What It Means to Repent
Part 1

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Authored By  :
Bill Kochman

Published On :
June 10, 2019

Last Updated :
June 10, 2019

Introduction, God Grieves Man's Wickedness On The Earth, The Hebrew Word "Nacham", God Changes His Mind And Decides To Destroy Man, God Changes His Mind Concerning Destroying The Israelites, The Israelites' Long History Of Disobedience And Outright Apostasy, God Chastises Israel Through Crop Failure Drought Disease Invasion Subjugation And Death, God Changes His Mind And Stops The Affliction, To Repent Is Related To A Change Of Mental State, God Does Not Go Back On His Word Or Change His Mind, The Prophet Samuel And Rebellious King Saul, Surety Of God's Eternal Word, The Exodus And The Philistines, My Approach To Teaching The Scriptures, John The Baptist's Message Of Repentance, Koine Greek Word "Metanoeo" Means To Change One's Mind, Jesus Preaches Repentance, Other Verses Which Use "Metanoeo" And "Metanoia", Repent Ye And Believe

Recently, a very good friend of mine asked me two important questions. First, he wanted to know if we need to repent of our sins in order to be saved. And second, he wanted to know exactly what we need to repent of, and why. What about you? Do you think you know the answer to these two questions? If not, then perhaps the following series will enlighten you as well.

If you were to ask any number of Christians what the word "repent" means, the vast majority of them would probably tell you that it generally means to be sorry for your sins, and to turn away from your wickedness. This is in fact the meaning which has been drilled into Christians for literally centuries. However, it may interest you to know that this modern definition of the word "repent" does not exactly fit the Biblical, or archaic, definition of the word. Yes, they are definitely related, as I will be explaining later on in this same series. However, they are not quite the same. This fact becomes evident when we examine the very first place in the Scriptures where the word "repent" is used. Consider the following two verses which are found in the Book of Genesis:

"And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart."
Genesis 6:5-6, KJV

Those verses have absolutely nothing to do with Salvation. So, I am sure that it is obvious to you that they cannot be implying that God was sorry for His sins, or that He had to turn away from His wickedness. Such a thought is ludicrous to say the least. After all, God is perfect, and without sin of any kind. As the Apostle John tells us, God is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all. Likewise, we are told by the Apostle Paul that Jesus knew no sin; as we can determine by the following two verses:

"This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."
1 John 1:5, KJV

"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
2 Corinthians 5:21, KJV

So if the Biblical definition of the word "repent" in those verses from Genesis is not to be sorry for one's sins, and to turn away from those same sins, then exactly what is it? As it turns out, in Genesis 6:6 above, the word "repented" is derived from the Hebrew word "nacham". Pronounced naw-kham', this Hebrew word has a variety of meanings, including to be sorry, console oneself, repent, rue, regret, comfort or be comforted. Consider how it is defined in the Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew Aramaic English Lexicon:

----- Begin Quote -----

05162 ‭םחנ nacham nawkham'

AV comfort 57, repent 41, comforter 9, ease 1; 108

1) to be sorry, console oneself, repent, regret, comfort, be comforted
   1a) (Niphal)
       1a1) to be sorry, be moved to pity, have compassion
       1a2) to be sorry, rue, suffer grief, repent
       1a3) to comfort oneself, be comforted
       1a4) to comfort oneself, ease oneself
   1b) (Piel) to comfort, console
   1c) (Pual) to be comforted, be consoled
   1d) (Hithpael)
       1d1) to be sorry, have compassion
       1d2) to rue, repent of
       1d3) to comfort oneself, be comforted
       1d4) to ease oneself

----- End Quote -----

Hebrew is a bit of a tricky language, and how a particular word is translated into English depends a lot on the context of the surrounding words. In this case, the KJV translators chose to use the word "repent". However, as I said earlier, how we understand the word today is not exactly the same as how it was understood four hundred years ago. Based on the fact that we are also told that the LORD was grieved when He beheld the wicked state of man, I believe that the intended understanding here is that He was sorry that He had created man, and that He regretted and rued His decision to make man. Taken altogether, we can say that the LORD had a change of mind regarding the subject. In other words, initially, He thought it was a good idea to make man. However, once He saw how wicked man had become, He changed His mind and regretted His decision.

The fact that the LORD changed His mind is made even more evident when we read the very next verse where we are told that He was so grieved by the wickedness of man, and so regretted His decision of having made man, that He decided that He was going to destroy man, as we see here:

"And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them."
Genesis 6:7, KJV

So when it says "it repenteth me", it means that the LORD regretted creating man. God had a change of mind. He went from thinking that it was good to create man, to thinking it would be better off to destroy them all, save for Noah and his immediate family. No doubt, this one example of how the word "repent" is meant to be understood in the Scriptures will not be enough to convince some of my readers. However, I am confident that after I've presented a few more examples for your consideration, you will begin to see how really clear this is. Turning to the Book of Exodus, we find Moses pleading with God after the people have fashioned the golden calf. In the thirty-second chapter of the Book we read the following:

"And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people."
Exodus 32:7-14, KJV

So as you can see, God was really ready to let them have it due to their blatant idolatry. He was going to let His wrath be felt. But notice what Moses says to Him, and then how the Lord responds. Moses says "Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people." In other words, Moses is pleading with God to change His mind; and the last verse tells us that this is exactly what the LORD did. We're told that he "repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people." In other words, God changed His mind about it, and decided to not do it.

Moving up to the Book of Judges, we find yet another example where the word "repent" is directly related to changing one's mind. As I point out in a number of articles, such as "The Fruits of Disobedience", if there is one thing we learn from studying the Old Testament, it is that the Israelites were in a constant state of flux between obedience to the Lord, and blatant disobedience and outright apostasy. As a result, and exactly as He had warned through Moses in the various Books of the Pentateuch, the Lord found it necessary to chastise the Israelites again and again. This chastisement came in the form of crop failure, drought, disease -- a.k.a. pestilence -- invasion, subjugation and death. This is precisely the situation we find in the following verses that are found in Judges chapter two:

"Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the LORD; but they did not so. And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them."
Judges 2:16-18, KJV

As you can see, we are plainly told why the Lord lifted the chastisement in the words "for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them." So once again, it is evident that the phrase "it repented the LORD" means that He changed His mind, and halted the affliction once they had learned their lesson. In each of the Scriptural examples I have presented to you, the same Hebrew word "nacham" is used; and in each case, the end result is that the Lord changes His mind regarding a certain matter. The only thing that is different, is the motivating factor regarding why the Lord changed His mind. In some of these examples, it is due to personal regret regarding one of His previous actions. In others, it is due to His mercy, pity and compassion for the Israelites.

But again, the main point to consider here is that the verb "repent" is directly related to a change of mental state, or changing one's mind regarding a particular matter. For those of you who are not yet fully convinced of this point, allow me to share a few more Scriptural examples with you. The first one is a verse with which many of my readers will be very familiar. It is found in the Book of Numbers:

"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? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?"
Numbers 23:19, KJV

From the get go, it is rather obvious that this verse has absolutely nothing to do with Salvation, being sorry for our sins, or turning away from our wickedness. In just reading the verse in plain English, I think it is rather clear what the word "repent" means here. Quite simply, the verse states that God the Father does not lie, and that Jesus, His Son, does not regret His decisions or change His mind. If He says something, if He gives His word, He will do it. He does not flip-flop or go back on His word. Period. The Prophet Samuel said the very same thing to King Saul after informing him that God had rent the kingdom from him due to his rebellion and disobedience. In this case, the word "repent" is used as well, as we can determine by the following verses:

"And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou. And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent."
1 Samuel 15:28-29, KJV

King David uses the word "nacham" in the very same way in the prophetic Psalm 110 where we are told that God will not change His mind -- or repent -- once He has given His word, as we see here:

"The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek."
Psalm 110:4, KJV

Let me share one more clear example with you that is found in the Book of Jeremiah, where once again we see that the word "nacham" -- or "repent" in English -- means to change one's mind, or to go back on a previous decision:

"For thus hath the LORD said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end. For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black: because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it."
Jeremiah 4:27-28, KJV

It should be clear then that here is no double mindedness when it comes to God the Father and Jesus Christ. Their word is as solid as a rock. We can count on it. We can be sure of it. That is also why we find verses such as the following in both the Old and the New Testaments:

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, WITH WHOM IS NO VARIABLENESS, NEITHER SHADOW OF TURNING."
James 1:17, KJV

"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever."
Hebrews 13:8, KJV

". . . For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven."
Psalm 119:89, KJV

"The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations."
Psalm 33:11, KJV

"Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:"
Isaiah 46:9-10, KJV

"We have also A MORE SURE WORD OF PROPHECY; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts."
2 Peter 1:19, KJV

While all of the previous Scriptural examples demonstrate how the word "repent" is related to the Lord changing -- or not changing -- His mind due to various reasons or factors, before leaving the Old Testament behind, allow me to share with you one more verse where the Hebrew word "nacham" is used in regards to the Israelites:

"And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:"
Exodus 13:17, KJV

Obviously, the usage of the word "repent" in the previous verse has nothing to do with feeling sorry for one's sins or turning away from one's wickedness. On the other hand, it has everything to do with regretting one's decision, and changing one's mind about something. In this case, as is evident, it's about the Lord's concern that the Israelites may change their minds, and decide to return to Egypt, upon encountering the warlike nature of the Philistines.

If you take some time to conduct some Biblical research of your own, you will discover that there are a number of other verses in the Old Testament where this very same Hebrew word is used, and where it means the exact same thing, as I have already explained to you. As I mentioned previously, in the strictest sense of the word, "repent" is not specifically referring to the topic of Salvation, or being sorry for one's sins, or turning away from one's wickedness. The word simply means a change in one's mental state. That is, changing one's mind, or not changing one's mind, due to different reasons.

At this point in our discussion, we will now turn to the New Testament. Many of my longtime readers will already know that my approach to teaching the Scriptures, and explaining why I believe the things that I do, is to slowly build my case one step at a time, or one verse at a time, if you prefer. So if everything I have told you thus far is accurate and correct, then it should be easily confirmed by verses that we find in the Books of the New Testament as well, right? Well, you are not going to be disappointed. The very first verse we find where the word "repent" is used is found in Matthew chapter three. It concerns the preaching of John the Baptist, as we see here:

"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Matthew 3:1-2, KJV

So, if that word "repent" means the same thing as what we discovered in the Old Testament, then by simply examining the original Koine Greek word that is used in the previous verse, we should have our confirmation. The Koine Greek word that is used in Matthew 3:2 is "metanoeo". Pronounced metanoeh'o, Thayer's Greek English Lexicon defines it as follows:

----- Begin Quote -----

3340 μετανοέω‭ metanoeo metanoeh'o

AV repent 34; 34

1) to change one's mind, i.e. to repent
2) to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins

----- End Quote -----

Well, will you look at that! It means "to change one's mind". So when John tells the crowds to repent, he literally means for them to change their minds, just as we saw in the pages of the Old Testament. When Jesus comes along in the very next chapter of Matthew, He preaches the exact same message, and means the very same thing as well, as we can determine by the following verse:

"From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Matthew 4:17, KJV

In the previous verse, the very same Koine Greek word is translated as "repent". Furthermore, "metanoeo" is likewise used in the following group of verses as well:

"And they [the Twelve] went out, and preached that men should repent."
Mark 6:12, KJV

"And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Matthew 9:10-13, KJV

"And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?‭ I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.‭ Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?‭ I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
Luke 13:2-5, KJV

"And he spake this parable unto them, saying,‭ What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?‭ And when he hath found ‭it‭, he layeth ‭it‭ on his shoulders, rejoicing.‭ And when he cometh home, he calleth together ‭his‭ friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.‭ I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.‭"
Luke 15:3-7, KJV

"And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent."
Luke 16:30, KJV

"And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."
Luke 24:46-47, KJV

"Now when they heard ‭this‭, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men ‭and‭ brethren, what shall we do?‭ Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."
Acts 2:37-38, KJV

"‭‭Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;‭"
Acts 3:19, KJV

"And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:"
Acts 17:30, KJV

"Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:‭ But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and ‭then‭ to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.‭"
Acts 26:19-20, KJV

"Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?"
Romans 2:4, KJV

"The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
2 Peter 3:9, KJV

"‭‭Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.‭"
Revelation 2:5, KJV

"Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth."
Revelation 2:16, KJV

"Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee"
Revelation 3:3, KJV

"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."
Revelation 3:19, KJV

Please note that in the previous group of verses, where the word "repentance" is used, it is derived from the Koine Greek word "metanoia", which itself is a variation of "metanoeo". Thus, it means the exact same thing. That is, to change one's mind about something. Of course, the obvious big question is, change one's mind about what? Furthermore, how exactly does this change come about? Once again, by simply turning to the Scriptures, we can find a very clear answer to both of these intriguing questions. Let's address the first question. It turns out that Jesus very directly told His listeners what kind of change of mental state was required -- that is, what they had to change their minds about -- in the following two verses:

"Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel."
Mark 1:14-15, KJV

Wow! Do you see that? Jesus says "repent ye, and believe the gospel." In that one verse alone, the Lord is very clearly telling us what the result of their repentance is supposed to be. In no uncertain terms, He tells the people to change their minds -- or repent -- and to believe. It is as simple as that. They need to change their minds from their current mental state of unbelief, to a state of belief. In other words, looking at it in reverse, if repenting leads to a state of belief, then not repenting means remaining in a state of unbelief.

Please go to part two for the continuation of this series.

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