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What Is Repentance? Is It Enough To Say "I'm Sorry"?

The Question:

What Is Repentance? Is It Enough To Say "I'm Sorry"?

The Answer:

This teaching is divided into the following sections:

The Greek word translated repentance in the New Testament is metanoia. This is more than just a mere "change of mind"; but a whole reorientation of the personality, a conversion.  Repentance means turning from sin just as faith involves turning to God.


Jesus said to repent: Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

Peter said to repent: 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, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus.

Paul said to repent: Acts 17:30, 20-21 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent… I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they MUST turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

Repentance should be our response  to God's kindness, and refusing to repent shows contempt for God:

Romans 2:4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?


In I Corinthians 5, Paul addressed a problem in the church at Corinth where a church member was committing incest and the church leaders were not addressing the issue. In verse 2 Paul says: "And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst."

So not only was the one committing incest not led to repentance, but the whole church became involved in his guilt because he was not confronted and removed from the church for his sin.

After the church at Corinth received this letter, they sent Titus to Paul with news of their repentance:

2 Corinthians 7:7-10.  He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever. 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. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Verse 10, Amplified version: For godly grief and the pain God is permitted to direct, produce a repentance that leads and contributes to salvation and deliverance from evil, and it never brings regret; but worldly grief [the hopeless sorrow that is characteristic of the pagan world] is deadly - breeding and ending in death.

Being sorry is not enough:  you just may be sorry you "got caught".  There must be a "godly sorrow", a sincerity of heart, a turning away from sin, and a turning towards God for the kind of repentance that leads to salvation. 

What would be an example of "worldly sorrow which brings death" (2 Corinthians 7:10)? Neurotic guilt that doesn't accept God's forgiveness; excessive grief that causes a hate for God; bitterness over a loss or handicap that also causes one to hate God, or being sorry without grieving and repenting of sin.


2 Corinthians 7:11 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.

The Message: And now, isn't it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God? You're more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Look at from any angle, you've come out of this with purity of heart.

Before the church repented of their sin in not disciplining this brother, they were guilty of complacency, giving the devil a place in their worship, and associating with the immoral in the church. After they allowed godly sorrow to bring them to repentance, they were ready to expel the unrepentant brother who was committing incest, and they were awakened to moral integrity.

This brother also repented and was restored to fellowship. 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.

A person who truly repents realizes the need for a change inside THEMSELVES, spiritually and morally. He/she sees their need for moral regeneration, and a radical change of heart.


Repentance involves acknowledgement of sin, confession of it, and a turning away from it with all your heart and soul and a humble attitude towards God, pleading for forgiveness:

1 Kings 8:47-48a and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their conquerors and say, `We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly'; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul ...

Repentance is also an acknowledgement of who God is and that He has a right to judge sin. Repentance by contrast involves hating your own standards of right and wrong, and the tendency to self-justification:

Job 42:1-6 Then Job replied to the LORD: "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. [You asked,] `Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. ["You said,] `Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

When we "see" God's awesome holiness, we are made conscious of our sin and need for repentance. Repentance brings cleansing and not only is a duty, but a privilege.

And with true repentance and confession of sin, we are guaranteed forgiveness and cleansing: I John I:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

How can you tell if you have truly repented?

John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:8 "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance."  The Amplified Version says "Bring forth fruit that is consistent with repentance - let your lives prove your change of heart."  CEV says "Do something to show that you have really given up your sins."

Acts 26:20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and PROVE THEIR REPENTANCE BY THEIR DEEDS.

Revelation 2:5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! REPENT AND DO THE THINGS YOU DID AT FIRST. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

But isn't this a "works righteousness"? If I'm saved by faith through grace, not of works, so man cannot boast, why do I have to DO something to show I've repented?


'Faith without works is dead; being alone". (James 2:17). 

Faith and works are a "power team".  One without the other cannot get the job done.  Sure, God can work miracles without us doing anything and sometimes He does, but the nitty gritty everyday walk of faith takes work. "Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).

According to Hebrews 11:1, "Faith is the evidence of things hoped for"; so what is the physical, outward evidence that we have faith? James 2:18:  "I will show thee my faith by my works."  NIV: But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

How does faith express itself? Galatians 5:6 - " For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." And love involves action  - "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (I John 3:18)


1) First and foremost repentance is not only a turning from sin, but a disgust for the sin and a grief that you participated in something that grieved the Holy Spirit.

Ezekiel 14:6 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!"

Ezekiel 18:30 "Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall."

Ephesians 4:30-31 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

2) If your sin hurt someone else, a sincere apology is in order. There is a real art to apology. It is difficult to word it so as not to share blame for what you have done. Use "I" statements, confess what you have done wrong, and ask for forgiveness. Don't bring up what you see as faults of the other person. Their behavior in this matter is not your responsibility.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:23-24 "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. FIRST GO AND BE RECONCILED TO YOUR BROTHER; then come and offer your gift."

3) Make restitution if required and if possible.

Leviticus 6:1-5 The LORD said to Moses: "If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do-- when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering [repents and confesses his sin in our terminology, a guilt offering to a priest is not required as Jesus has borne our guilt for us].

Numbers 5:6-8 "Say to the Israelites: `When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed. He must make full restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged. But if that person has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, the restitution belongs to the LORD and must be given to the priest, along with the ram with which atonement is made for him. [If you can't give restitution to the person you have harmed, then ask God what to do about it. A guilt offering to a priest is not required as Jesus has borne our guilt for us].

4) Forgive any offense you feel someone else has committed against you and refuse to accuse, blame or gossip about it.

Jesus speaking: Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Jesus speaking: Luke 6:37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

5) Ask God to replace the sin in your life with something fruitful, and yield to the Spirit so you can produce the fruit of the Spirit.

Ephesians 4:28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

Galatians 5:23-24 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

6) Ask God to give you a forgiving non-judgmental spirit, so that you can lead sinners to repentance and freedom too.

2 Timothy 2:24-25 And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.


Besides a sense of relief, repentance brings: Forgiveness of sins, Restoration to fellowship, Comfort, Reaffirmation of love:

2 Corinthians 2:6-8 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.

Restoration to service:

Jeremiah 15:19 Therefore this is what the LORD says: "If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them."

Rest, salvation, quietness, trust, strength:

Isaiah 30:15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength..."

Repentance brings life:

Ezekiel 18:32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

Healing and deliverance follow repentance:

Mark 6:12 -13 [The apostles] They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.


Hebrews 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God

Unless and until you repent, you cannot grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. And if you have begun to grow in grace, and then commit a sin that is not repented and forgiven, then you will be "stuck" there until you do repent.


In the third chapter of Matthew, John the Baptist greets the unrepentant Pharisees with "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" An unrepentant person, one who may APPEAR to be sorry, but has not truly repented and had a change of heart, is like a poisonous snake, spewing out venom.  What are some of the characteristics of an unrepentant heart?

Isaiah 30:15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it."

Repentance brings rest, salvation, quietness, trust, and strength, so lack of repentance brings unrest, damnation, tumult and clamor, doubt and weakness.

John 9:41 Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains."

Lack of repentance retains guilt - since the sin has not truly been repented of, this person will be consumed with the venom of guilt.

Psalms 38:4 My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.

Guilt is a function of the conscience designed to receive conviction of the Holy Spirit about sin. The purpose of this guilt is to lead a person to repentance.

John 16:8-9 When he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me;

Psalms 32:5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"-- and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Unresolved guilt due to unrepented sin will fester and become a poison inside and will lead to outward manifestations, such as:

Blaming - since the unrepentant person is consumed with guilt that he/she is not willing to give up by truly repenting and turning from the sin, he/she will react by blaming others, accusing them of being the cause of problems instead of the unresolved guilt and sin.

Romans 2:1,3 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things... So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment?

Continuing the sin - the unrepentant person will continue in the original sin, and add to it lies, sowing discord, creating division, nursing offenses, and allowing a root of bitterness to spring up and defile him/her.

Hebrews 12:14-15 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Gathering other vipers to yourself - when you continue in sin and guilt without truly repenting, you will find yourself gathering like minded people to you, and having them take up your offense on your behalf and "defend" you to those you believed have wronged you, thus you multiply the original offense caused by your unrepentant and disobedient heart. Instead of leading others to repentance, you lead them into greater sin.

Proverbs 16:28; 26:20 A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends...Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.

2 Corinthians 12:20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.

Romans 2:19-21 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth-- you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?

3 John 1:9 -10 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.


Jesus Himself will denounce you: Matthew 11:20 Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.

Unrepentance brings you under rebuke and discipline: Jesus says in Revelation 3:19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.

You will be led into deeper sin and immorality and will come under judgment: Jesus says in Revelation 2: 20-23 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

Unrepentance crucifies Christ anew: Hebrews 6:6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because [or while] to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

Unrepentance brings God's judgment and wrath: Romans 2:5-9 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God "will give to each person according to what he has done."...But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile;

Jesus said in Luke 13:3 ... But unless you repent, you too will all perish.


Jesus said in Luke 5:32 "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Jesus still loves you and is still calling you to repentance. He longs to gather you into arms of love and restore you to fellowship.

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

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