by John MacArthur
What is repentance? The literal Greek word, metanoia, has to do with changing your mind. But authentic repentance is much more than merely changing your opinion, your thought process, or your mood. It’s a complete spiritual about-face. And if it’s genuine, it will always result in a change of behavior, too.
And while true repentance is the flash point for saving faith, and a source of powerful, lasting assurance of that faith, it’s a widely misunderstood doctrine. Many believers only have a vague notion of what it means to repent, and they’re unfamiliar with what it looks like in the pages of Scripture.
Jesus’ parable in Matthew 21:28-30 is a classic illustration. “A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not” (KJV).
The response of the first son explains the meaning of repentance. He said, “I will not,” but he did. That’s repenting. He said one thing but changed his whole attitude and purpose and went the opposite way. Repentance is a complete change of heart and direction, not merely a new idea about something.
Peter preached repentance to the Israelites who gathered after he and the apostle John healed a lame man at the Temple gate in Jerusalem. Peter indicted the Israelites for ignoring the prophecies about Jesus, for labeling Him a blasphemer, and crucifying the very One who was sent to rescue them from their sins. But then Peter offered a solution: “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19).
The nation of Israel had decided that God’s will for them was a self-generated righteousness. The Pharisees manipulated a system of legalism or works for righteousness. They made sure it maintained its hold over the people. If a Jew kept the 365 negative commands and the 248 positive commands of the law of Moses, he was safe and righteous. They thought that was what God wanted, and they rejected Jesus because of it.
Peter essentially said to them: You blew it on every count. Jesus is the very opposite of what you concluded Him to be. Therefore, reverse your decision and change course—turn all the way around. Whatever you think you’re doing to please God, if it isn’t based only on faith in Jesus Christ, stop doing it and turn around.
That’s repentance. It’s a total transformation from sin to salvation, from flesh to spirit. It’s a radical reversal of the orientation of your heart, and a new direction for your life.
But where does it come from? How does the Lord bring about this transformation, and how do we draw assurance from repentance? What does the act of repentance have to do with our confidence in an eternity with Christ?
Over the next several days, we’re going to answer those questions as we look further at the nature of genuine repentance.
#1 Posted by
Chad Bahr | Monday, August 20, 2012at
The above is very accurate and correct. I must say, though, I'm at a lost at how to completely repent. It is very abstruse. I pray and confess, but nothing seems changed. I don't sense spiritual cleaning, lifting of guilt, forgivenss or anything like that, so after nearly 25 years of the same pattern I feel utterly devoid of anything and going to church is loosing its attraction.
I feel as though my name was either written in the Book of Life and now on the edge of having it erased (unless already erased) or it was never there in the first place and doubt God's going to add my or anybody's name now. So, this leads to a sad depressing state while I guess I await my eternal hellish fate as I consume resources and I waste my time wandering around on this planet. I read Scripture and agree with its truths and am amazed by it, but remain perplexed as to how possess it into my heart.
If somebody could offer an idea as to change this state, I would be truly appreciative. Perhaps I'm just occupied with an unclean spirit? Who knows. Nearly all seems lost.
Keep up the good work. Blessings to you. Thanks again,
#2 Posted by
Brian Seay | Monday, August 20, 2012at
I feel very much how Chad feels and it does feel like all is lost. I know that the gate and the way is narrow and I hear many people say they are Christians but the Bible says that only a few will make it and then I look at myself and I doubt whether I'm truly going to make it in.
#3 Posted by
David Morgan | Monday, August 20, 2012at
"the just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17) not feelings. Satan uses feeling to fool us!
#4 Posted by
Susan Croswell | Monday, August 20, 2012at
Spiritual depression is not as uncommon among believers as you might think; it just isn't talked about as openly and honestly as you did.
In fact, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote an excellent book entitled "Spiritual Depression", which I highly recommend if you can obtain a copy.
Assurance of saving faith is not as consistently common among believers as you would expect. What helps me during such times of uncertainty is to saturate my mind with all of the appropriate promises from scripture and prayerfully claim them, meditating on the One who made such promises. He is so worthy of your trust.
#5 Posted by
Chad Bahr | Monday, August 20, 2012at
Hello, Susan and David,
Thank you each for your comments. They are both encouraging. I've also noticed here on the GTY website some other posts from the past few weeks that may offer hope. In particular, I read the "Discipline Yourself," post and it gave me some encouragement.
I will search for the Lloyd-J0nes book. It could prove helpful, as well.
#6 Posted by
Mark F | Monday, August 20, 2012at
I love that the Bible shows us that both repentance and salvation are "not our own doing." We will experience true assurance when we look to Jesus' life, death, and resurrection rather than our performance. But still, "Be Holy as your Father in heaven is Holy" while always relying on GRACE.
Looking forward to upcoming blog posts!!
#8 Posted by
Michael Kennedy | Tuesday, August 21, 2012at
Sir, CB: Hello, this is Mike, hoping to help...Iwas "feeling" like you, but didnt know it and God , who is in charge of us, was showing me Matt.7-21 out of the blue one day. By the way, David is right, "feelings " WILL FAIL YOU! Gotta go by truth... and start to BELIEVE it. (I wasnt doing much believing either at the time). Anyway, the scripture. kept coming up and I was getting a little nervous cause the end of it says..."depart from me, I never knew you".???? Whoa, dude, He def. was getting my attention.!! So I asked God to show me what was up. I was Not becoming like Him like I thought I was. Talk about really mess with your feelings, I was a little scared, thinking the same thing you were. But as the blog last week was talking about, JJ said we dont lose our salvation, just our Spiritual growth. That would make sense since I know I really did give my life to God in 79, some of us just need to reminded that God is faithful all the time. I, again just let Satan get at me and tell me different. Try reading Isaiah chaps.41-45 when you feel like you dont matter and it will def. pick you up. Plus, using the word TRUST, instead of Faith helps me believe a little easier. God is def. interested in you personally, sir, so dont give up.. He just wants to bless us, and if we arent understanding His word, like He needs us to start...not sinning , to see that we arent changing; then ask Him to make you into the man He wants you to be and He will, cause If you rely on yourself to do it alone, You ve just made yourself into a god and He does not like false gods...Let Him be God to you and believe me , then you will start changing. (I should have just said this in the 1st place....) Hope it helps. God Bless you cause He showed me the same thing and I started growing more spirtually. take care ..MIke
#9 Posted by
Michael Kennedy | Tuesday, August 21, 2012at
My computer's messed up, so I dont know if my other comment made it, but here's another one regarding your sit.. CB, Again, dont go on how you feel, cause its about truth...God forgives;1 John 1-9, right? Right! So let HIM... I was feeling like you while riding in the back seat of our car, thinking exactly like you were..."why dont I feel forgiven"...when all of a sudden a car with a bumper sticker stopped next to us @ a light and it said, "God forgives, So let Him! (like I jsut said) Anyway, I was floored that, holy cow, was this God, sending me some help? I believe it was, cause, get this ....about 20-30 min. later, I started thinking the same way as before and said to myself, "I could sure use another bumper sticker right about now..." AND 2 seconds later , I mean it, another car pulled up and stopped next to ours, in traffic, and their sticker said, "God said it, I believe it, That settles it.! ....I was shocked again; I could not believe that God was actually doing that for me. It had to be Him, I know ol Sa-tan wouldnt do that...help me in my time of need? Not hardly. When I read the second one, I only read the 1st and 3rd lines and was concentrating on those to help me , cause the 2nd deff. was not happening although I was trying hard to let it. But , God knows us inside and out, and that just showed me He is one in control of ALL THINGS, really loves us and likes to blow us away in the things He can do. So, it helped me on my spiritual growth of trusting In Him alone(road)that He will be there for us ALWAYS! Later on that night on the way home, I saw a bridge column and someone had sprayed ,in paint, TRUST ME", and I saw that as another personal relationship favor again, helping me along.. So we have to let Him be God to us, and not us be gods to ourselves....Prov. 3- trust in the Lord with all your heart and LEAN NOT TO YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING(thinking) Makes sense right? He will even do our thinking for us if we need that much help. Ps 37-4 Delight in the LOrd and He wil give you the desires of your heart....He will help, just asd Him.. God bless. Later
#10 Posted by
Jerry Slade | Tuesday, August 21, 2012at
Thanks for being straightforward CB. I struggle with similar issues which are doubt that I am good enough and obedient enough to warrant salvation even though my spirit and brain tell me I have been gifted with it. Preachers and teachers, even the best ones including John MacArthur, don't seem to deal with the fact that most of us are doing the best we can but sin, sometimes intentionally, too frequently to feel we are truly worth of salvation. How can God save me when I can't live up to the "Keep my commandments" standard and "if you love me, keep my commandments. At my "way past Medicare age" I shouldn't be having to deal with sin so regularly. Why doesn't Romans 12:1-2 work for me?
#11 Posted by
Brian E | Tuesday, August 21, 2012at
I am pained to hear of your struggle. At times I too am crushed by my sin in light of the Holiness of God. There was something that helped me this morning that I think applies to you. I was listening to lecture #2 on Luther discovering Justification by Faith by R.C. Sproul titled "Luther's discovery"
I hope it is acceptable to link here
Chad I think you may just benefit from that message but perhaps the whole series. You aren't alone in this battle and there are brothers and sisters in Christ that would love to see the joy of salvation spring forth in you.
You have my prayers.
#12 Posted by
Jeremiah Johnson | Tuesday, August 21, 2012at
Chad, Brian S, and Jerry—
None of us feels worthy because none of us is worthy (Romans 3:10-12). Don’t trust in your own fickle feelings—trust in the unshakable promises of God and the fact that He won’t let you go (Romans 8:38-39). Those are issues John will tackle as we get further into his series on repentance and assurance.
In the meantime, let me encourage you find pastors or leaders in your local churches who can disciple you through these spiritual doubts. This comments section is a limited resource for the kind of help you’re seeking—the teaching, leadership, and encouragement you need right now is more comprehensive and specific than you can get here.
That said, thank you to everyone who weighed in with an encouragement or a personal story. It’s a privilege to see your efforts to bear each other’s burdens. Keep it up.
#13 Posted by
Brian E | Tuesday, August 21, 2012at
Thank you for your advice JJ. I would agree that a man should also bring these struggles before His leadership.
While I was sitting here I was thinking of the difference of the Romans 7 man versus the Roman's 1 man. The Romans 1 man heaps sins upon sin. It is a bonfire of depravity that he keeps kindled lovingly with his sins and he encourages others to warm themselves likewise edging closer and closer to hell fire.
The Romans 7 man makes these inadvertent or even flat out intentional mistakes and failings that he dreadfully regrets and hates within His inner man. He definitely is aware of this wretchedness and wishes it away.
That to me is the difference between believer and unbeliever. Cain never sought repentance he just didn't want to harsh a judgement.
I am led to believe that these feelings of hurt, being smothered by guilt of sin seem to be part and parcel of the Christian experience. The more we feel poisoned by sin's venomous toxin we should turn to look directly at Christ and be healed as it is His Righteousness that is counted to us.
I do look forward to reading more of what John has to say.
#14 Posted by
Geri Remy | Thursday, August 23, 2012at
I can offer the remedy that aided me the most as a Christian. I was most fortunate to be in a church where the emphasis was on the Bible, the Word of God and we were not only encouraged to memorize Scripture, the whole church made a steady diet of memorizing the Bible in chunks. I got saved 35 years ago and still have verses that I have memorized years ago pop into my head throughout the day. HIS Word is ALIVE!
As a person that was not raised in a Christian home, who ignorantly got entangled in the worst types of sin,,,I can vouch for God's faithfulness to His Word and how how He works through His Word. You CAN have victory over sin, inner peace, assurance of salvation, and true growth if you feed your soul the nourishment it is longing for...."Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against You", Psalm 119:11. When you memorize it, it becomes a part of your thoughts, your actions, your plans, and your moment by moment decisions.
#15 Posted by
Cheryl Kaster | Sunday, August 26, 2012at
Scripture, scripture scripture. That doesn't mean a verse here and there, a favorite scripture now and again. It means feeding on God's Word the way we do our physical food. Without physical food and water we would die. Without spiritual food and living water we "die"...not that we lose our salvation, because if we have truly been born again, we are eternally safe in our position, which is that we are "in Christ."
However, our assurance of salvation, our growth in sanctification, and our awareness of the many provisions of grace God has made for us are all revealed in God's Word.
2 Ti 3:16 (emphasis mine)
ALL scripture is given BY GOD and is profitable (valuable, essential) for doctrine (right believing), for reproof (letting us know where we are going wrong), for correction (helping us get back on the right path) and instruction in righteousness (what God says we are to do...not to merit salvation but to walk an obedient, victorious Christian life), that the man of God may be PERFECT (not as in the opposite of imperfect but as in complete, having everything we need because we are seeking it from Him, not relying on ourselves), thoroughly furnished unto all good works (the good works God has ordained that we walk in).
John MacArthur is my "hero" for one reason and one reason only: Because he manages to communicate through his teaching the importance, sufficiency, inerrancy, infallibility and the absolute unequaled value of studying (2 Ti 2:15) God's Word and pursuing a life of personal holiness.
None of this makes God love us any more but what it does is helps to insure that what we do, everything we do, brings glory to God and not ourselves.
I know John is human and I don't always agree with everything he says, but he taught awhile back about the two "tracks" his life has been on and is, as much as anyone, humbled by the fact that he hasn't gotten of the track to some great degree as we see all around us in this age of apostasy.
I believe, as I'm sure he does, that his love for and commitment to scripture, along with a commitment to personal holiness has given him favor in God's eyes..favor we can all receive from God because commitment to God's Word isn't something we muster up ourselves but is, itself, a gift from God, not so we can feel O.K. but so that we can be a blessing to others.
I don't put John on a pedestal but give God all the glory for his example of commitment is a great inspiration and an example worth following, at any and all cost, which is what it means to be a Christian....
Jesus said: "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." If we make a diligent search in God's Word to learn what it means to "follow" Christ and we take our eyes off of ourselves, we may just find that the chains of bondage we have been under will gradually drop away.