“Repent” or “repentance” (‘Metanoeo’, Strongs 3340) simply means “To change one’s mind”. I’ve been reviewing the occurrences of the word “repent” in the New Testament. In the KJV, there are 22 occurrences — none of which has the phrase “repent of your sins”. What comes close is “..repent of their deeds” in Rev. 2:22. Most of the occurrences are stand alone commands (ie. “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matt. 4:17) or “Repent, be baptized” (Acts 3:19). I’m not saying that “repentance” does not involve repentance of sins. But I do have a point that I’d like to make.
Keeping in mind that repentance by the original usage means “to change one’s mind”, let’s review Acts 3:19;
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (NIV).
The command is, “Repent!” — change our mind about God. We don’t try to overcome our sins and then turn to God. Instead, we change our mind about God (from God being judgmental and after us to punish us, to God who loves and seeks sinners because He has already forgiven them). Changing our minds from trying to save ourselves to Jesus as the only source of salvation. Having faith in this — and the object of this faith is the finished work of Jesus on the cross — trusting our eternal destination is based upon the salvation that Jesus is offering.
In some instances, when the apostles were asked how one is saved, the word “repentance” were not mentioned. For instance, Acts 16:30-32;
He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.”
It doesn’t say, “Repent and believe and you will be saved”. It simply says “Believe…” Is this contradicting with the other Biblical passages such as Acts 3:19 that asks people to repent? If we define “repentance” as it was originally used, then repentance will mean changing what you think about God — from being a nobody, an outsider to a savior, thus — ‘believe…”. When we believe, we change our minds and we receive what we believe is a true offer of salvation.
I don’t mean that, upon conversion, you will not be convicted by the Holy Spirit of some of your sins. I, for one, repented of my sin of legalism when I got born again. I thought my religion can save me. I thought being good is good enough for heaven. I changed my mind toward God. I was convinced that Jesus is the only way. Then I repented of that sin.
But mind you, human as I am, when I look back I can still remember those early years of my Christian life where I had some sins that I am not willing to give up! In fact, I can remember praying and admitting to God that I am not really willing to give up that sin yet. Does that mean that I wasn’t a real Christian at that time? If we define repentance the way we typically define it, probably yes. But if being remorseful of all possible sin that we know we are committing is required to be considered truly ‘repented’, thus saved, then salvation become of works. God is faithful, and he did helped me overcome most of them.
Now, does this mean I am encouraging people to just believe and continue sinning? Not at all! What I’m saying is that people need to take the first step of faith by believing in Jesus for he alone can change us. When one will take that initial step, the Holy Spirit will start working in us, changing our desires little by little.
I do not also say that repentance of your sins is not essential or secondary. All I’m saying is, it may happen during or later in the conversion.
This may sound radical, but I really do not like the idea that to be considered repented, you must first feel remorse or hate every sin that you are committing. That’s nice, but it does not happen to every people who has heard of the good news of salvation and accepted it. What if they don’t feel it, does that mean they have not ‘repented’ and believed? If they then asked to be baptized, will you baptize them if you see that they have not yet ‘repented’ of some obvious sins that they are committing?
What will happen to that jailer — he asked how to be saved and he was instructed to “believe” (Acts 16:30-32). What if he believed in the messiah but has not (initially) repented of all his sins? What will happen to a person like the eunuch — he wanted to be baptized. Philip simply said “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:36) Never actually had that mental process of ‘repenting of all his sins’ yet. Is he saved at that moment?
I also have a problem with categorizing sins — sins that can easily be dismissed and sins that are habitual. The assumption is, those sins that can easily be dismissed will have to be repented off first before be considered repented (and saved) and the habitual ones will come in later. Where’s the list, then? Which are habitual, which are not? Is hatred to your brother habitual or can easily be dismissed? (Note that hatred to your brother is considered murder by Jesus). Is cheating on taxes habitual or can be easily dismissed? Who will draw the line?
Lastly, is this what people call “cheap grace”? Grace isn’t cheap, it comes with a price — Jesus’ death on the cross. If one does not feel the urge to process his thoughts, list down all his sins that needs repentance (and categorize it?) but simply accept Jesus in his life and trust that he will do the rest, that does not make grace cheap. It makes it even more powerful. For grace is given free, so does hatred to sin. The Holy Spirit uses a lot of ways to convict us of every sin in our lives. This is where a healthy support group or Christian community will come in. Sinners (which, as I remember, includes all of us) are helped to overcome those sins and are discipled to grow as followers of Jesus.
(I originally posted this to the The Bereans Apologetics online forum)