for making him more like himself.