What Does Repent Actually Mean? Its Importance for Christians

Practically all Christians have likely heard the word "repent" as a common term used in the teachings of Christianity. But do we fully realize what it means? Let's look at the Bible definition and quotations to further understand this concept.

What Does Repent Actually Mean? Its Importance for Christians

Practically all Christians have likely heard the word "repent" as a common term used in the teachings of Christianity. But do we fully realize what it means? Let's look at the Bible definition and quotations to further understand this concept.

"From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" (Matthew 4:17)

"And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago." (Acts 3:17-21)

Bible Meaning of Repent

The biblical definition of "repentance" is literally, a "change of mind" or attitude, and thus of behavior. God is the author of repentance, which is an integral part of Baptism and Confession, and ongoing spiritual life. Repentance is not simply sorrowing for sins (though an important element of repenting) but a firm determination to turn away from sin to a new life of righteousness in Jesus Christ.

Repentance always brings blessings from the Lord. Some fear turning away from sin will make life hard to bear. Instead, through repentance, a life that was mere existence is transformed into real living; that is, living in faith, love, joy, and confident hope.

"Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 18:31)

"The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2)

How to Repent For Your Sins

Repentance is the feeling and act in which one recognizes and tries to right a wrong, or gain forgiveness from someone whom he wronged. In religious contexts, it usually refers to repenting for a sin against God. It always includes an admission of guilt, and also includes at least one of the following:

  • a solemn promise or resolve not to repeat the offense;
  • an attempt to make restitution for the wrong,
  • or in some way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible.

Signs of Repentance

To repent means to be thoroughly aware of our sins and immorality and of their consequences that is destructive to man, all that offends God and excludes us from His love, of all that produces strife in family life, in society, and of all that plagues the soul’s calm and tranquility.

St. Herman's of Alaska gives the following explanation of the process of repentance:

When we become aware of our sinful state and consider ourselves at fault before God, then our heart sorrows and is full of contrition. This heartfelt contrition is, according to St. Paul, that godly grief [which] produces a repentance that leads to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10), that is, true repentance. Tears of contrition are the only means of purifying the soul, so that it may rise up, become cleansed, luminous, joyful, capable of good deeds, and of attaining perfection.

Repentance and Forgiveness

As said in the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:

"Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:11-15)

Here we see the importance of forgiveness as part of our repentance. Turning away from sin includes holding grudges against our fellow man. For if we hope for God to forgive our debts, we must forgive others.

In summary, repentance is a freely-willed, internally fostered process of contrition and mourning for having distanced ourselves from God through sin.  Repentance expects a transformation in our thoughts, our mentality; it is a cultivation of morality and an aversion to sin. Repentance also expresses a love of virtue, benevolence, and a strong desire to be re-joined to Christ through the Grace of the Almighty Holy Spirit.

A Prayer to Repent

Dear Lord, thank you for your forgiveness. Thank you for not abandoning us to our mistakes, but for reaching out instead to bring us home. Help convict me of sin and help me accept your mercy without shame. Thank you for the love you have poured out for me and all of your children. Help me live out of that love today. In Jesus' Name, Amen. (by Dr. Charles Stanley)

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