What is repentance?

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What does the Bible say about repentance? Can a person save themselves if they obey God? Are we required to DO anything BEFORE we can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit? What is the role of obedience and good works in the life of a Christian?

First, let us begin with a Biblical definition of what this article discusses. Repentance is remorse and sorrow for the sins we have committed. Sin is the transgression of God's holy and perfect laws, whether in the letter or in the spirit (intent of). The apostle Paul states in the book of Ephesians the following.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this especially is not of your own selves; it is the gift of God, Not of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9, HBFV)

No work or effort on the part of any person will ever 'earn' them salvation. Eternal life is a gift. However, the Bible teaches not only repentance but that believers must obey God. How can this be?

The law of God is a critical Biblical subject both in the Old and in the New Testaments. We do not have to go very far into the gospels before we run into statements about God's laws. In fact, near the very beginning of Jesus' well-known Sermon on the Mount he states about obeying God.

17 'Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them . . .18 Remember that as long as heaven and earth last, not the least point nor the smallest detail of the Law will be done away with' (Matthew 5:17-18)
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From Jesus' statement we can only conclude that since heaven and earth are still here, God's law have not been "done away with" but are still in effect! In the book of Revelation the apostle John writes that commandment keeping will still exist in the end time before Jesus' return (Revelation 14:12).

Obedience to God is repeated many times in God's word, especially those of the apostle John. Notice how direct and blunt he is about sin, repentance and obeying God's law.

"The one who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (1John 2:4, see also 3:4, 3:22, 5:3 and 2John 5-6)

What did Paul think about God's law?

"Therefore, the law is indeed holy . . . " (Romans 7:12)

Good works, meaning doing what is right in God's sight, are an integral part of the life of a Christian (Ephesians 2:10). Paul lets us know that those who do not obey will not be in his kingdom (1Corinthians 6:9-10).

Each of the Ten Commandments, given to Moses on Mount Sinai, are repeated either exactly or with words conveying the same thing in the New Testament. These reiterated commandments from the Eternal show the standard against which repentance is needed. Please see our article entitled "Where are the Ten Commandments in the Old and New Testaments?" for more information.

Repentance then conversion

On Pentecost, just days after Jesus ascended to heaven, God empowered the disciples by giving them His Holy Spirit and the miraculous ability to extol and praise him in other languages. As people in Jerusalem start to gather around the disciples to see what is happening Peter gives a powerful message explaining the miracles that were occurring and that Jesus was the true Savior of man. The crowd who hear Peter have their consciences pricked. Peter then tells the crowd the following.

"Then Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized each one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you yourselves shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 2:38)

In the Bible, the word REPENT comes from the Greek word metanoeo (Strong's Concordance #G3340) which means to think differently or reconsider and to begin to feel regret. Repentance begins to occur when we fell sorry, remorsefully, etc. about the sins we have committed --- our disobedience to God through the breaking of His commandments. A person not only feels sorry for their sins but also desires and begins to obey God, which Peter again states must occur before he will give them the gift of his Spirit (Acts 5:32).


What God ultimately requires of us is summed up by Jesus.

And Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' (Matthew 22:37)

Does loving your neighbor mean simply thinking nice things about them? No. It is the day to day application of the spirit and intent of God's Laws. This includes helping our neighbor when they are in trouble, safeguarding our property so that the neighbor does not hurt themselves by falling into a hole, giving them money when they are in need, etc. It means sharing our food with them if they are hungry or getting them clothes they cannot afford. Now, how does someone love God?

To love our Father in heaven is far more than attending church services. To truly love God means to do what he says -- to obey his commands, etc. It is obedience not to 'earn' the right to be saved but out of our desire to do the will of God. On the night he was betrayed Jesus taught the disciples about many things, including what it means to love him and the Father. Jesus clearly linked love and obedience when he said the following.

"If you love Me, keep the commandments - namely, My commandments. (John 14:15)

In the end, if we do not DO what is right --- if we do not obey our Creator and Father --- then whatever faith we think we have is DEAD and useless (James 2:24, 26).

This is what repentance is all about!

Additional Study Materials
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What are the different answers to PRAYER?
Basic Teachings of the Bible
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