Greek and New Testament scholar Pastor Sumit Sen has granted me permission to re-print an article from his church’s monthly publication, the Covenant Chronicle (Pastor Sumit is pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Portage, IN). The plain and simple truths expressed here about repentance are huge.
The word repentance in English could mean a) To feel remorse, self-reproach, b) To make change for the better because of remorse. It is in the second sense that the word repentance is used in the Bible.
Repentance translates a Greek word called metanoia in the New Testament. Metanoia is different from being regretful or remorseful. It is not just about being sorry. Yes, being sorry or remorseful is a part of repentance, but that is not all there is to it. For example, Judas after betraying Jesus was remorseful but not repentant in this sense.
Judas went and hung himself after being remorseful. Repentance or Metanoia far from being self-destructive is constructive. It means changing one's mind, conversion and turning about. Repentance in this sense is making a complete change of mind about what is important in life, about sin, about God, and about turning from pursuit of sin to God.
The Greek word Metanoia translates the Hebrew term shuv which literally means turn around or come back. That is why the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) uses the word turn to translate Ezekiel 18:32 (the New International Version (NIV)) uses the word repent.
"For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent (Turn – NRSV) and live!" (Ezek. 18:32 NIV)
What God is saying here to Israel is repent or turn to Me. Repentance simply means changing our mind about sin and turning to God. That is why repentance is so foundational to Christianity.
In the twelve step program used for recovery of alcoholics they are made to look to a power greater than themselves who could restore their sanity. They are called to a decision to turn their will and their lives over to the care of God. That, my friend, is what repentance looks like. When we who are addicted to sin finally recognize sin as the root cause of all our problems, and turn to God, we are repenting. We are not earning salvation by repenting but we are turning to God to receive salvation, which is a free gift. We are turning from sin that condemns to God who justifies. Let me underscore the importance of repentance for Christian life by giving you some passages from the Bible to reflect on.
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Matt. 3:2 NIV – John the Baptist
"The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" Mark 1:15 – The Lord Jesus Christ
"Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?" Rom. 2:4 – Apostle Paul
"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." 2 Pet. 3:9 – Apostle Peter
"The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands …" Rev. 9:20 – Apostle John
May your heart find time to turn from the world and to turn to God.
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