“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (v. 17).- Matthew 4:12-22
Both Matthew and Mark record that Jesus’ first sermons were a summons to repentance. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, which comes from two Greek words, meta and nous. Meta means “after” or “beyond,” and nous means mind. Literally, a metanoia is an afterthought or a second thought. The Greeks used it especially for times when a person had second thoughts about something, regretting that it was too late to make any changes.
The true background for New Testament terms, however, is always in the Old Testament. Repentance in the Old Testament was certainly a “second thought” or afterthought, because all men are born in sin and their first thoughts are evil. In the Old Testament, however, repentance goes beyond merely changing your mind. The Bible links mind and life far more closely than did the Greeks. The biblical concept of repentance means not just changing your mind but also changing your life and emotions. Thus, in the Old Testament, repentance frequently involved emotional turmoil, though it was far more than mere emotionalism.
Repentance means a change of mind-set. It means a change of your fundamental attitudes and outlooks on life. In Hebrew terms, it means changing the desires of your heart, consequently changing the orientation of your whole life.
When Jesus spoke of repentance in connection with the coming of God’s kingdom, He was not referring to superficial change. He was not talking about breaking off from some particular sin and reforming your life, though, of course, that is included. Rather, He was calling for a total change of orientation. The coming of the new covenant means that the old way of life—the way of death under the Adamic curse—is to be renounced. The kingdom of life and resurrection has arrived, and men and women are to press their way into it.
The story of the Prodigal Son shows the meaning of true repentance. When the prodigal returned to his father, he did not say, “I’m sorry I did wrong, but there were the following extenuating circumstances.…” No, he fully confessed his own iniquity, and asked to be readmitted to the household on the father’s terms.
Renouncing is a great word although seldom used. It connotes a definite, intentional, and emphatic denial of a former belief or pattern of action. We are called to renounce our sin in favor of a more virtuous God-fearing life. Consider today what it means for you to renounce your sin.
Passages for Further Study