What Does Repentance Mean In The Bible?

There are few things more discouraging to a believer than a lifelong battle against persistent sins. This is true if we have already overcome sin in other areas. God has the ability to forgive us, so why doesn’t he do it?

It may seem contradictory, yet God delays the triumph over some sins so that we may repent of them. God’s heart for his people is for us to not only learn how to live holy lives but also to follow his instruction to tear our hearts when we fall short of his glory (Joel 2:13). While it is true that sin is a problem, so too is a life in which sin is not properly repented of.

The meaning of repentance in the Bible is a cornerstone of the gospel and crucial to both our present and our eternal well-being. This goes beyond simple confessions of guilt.

What Is Repentance?

The Greek word for repentance is μετάνοια, which is pronounced: “metanoia.” According to the HELPS word study and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the closest literal English meaning of the term is to have a change of mind; however, it could be preferable to say “to think differently afterward” or “changing your viewpoint after being with.” ​

Evangelical repentance[1] involves recognizing one’s own guilt and sinfulness, understanding God’s mercy in Christ, hating sin (Psalms 119:128; Job 42:5; 2 Corinthians 7:10) and turning from it to God, and making a consistent effort to live a holy life by walking with God in accordance with his commandments.

To repent means to be persuaded in a different direction, changing one’s mind or views. And in reaction to having your thoughts and heart changed, to alter your behavior. Repentance is turning away from one’s own path to God’s way.

What Is The Meaning Of Repentance In The Bible?

The Hebrew word for repent is shuwb, which is similar to the New Testament term but in Hebrew means “come back” or “to return, turn back.” Therefore, the Old Testament and New Testament word for repent implies “to alter one’s mind, to turn back, to return,” or “come back.”

Ezekiel 18:21–22 says, “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.” When a person realizes they must repent, they fall on their knees and “alter their mind and turn away from sin” (verb).

man in white kneeling with hand on face and meaning of repentance in the bible

What Does It Mean To Repent?

Feeling remorse or regret, or being repulsed by and turning away from one’s faults, are common English translations of the word repent. Definitions like this one, which state that repentance involves our efforts or determination to do better, are insufficient. This idea is deceptive since repentance is more than just a feeling.

Biblical repentance is defined as a change of mind and heart in response to God’s love. Adhering to this definition entails a change of heart toward God and away from activities that shame Him. In the Bible, repentance is not about how you feel, what you’ve done, or how determined you are to change. Giving up control is the key.

If you think that repentance entails feeling bad about yourself and dwelling on your sins and shortcomings, then repent your understanding of repentance.

Profound repentance isn’t so much about you and your feelings and your shortcomings. God, the ultimate lover, is the one who is asking you to follow Him.

The Opposite Of Repent

When trying to grasp a concept, it might be useful to think of its antonym. In the Bible, “harden your heart” means the opposite of repenting. Being “stiff-necked” or “stubborn” is another term for this trait. It means you’re going to double down, refuse absolute surrender, and refuse to budge.

If you don’t repent, God’s love won’t be able to change your heart. It’s putting one’s own desires before God’s love, sacrifice, and knowledge. As Psalms 81:11–12 put it, “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsel.”

What Is The Nature Of True Repentance?

Repentance involves more than just sadness. It’s important to note that merely experiencing feelings of sadness or regret does not equate to genuine repentance. Only godly suffering may bring about a change of heart.

Paul addressed the following to the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 7:8–11): “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it, I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while, yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.”

If you’re wondering whether repentance is something we must perform or whether God grants repentance, the answer is both. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point, you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” Godly sorrow brings to repentance, which culminates in salvation and a life-altering change in course.

Genuine Contrition Ultimately Results In Regret

True repentant sinners embarrass themselves for their previous wrongdoing. Paul wrote these words to the church in Rome: “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death (Romans 6:21)!”

All Sincere Regret Should Be Followed By Constructive Change

Jesus used the parable of the two sons who were requested by their father to labor in the vineyard to demonstrate the nature of genuine repentance. The young man originally said no, but he ultimately decided to go.

“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went (Matthew 21:28–29).” According to Jesus, true repentance for wrongdoing must be accompanied by concrete steps toward making amends.

When Sinners Repent, They See Themselves For What They Truly Are


Job maintained his righteousness and innocence even as he endured his trials. But after having an encounter with God, he changed: “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you . Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:5–6).”


In spite of his role as one of God’s ancient prophets, Isaiah’s actual character was revealed when he encountered the holiness of God. In God’s presence, Isaiah realized his true identity.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty (Isaiah 6:5).”


Peter’s self-image changed after Jesus’ miracle of the Great Catch. In the presence of Jesus, he realized his sins. This is discussed in the book of Luke: When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).

The Thief On The Cross

The repentance of the criminal crucified next to Jesus is another. He initially began mocking Jesus alongside the other criminal. When he understood that the man being crucified next to him was the Messiah, however, his attitude shifted, and he began to show compassion for both Jesus and the other criminal.

He was insulted by one of the convicts on the wall, who said: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:39–41).

The thief performed an about-face and asked Jesus if he, too, might join God’s kingdom. For his part, Jesus assured him that he would go to heaven with Him (Luke 23:42–43).

We could think of ourselves as good and moral individuals if we use the criteria of human beings. But if we measure ourselves against the eternal God, we shall see ourselves in a whole new light.

We begin to grasp the gravity of sin as the Holy Spirit convicts us of our transgressions and shows us how they appear to be the work of a holy God. Because of this realization of wrongdoing, we are moved to make amends by repenting.

Emotions Are Not Always A Sign Of Genuine Repentance

We normally associate repentance with feelings of sadness or regret, but a lack of such expression is not evidence of a person’s sincerity. Repentance is not acting sad about our wrongdoing; it is altering our behavior now.

What’s important is how someone acts, not how they feel. A repentant person has made the conscious decision to alter their behavior. True repentance is not expressing regret for one’s actions but rather altering one’s behavior in the present.

What Does Jesus Have To Do With Repentance And Salvation?

The common belief is that after we die, we face God and, if our good deeds exceed our bad ones, we are granted entrance into paradise (as heaven is reserved for virtuous people). In addition, the virtuous are rewarded eternally.

The alternative belief is that you’ll end up in hell if the negative acts you’ve done have outweighed the good ones. Individuals who are good and do good things will go to heaven, whereas people who are bad and do horrible things will go to hell.

But the Bible doesn’t teach that. Scripture teaches that the devil and his angels already have a place in hell prepared for them (Matthew 25:41), but that it is not yet ready for the wicked.

One’s relationship with Jesus Christ determines whether or not one will spend eternity in heaven, which is God’s resting place. Do you put your faith in Jesus Christ, since that’s what God cares about?

Though you are on your deathbed and call out to the Lord Jesus Christ in sincere repentance, you will get to heaven even if you have led a terrible life and sinned throughout your entire existence. There is no way to get to heaven if you have lived a decent life, been a moral person, and done good things without first putting your faith in Jesus Christ.

And by the way, no amount of good deeds you did will ever cancel out the evil. You should count your blessings that this is not the basis on which you will be evaluated.

The Bible teaches that the confidence that we shall go to heaven differs from how our culture often understands it. Rather than asking about sin, we should be asking about the Son.

Why Repentance Before Salvation?

Peter’s sermon about Jesus Christ in Acts 2:38 left multitudes of people confused about their future steps. A straightforward answer is given by the apostle in verse 38. In his own words: “Repent, and each of you is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” That day, they gained an additional 3000 members as a direct result.

Is that what the majority of churches preach these days? Peter apparently used the word “repent” instead of “believe.” These ideas are frequently intertwined throughout the Bible. Faith and repentance are like two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other, and they’re both necessary for your salvation.

Yet, faith and remorse are inseparable in terms of being saved. You need to trust Christ to get salvation and be forgiven of your sins. This choice necessitates a change of heart, or repentance, with regard to your previous behavior. They are simultaneous events.

However, many people have the false impression that repentance is required before they may put their faith in Jesus. Accepting Christ as Lord does not necessitate a radical lifestyle overhaul or a “spring cleaning.” Neither repentance nor faith should be separated by any time interval.

Waiting until you feel “ready” or “worthy” to make a decision for Christ is a waste of time. Now is the time that Jesus is waiting to welcome you. You can only become the person God intended for you to be when you accept God’s adoption as your Father.

How To Repent According To The Bible?

The biblical definition of true repentance is a transformation in thinking that leads to a change in action. As Paul put it, “Don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, WEB).

In this way, repentance involves a shift in one’s own values and beliefs. Repentance is shown via taking steps that reflect one’s altered worldview. Not only does Jonah repent, but so does everyone else in the story, making it one of the finest illustrations of biblical repentance.

How To Teach Children Repentance?

Children and teenagers may be put off or confused by the word “repentance.” Here are some suggestions on how to present the message of repentance in a way that is both empathetic and encouraging.

1. Keep It Simple

The lesson you may teach your kids is that “when we sin, we turn away from God,” but that “when we repent, we turn back toward God.” The path back to God begins with an honest assessment of our shortcomings and an earnest effort to rectify the situation.

2. Focus On The Positive

“Repentance is always positive,” no matter the circumstances. It’s not a penalty for wrongdoing, but rather a chance to learn from mistakes and grow spiritually. Inspire your kids to reflect on their positive qualities and figure out ways to build on them.

3. Make Room For Mistakes

Teach your kids that making a mistake isn’t always the end of the world. Let them face the results of their actions and find the solutions to put things right again on their own. Instruct them to seek divine intervention.

4. Be An Example

Recognize and accept your fallibility. Try to learn from your mistakes and apologize to your kids in front of them. Show them you care enough to try to improve things, and tell them about how the Savior has impacted your life for the better.

5. Continually Point To The Savior

Instill in your children the knowledge that the Savior has been where they are and may help them find relief. Make Him known to your family by regularly sharing testimonies of Him. Having a personal relationship with God will make it second nature for your kids to turn to Him in times of need, so teach them to pray, serve others, read the Bible, and do any number of other activities that will bring them closer to Him.

silhouette of man praying and meaning of repentance in the bible


Hebrews 6:1 says, “So, let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely, we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God.

Repentance entails more than just feeling bad about one’s evil ways; it also necessitates actively changing one’s behavior. Understanding God feels grief toward our sins is a necessary first step toward true repentance.

God asks everyone to change their ways. Christ’s mission centered on a call for all sinners to repent (Luke 5:32), and this appeal for total submission is addressed to everyone (Luke 13:5). Have you accepted His call?

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