What Is Repentance?

“Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands” (v. 8).

- Jonah 3

Cleansing oneself from dishonor (2 Tim. 2:21) involves forsaking that which is displeasing to God and turning to Him for pardon and sanctification (the setting apart for holiness). To put it another way, changing from a dishonorable vessel to an honorable one t for the Lord’s use requires repentance. We will now take a short break from our studies in 2 Timothy and spend a few days examining the biblical teaching on turning from sin with the help of Repentance, a teaching series by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

In the original Greek, metanoia is the term that is most commonly translated as “repentance” in English. This word literally means “change of mind” and helps us understand what repentance really means. Fundamentally, repentance is a change of mind, a switch from an outlook that esteems sin to one that considers it abhorrent. It is important that we remember, however, that Scripture understands a true change of mind to be one that includes more than just a shifting of intellectual categories. To have metanoia — to have true repentance — involves feelings of regret and remorse. Repentance means we are truly sorry for something we have done (not just its consequences) and want to change our behavior. A repentant life is a changed life, not in that perfection is ever attained but in that the fruit of repentance — a change in action and attitudes — becomes discernible in a person’s character (Luke 3:7–9).

Scripture repeatedly calls the people of God to repent, and it also knows of outward actions that people display to show their repentance. We see an example of some of these things in today’s passage in the actions of the Ninevites. Hearing that the Lord was going to judge Nineveh, the people asked Him for forgiveness, showing their sorrow by wearing sackcloth and fasting (Jonah 3:1–9). At other points in the Old Testament we see specific prayers that were offered for repentance (Ps. 51) and the use of ashes to portray grief (Jer. 6:26).

The Old Testament is clear that visible actions cannot replace the inward conviction that God demands of His people (1 Sam. 16:7). But when inner sorrow is present, outer deeds often display our true repentance.

Coram Deo

External formalism is no substitution for inner contrition, but we are wrong if we think it is inappropriate to display our repentance publicly. When we have offended another, for example, it is often right to express our sorrow for our words or deeds to the offended party in order that they would see our repentance and be reconciled to us. Do you need to ask another person for his forgiveness as a part of your repentance?

Passages for Further Study

2 Chronicles 6:12–42
Ezekiel 14:1–11
Luke 10:13
Acts 5:30–31

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