A prominent preacher asked me the following questions concerning the Biblical doctrine of repentance some time ago in connection with my study on the subject here. I thought that his questions and the response he received might be of benefit to the readers of What is Truth, so I have posted them.
Is the salvation decision two steps or one? Are repentance and faith two distinct acts of the will or are they two sides of one coin?
Must the word "Repent" be part of every valid Gospel appeal?
Is repentance a decision confined to the matter of salvation, or is it a concept applicable to many issues?
Fundamentally, is repentance of sin a promise to do better, verified by doing better? Will repentance alone change a life, and how much? Is the sinner sick and in need of a doctor, or can he get rid of his sin by simply repenting of it?
Doesn't the Greek word for repentance really mean a change of mind, based on its etymology?
Does true repentance include deep sorrow for sin, or does godly sorrow lead to repentance?
The salvation decision is certainly one step, one of turning from sin to Christ as Lord and Savior.
The word “repent” is not necessary in every Gospel appeal (Acts 16:31) in the same way that the word “believe” is not necessary in every Gospel appeal (Acts 3:19). My own practice is that I will essentially always use “believe” or a synonym in giving the gospel, and I will essentially always use “repent” or a synonym also.
Certainly repentance is applicable to many issues, just as faith has to do with many things in addition to justification.
Neither repentance or faith will change a life, but coming into union with Jesus Christ will always change a life, and one comes into union with Christ by repentant faith, and one who does not want to be changed will not be brought into union with Christ because he does not really want the Savior.
The word metanoeo/metanoia sometimes, but not always, meant an “afterthought” that might or might not result in any change many hundreds of years before the NT was written, but that sense does not exist in the NT and, as far as I can tell, in the literature of early Christendom. We recognize that a word can change very dramatically in meaning in, say, 800 years; we do not assume that what a word meant in Beowolf is what it means in modern English. A detailed English dictionary will trace the history of words back to the times of Beowolf, and then Chaucer, etc., but we see what a word means today by its use in modern times, not by how it was used in Old or Middle English. When we look at the many uses of metanoeo/metanoia in the NT and in Koine Greek, the word means what all the lexica say—in the first century NT, in contradistinction to what the word meant many hundreds of years earlier, the word means what a standard lexicon such as Louw-Nida says: “[T]o change one’s way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness — ‘to repent, to change one’s way, repentance.’ . . . Though in English a focal component of repent is the sorrow or contrition that a person experiences because of sin, the emphasis in metanoeo and metanoia seems to be more specifically the total change, both in thought and behavior, with respect to how one should both think and act. Whether the focus is upon attitude or behavior varies somewhat in different contexts. . . . Though it would be possible to classify metanoeo and metanoia in [the category of words for] [t]hink[ing], the focal semantic feature of these terms is clearly behavioral rather than intellectual.”
True repentance includes sorrow for sin if we are speaking about the Hebrew nacham and the Greek metamelomai, and godly sorrow leads to repentance if we are speaking about the Hebrew shub and the Greek metanoia; all four words are translated as “repent” at various points in the KJV.
Readers who want to see an example of how to explain repentance in an evangelistic encounter are encouraged to examine the study here or the video here, as well as the evangelistic Bible study here. The theology of repentance is explained here as well as in many articles at What is Truth, and is stated well in many standard Baptist confessions of faith.