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 Vol. 7, No. 2 

February 2005


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What Is Repentance?

By Robert Rushmore

Image Webster's defines "repentance" as "a feeling of sorrow." This is the definition most of the world uses. Unfortunately, it is an incomplete definition of the word. Unger's Bible Dictionary gives a more complete definition: "a turning away from sin, disobedience, or rebellion and a turning back to God." The world's definition of repentance seems to be a little lacking as it omits the portion concerning "turning back to God."

The Bible itself does not explicitly define repentance, but it does implicitly define the term. Unger's definition coincides with the biblical, implied definition of repentance. Matthew 9:13 and Luke 5:32 both state Jesus came to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. This implies repentance is an action for those who are disobedient or rebellious, as sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). The remainder of the definition is seen in John 8:3-11. In an attempt to bring fault against Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to him who was caught in the act of adultery. Jesus was able to disperse her accusers by commanding whoever had no sin could cast the first stone against her. Jesus' words to the woman then are recorded in verse eleven, "go, and sin no more." The command indicates repentance involved a cessation of the sin, thus a change in her life. The Bible shows repentance involves a change of mind resulting in a change of life.

It has also been said repentance is a cessation of sin and then replacing that sin with good works. The concept behind this thought is quite simple. If one repents of a particular action and does not replace the resulting void, then that individual is prone to commit the same sin in order to fill the void. The ideal way to fill the void is to replace it with righteousness.

From Bible dictionaries as well as the Bible, we see that true repentance involves more than a feeling of sorrow for a particular action. Repentance is a multi-step process. The first step is a change of heart or mind. The second is a feeling of sorrow. Those two steps then lead to the third, a change of life. True biblical repentance is not achieved until all three steps have been taken.Image

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