Repentance—a word we use quite often in our Christian conversations—is as central to our salvation as faith and yet it can often be an afterthought or an assumption. Repentance is an outworking of the Holy Spirit and has multiple aspects. It is defined as sorrow for sin, renouncing of sin, sincere forsaking of sin and obedience to Christ. It is not mere sorrow, grief or remorse because it includes a turning away from sin and turning toward Christ. It is a changing of mind and purpose, from self to Christ. Paul makes this clear in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 regarding godly grief: “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
The words repent and repentance are used 52 times in the New Testament and 13 in the Old Testament. In the book of Acts alone, repentance is mentioned in connection with forgiveness (Acts 2:38; 5:31; 8:22), turning (3:19; 26:20), life (11:18) and as a command from God (17:30).
As believers, our first experience with true repentance is at conversion and goes hand in hand with faith. Neither comes first; they come together. Faith without repentance is not biblical. “Turning to Christ,” as we often say, means turning away from ourselves, denying ourselves, recognizing Him as Lord and turning away from our sin. We cannot run to Jesus for salvation while holding onto sin and refusing to leave it behind. Repentance continues throughout a believer’s life after conversion as well. Just as we continue to live in faith, we continue daily to die to self, repent of sins committed and trust in God.
We have no inherent ability to place our faith in Christ or repent of our sin, but in His grace God gives us the ability to obey His commands. We can and must respond to His call: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 4:17).