A change of mind, accompanied with regret and sorrow for something done, and an earnest wish that it was undone. Such was the repentance of Juda, Mt 27:3; and so it is said that Esau found "no place of repentance" in his father Isaac, although he sought it with tears, Heb 12:17; that is, Isaac would not change what he had done, and revoke the blessing given to Jacob, Ge 27. God is sometimes said to "repent" of something he had done, Ge 6:6; Jon 3:9-10; not that he could wish it undone, but that in his providence such a change of course took place as among men would be ascribed to a change of mind. But the true gospel repentance, or "repentance unto life," is sorrow for sin, grief for having committed it, and a turning away from it with abhorrence, accompanied with sincere endeavors, in reliance on God's grace and the influences of the Holy Spirit, to live in humble and holy obedience to the commands and will of God. This is that repentance which always accompanies true faith, and to which is promised the free forgiveness of sin through the merits of Jesus Christ, Mt 4:17; Ac 3:19; 11:18; 20:12.
There are three Greek words used in the New Testament to denote repentance. (1.) The verb metamelomai is used of a change of mind, such as to produce regret or even remorse on account of sin, but not necessarily a change of heart. This word is used with reference to the repentance of Judas (Mt 27:3).
(2.) Metanoeo, meaning to change one's mind and purpose, as the result of after knowledge. This verb, with (3) the cognate noun metanoia, is used of true repentance, a change of mind and purpose and life, to which remission of sin is promised.
Evangelical repentance consists of (1) a true sense of one's own guilt and sinfulness; (2) an apprehension of God's mercy in Christ; (3) an actual hatred of sin (Ps 119:128; Job 42:5-6; 2Co 7:10) and turning from it to God; and (4) a persistent endeavour after a holy life in a walking with God in the way of his commandments.
The true penitent is conscious of guilt (Ps 51:4,9), of pollution (Ps 51:5,7,10), and of helplessness (Ps 51:11; 109:21-22). Thus he apprehends himself to be just what God has always seen him to be and declares him to be. But repentance comprehends not only such a sense of sin, but also an apprehension of mercy, without which there can be no true repentance (Ps 51:1; 130:4).
Repentance, in the sense of turning from a purpose, is frequently predicated of God in the OT (Ge 6:6-7; Ex 32:14 etc.). Repentance for sin is commonly expressed by 'turn' or 'return' (e.g. De 4:30; Isa 55:7; Eze 3:2; Ho 14:2). Repentance has a prominent place in the NT, alone (Mt 4:17; Lu 15:7; Ac 2:38 etc.), or in conjunction with faith (Mr 1:15; Ac 20:21 etc.), as an Indispensable condition of salvation. The word ordinarily used (metanoia) means literally 'change of mind.' The change, however, is one in which not the intellect only, but the whole nature (understanding, affections, will), is involved. It is such an altered view of God and sin as carries with it heartfelt sorrow for sin, confession of it, and decisive turning from it to God and righteousness (Lu 15:17-18; Ro 6:17-18; 2Co 7:10-11 etc.). Its reality is tested by its fruits (Mt 3:8; Lu 6:43-46). From this 'godly sorrow', which works 'repentance unto salvation' (2Co 7:10-11), is distinguished a 'sorrow of the world' which 'worketh death' (2Co 7:10), i.e. a sorrow which has no relation to God, or to the intrinsic evil of sin, but only to sin's harmful consequences. There may be keen remorse, and blaming of one's self for one's folly, yet no real repentance.
Disputes have arisen in theology as to the priority of faith or repentance, but unnecessarily, for the two, rightly viewed, are but the positive and negative poles of the same state of soul. There can be no evangelical faith which does not spring from a heart broken and contrite on account of sin; on the other hand, there can be no true repentance which has not the germ of faith in God, and of hope in His mercy, in it. The Law alone would break the heart; the Gospel melts it. Repentance is the turning from sin; Gospel faith is the turning to Christ for salvation. The acts are inseparable (Ac 20:21).
The idea conveyed in this term is of great importance from the fact of its application not only to man but to God, showing how God, in His government of the earth, is pleased to express His own sense of events taking place upon it. This does not clash with His omniscience. There are two senses in which repentance on the part of God is spoken of.
1. As to His own creation or appointment of objects that fail to answer to His glory. He repented that He had made man on the earth, and that He had set up Saul as king of Israel. Ge 6:6-7; 1Sa 15:11,35
1Sa 15:2. As to punishment which He has threatened, or blessing He has promised. When Israel turned from their evil ways and sought God, He often repented of the punishment He had meditated. 2Sa 24:16, etc. On the other hand, the promises to bless Israel when in the land were made conditionally on their obedience, so that God would, if they did evil, turn from or repent of the good that He had said He would do, either to Israel or in fact to any nation. Jer 18:8-10. He would alter the order of His dealings towards them, and as to Israel He said, "I am weary with repenting." Jer 15:6. In all this the responsibility of man is concerned, as well as the divine government.
But the unconditional promises of God, as made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are not subject to repentance. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance." Ro 11:29. "God is not a man that he should lie; neither the son of man that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it?" Nu 23:19; 1Sa 15:29; Mal 3:6. And this must hold good in regard to every purpose of His will.
As regards man, repentance is the necessary precursor of his experience of grace on the part of God. Two motives for repentance are presented in scripture: the goodness of God which leads to repentance (Ro 2:4) and coming judgement, on account of which God now commands all men to repent (Ac 17:30-31); but it is distinctly of His grace and for His glory that this door of return to Him is granted (Ac 11:18) in that He has approached man in grace and by His glad tidings, consequent on His righteousness having been secured in the death of Christ. Hence God's testimony is "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Ac 20:21.
Repentance has been described as "a change of mind Godward that leads to a judgement of self and one's acts." 1Ki 8:47; Eze 14:6; Mt 3:2; 9:13; Lu 15:7; Ac 20:21; 2Co 7:9-10; etc. This would not be possible but for the thought of mercy in God. It is the goodness of God that leads to repentance. Ro 2:4.
Repentance is also spoken of as a change of thought and action where there is no evil to repent of. 2Co 7:8.
REPENTANCE is sometimes used generally for a change of mind, and an earnest wishing that something were undone that has been done. Esau found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears; he could not move his father Isaac to repent of what he had done, or to recall the blessing from Jacob and confer it on himself, Heb 12:17; Mt 3:2; 4:17. Taken in a religious sense it signifies conviction of sin and sorrow for it. But there is,
1. A partial or worldly repentance, wherein one is grieved for and turns from his sin, merely on account of the hurt it has done, or is likely to do, him; so a malefactor, who still loves his sin, repents of doing it, because it brings him to punishment.
2. An evangelical repentance, which is a godly sorrow wrought in the heart of a sinful person by the word and Spirit of God, whereby, from a sense of his sin, as offensive to God, and defiling and endangering to his own soul, and from an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, he, with grief and hatred of all his known sins, turns from them to God, as his Saviour and Lord. This is called "repentance toward God," as therein we turn from sin to him; and "repentance unto life;" as it leads to spiritual life, and is the first step to eternal life, Mt 3:2; Ac 3:19; 11:18; 20:12. God himself is said to repent, but this can only be understood of his altering his conduct towards his creatures, either in the bestowing of good or the infliction of evil: which change in the divine conduct is founded on a change in his creatures; and thus, speaking after the manner of men, God is said to repent.