Reflecting On The Meaning Of Repentance In The Bible: Its Role In Our Lives

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Published by Kenneth Garcia


Co-Founder of Biblekeeper, Author & Theologian

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Believers often find the ongoing struggle with sin discouraging, even if they’ve overcome other sins. While God can forgive, he sometimes delays victory over certain sins to encourage repentance.

God desires for us to live holy lives and genuinely repent when we fall short (Joel 2:13). Sin is an issue, but so is failing to properly repent. Repentance, more than just admitting guilt, is a fundamental aspect of the gospel and vital for our current and eternal well-being.

Key Takeaways

  • Repentance is portrayed not just as a feeling of regret or guilt but as a transformative process. It involves a fundamental change in mindset and behavior, focusing on acknowledging and turning away from sin and realigning life with God’s teachings.
  • The concept of repentance is explored through biblical terms and stories. Figures like Job, Isaiah, and Peter illustrate how encounters with God lead to profound personal transformations.
  • True repentance is presented as an active process involving acknowledging sin, seeking forgiveness, and consciously striving to change behavior.

What Is Repentance?

Repentance is a concept encapsulated by the Greek term “metanoia” (μετάνοια), which signifies a shift in mindset or adopting a different perspective after an event.

Evangelical repentance[1] involves acknowledging guilt and sinfulness, understanding God’s mercy through Christ, despising sin (Psalms 119:128; Job 42:5; 2 Corinthians 7:10), and turning towards God. It requires striving to live a holy life by following God’s commandments.

Repentance means changing one’s mind or views, leading to a change in behavior. It signifies shifting from one’s path to God’s way.

a person seeking redemption in a tranquil bamboo forest

What Is The Meaning Of Repentance In The Bible?

The meaning of repentance in the Bible is encapsulated by the Hebrew term “shuwb,” which translates to “return” or “turn back.” This suggests that repentance, as understood in both the Old and New Testaments, involves a change of mind and a return to righteousness.

Ezekiel 18:21–22 states that if a wicked person repents and follows God’s statutes, they will live, and their past sins will not be held against them. Repentance involves a profound realization of one’s sins, leading to a heartfelt change of mind and a turn away from sin.

an earnest soul on a transformative journey of seeking the meaning of repentance in the bible

What Does It Mean To Repent?

To repent means to transform the mind and heart, driven by God’s love. It’s not merely about feeling regret or distancing oneself from faults. It’s a shift in focus towards God and away from actions that dishonor Him. Repentance isn’t about personal feelings, actions, or the determination to change. The essence of repentance is surrendering control.

If you associate repentance with feeling bad about yourself and focusing on your sins, reconsider your understanding. True repentance is less about you and more about responding to God’s call to follow Him.

The Opposite Of Repent

To understand repentance, consider its opposite in the Bible: “hardening your heart” or being “stubborn.” This implies resistance to change and refusal to surrender. Without repentance, one’s heart remains unchanged by God’s love, prioritizing personal desires over God’s love and wisdom. As stated in Psalms 81:11–12, those who don’t listen to God’s voice and refuse to submit are left to follow their own counsel.

the essence of godly sorrow

What Is The Nature Of True Repentance?

The nature of true repentance extends beyond mere sadness or regret. It necessitates godly sorrow to effect a genuine transformation of the heart. As conveyed by Paul to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7:8–11), it’s not just any sorrow that leads to repentance, but sorrow as intended by God.

The question of whether repentance is our action or a gift from God has a dual answer: it’s both. Godly sorrow leads to repentance and salvation and leaves no regret, while worldly sorrow leads to death.

Godly sorrow results in earnestness, eagerness to clear oneself, indignation, alarm, longing, concern, and readiness for justice. It leads to repentance, salvation, and a significant change in life’s direction.

Genuine Contrition Ultimately Results In Regret

True repentance involves acknowledging past wrongs with a sense of shame. As Paul stated to the Romans, “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 illustrated true repentance through the parable of two sons asked to work in their father’s vineyard. Initially, one son refused, but later changed his mind and went.

As per Matthew 21:28–29, “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.” Jesus emphasized that genuine repentance involves taking tangible steps to rectify wrongs.

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


Job asserted his innocence throughout his trials. However, after encountering God, he transformed, stating, “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).


Isaiah, despite being a prophet, recognized his true nature in God’s presence. He exclaimed, “Woe to me! 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).


After witnessing Jesus’ miracle of the Great Catch, Peter recognized his sins. As stated in Luke 5:8, “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.'”

The Thief On The Cross

The criminal was crucified alongside Jesus, who initially mocked him. However, after recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, his attitude changed, showing compassion for Jesus and the others. One convict challenged Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the others rebuked him, acknowledging their just punishment and Jesus’ innocence (Luke 23:39–41).

This criminal then asked Jesus to remember him in His kingdom, to which Jesus assured him of his place in heaven (Luke 23:42–43).

We may consider ourselves good by human standards, but when compared to God’s eternal standard, we see ourselves differently. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins, showing us their gravity in the eyes of a holy God. This realization prompts us to repent.

Emotions Are Not Always A Sign Of Genuine Repentance

Repentance is often linked with feelings of regret, but it’s not about expressing sadness for past actions. It’s about changing one’s behavior. The sincerity of repentance is reflected in a person’s actions, not their feelings. True repentance involves a conscious decision to change one’s behavior in the present.

the pivotal role of Jesus in repentance and salvation

What Does Jesus Have To Do With Repentance And Salvation?

Jesus’ role in repentance and salvation is pivotal. While some believe that our post-death fate is determined by the balance of our good and bad deeds, the Bible presents a different view. It teaches that our eternal destiny hinges on our relationship with Jesus Christ, not on the tally of our deeds (Matthew 25:41).

Even if you’ve led a sinful life, sincere repentance and faith in Jesus Christ can lead you to heaven. Conversely, a decent life without faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t guarantee heaven.

The Bible emphasizes faith over deeds. Our assurance of heaven differs from cultural understanding; it’s not about sin but about the Son.

the essential theme of repentance before salvation

Why Repentance Before Salvation?

Repentance before salvation is essential because it signifies a change of mind and heart, a turning away from sin and towards God. The Bible teaches that repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. One cannot truly believe unless they repent, and one cannot truly repent unless they believe.

Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:38, where he urges, “Repent, and each of you is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,” led to the addition of 3000 members.

Today, many churches intertwine the concepts of “repent” and “believe.” Faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin, both necessary for salvation. Trusting Christ for salvation and forgiveness requires a change of heart, or repentance, about past behavior. These are simultaneous events.

However, some mistakenly believe that repentance must precede faith in Jesus. Accepting Christ doesn’t require a drastic lifestyle change or “spring cleaning.” There should be no time gap between repentance and faith.

Waiting until you feel “ready” or “worthy” to choose Christ is futile. Jesus is ready to welcome you now. Accepting God’s adoption as your Father allows you to become the person God intended.

How To Repent According To The Bible?

To repent, according to the Bible, means to change your thinking, leading to a transformation in your actions. This concept is encapsulated in Romans 12:2, where Paul advises you not to conform to this world but to be transformed by renewing your mind. It requires a shift in values and beliefs, which is then manifested through your actions. The story of Jonah serves as a prime illustration of this principle.

teaching children about repentance in an empathetic and encouraging way

How To Teach Children Repentance?

To teach children repentance, it’s important to communicate the concept in a manner that is empathetic and encouraging. The term “repentance” might be confusing or intimidating for children and teenagers. Therefore, it’s crucial to present the message in a way that is relatable and understandable to them.

1. Keep It Simple

You can teach your kids that sinning means turning away from God while repenting means turning back to Him. The journey back to God starts with acknowledging our faults and sincerely striving to make amends.

2. Focus On The Positive

Repentance is always positive. It’s not a punishment, but an opportunity to learn from mistakes and grow spiritually. Encourage your kids to focus on their strengths and find ways to enhance them.

3. Make Room For Mistakes

Teach your kids that mistakes aren’t catastrophic. Encourage them to face the consequences of their actions and find their own solutions. Guide them to seek divine guidance.

4. Be An Example

Accept your fallibility and learn from your mistakes. Apologize to your kids when necessary, showing your commitment to improvement. Share how the Savior has positively influenced your life.

5. Continually Point To The Savior

Teach your children that the Savior understands their experiences and can provide comfort. Regularly share testimonies of Him with your family. Encourage a personal relationship with God, making it natural for your kids to seek His guidance. Teach them to pray, serve others, read the Bible, and engage in activities that foster closeness with Him.

the call for a deeper understanding of Christ's teachings


Hebrews 6:1 urges us to mature in our understanding of Christ’s teachings, emphasizing the importance of repentance and faith in God. Repentance is more than feeling guilty; it requires active behavioral change.

Recognizing that our sins grieve God is a crucial step towards true repentance. God calls everyone to repent (Luke 5:32), a call for total submission (Luke 13:5). The question is, have you heeded His call?

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does Repentance Symbolize?

Repentance symbolizes a transformation in thinking that leads to a change in action. It involves a shift in one’s values and beliefs, which is then demonstrated through actions.

What Are The 5 Steps Of Repentance?

The 5 steps of repentance, according to the Bible, are:

  1. Recognize and Acknowledge Sin: Understand and admit the sin in your life.
  2. Confess Sin: Openly confess your sins to God.
  3. Ask for Forgiveness: Seek forgiveness for your sins.
  4. Turn Away from Sin: Make a conscious decision to stop sinning and change your behavior.
  5. Restore the Wrong Done: If possible, try to make right the wrong that was done.

These steps are part of a continuous process of spiritual growth and self-improvement.

What Is Repentance To God?

Repentance to God signifies a transformation in thinking that leads to a change in action. In the Bible, repentance fundamentally means changing your mind about something. You’ve been thinking one way, but now you think the opposite way. That’s repentance—the changing of the mind.

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