God has been dealing with me over the past couple weeks on repentance. And he wants me to share with you all what he’s revealed to me. This is kind of lengthy. So, bare with me.
The English definition for the word “repent” means to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.
But in Biblical Greek, the word “repent” as found in the New Testament is μετανοέω (transliterated as metanoeó), and it has a different meaning than the English definition. In Greek, the word “repent” means to change one’s mind; to change the inner man (particularly with reference to acceptance of the will of God).
Notice how the English definition correlates the word repent to feelings of “regret” and “remorse”, which are both nouns (things; states of being); these words don’t require any action. Contrastingly, the Greek definition correlates the word repent to “change”, which is a verb and does require action. That’s the biggest difference between the misinterpreted English definition of repent and the Biblical-Greek definition of repent. Being repentant, in regard to sin, is more than just feeling remorse for your sinful actions; it’s about changing your perception of sin (i.e. seeing it as something to be detested not enjoyed). True repentance doesn’t only lead you to a place of regret, it also leads to a change in mind that results in a change of behavior (ref. Luke 3:8-14; Acts 3:19, Acts 26:20).
In 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 (NLT), Apostle Paul says in his epistle to the Church of Corinth:
“8 I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. 9 Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. 10 For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. 11 Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right.”
Let’s be honest. When many of us commit sin and experience sorrow afterward, it’s not that we are sorrowful for the wrong that we have done, but rather, we are more sorrowful for the consequences or repercussions that we incur upon ourselves because of our sins (the feelings of guilt, shame, self-condemnation, hypocrisy, etc.). Some of us only experience sorrow because we got caught cheating, and not because we had an affair; because we found out we got pregnant or contracted an STD, not because we fornicated; because we were sentenced to prison time, not because we were involved in criminal activity; because we get expelled from school, not because we behaved with academic dishonesty, etc. Because we place more emphasis on the consequences over the actual misdeed, the type of sorrow we experience in these cases is worldly sorrow, not godly sorrow.
Even Judas experienced a kind of worldly sorrow. In the Gospel of Matthew 27:3-5, it was said of Judas:
“3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse [other versions say “he repented himself”]. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.” “What do we care?” they replied. “That’s your problem.” 5 Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.
Apostle Paul made it very clear that there is a difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. Worldly sorrow only causes us to feel sorry enough to confess and acknowledge our sins to God or to man, in hopes of receiving forgiveness, and we may even turn away from our sins for a while; make a promise or resolve not to repeat the offense; attempt to make restitution for the wrong; or in some way try to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible. But once we feel better about ourselves and our “guilt cloud” leaves us (usually after a few days), we often find ourselves right back in the same sins we supposedly repented of a few days earlier. The reason why we backslide is because we have not really changed our mindset concerning sin. We still retain our sinful mindset.
God is saying to the Church that the reason why many of us are not attaining victory over certain sins, habits or addictions in our lives is because we have not truly repented from these vices. (We lack knowledge of what it truly means to repent.) Many of us like to believe that we have repented, but all we have done is simply confessed [owned up to] our sins and attempted to make a 180-degree turn away from our sins [in our own strength]. But again, true repentance is not just stopping or changing our behavior. It’s changing our mindset first and foremost, and after we change our mindset, our behaviors will change as a result.
We see in the example with Judas that his sorrow led him to confess his sin to the priests and elders, and to even return the money that he betrayed Jesus for in an attempt to compensate for his wrong. That’s good! That’s what sorrow should lead us to do! However, Judas did not experience a change within his mind. If he would have experienced a change within his mind, he would have not hung himself to death. He would have had hope in knowing that Jesus would have forgiven him of his sins. Judas did feel remorse for his sin, but he did not have a godly repentance which would have led him to salvation; he had a worldly repentance that led him to death.
In other examples found in the Old Testament, the nation of Israel felt sorrow for their sins when they were slaves in Egypt. And when they had an opportunity, they fled away from Pharaoh and all of the strenuous labor they had to endure in Egypt. But they did not experience true repentance; they didn’t experience a conversion in their minds. That’s why they reverted back to sin, worshiping idols and committing other abominable acts while in the wilderness, and kept having thoughts to go back to Egypt, thinking that it would have been better for them to remain in slavery than to be in the presence of God. In the same way, Lot’s wife turned away from Sodom and Gomorrah—she changed her atmosphere and separated herself from the ungodly influences around her—but she did not repent. She did not experience a conversion in her mind. She looked back at the city, reminiscing of the place she just got delivered from, thus, she turned into a pillar of salt.
In summary, God is saying that if we want to truly have victory over the sin in our lives, we can’t just feel temporary regret for what we have done. We can’t just confess or acknowledge our sins to him, ask for forgiveness and think that’s all it takes. And we can’t rely on our own strength or try to come up with some vain strategy or game plan on how we can stop committing the sin. We must focus on changing our minds. We must renew our minds as Romans 12:2 says. We must think differently from how we think currently. We must remove and exchange our opinions, beliefs, ideas, and mindset about sin for God’s view on sin. We can change our behaviors all we want to, but if we don’t change our minds, we will revert right back to our sins when we are tempted, under pressure, or when something triggers that old desire in us. Only when we have a new mindset can we experience true repentance. Only when we change our mindset and conform our minds to the mind of Christ will we see victory in our lives.