The Necessity Of Repentance

Dr Pierre Coovert

Scripture says that repentance is necessary for salvation: Luke 13:3 “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

The context of this passage deals with some who had suffered violent deaths. We often think that those who suffer this kind of death are greater sinners than others and that their deaths were God’s punishment upon them. Jesus is telling His listeners that they will also perish without repentance.

All are commanded to repent: Acts 17:29-30 “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:”

God is our Creator. The word “offspring” in this passage means “to cause to be.” Since God is our Creator and caused us to exist, we should not think that He can be made out of some created thing like gold, silver, or stone. Nor can He be made out of some philosophy of men who are created beings. They cannot create something greater than they are.

God winked at, or overlooked, this times of ignorance. This does not mean He turned a blind eye to sin. Notice that it is the time that we winked at, not the sin or the sinner. For a short time God may not punish sin in order to give the sinner opportunity to repent.

The purpose of God’s delay in punishment is given in II Peter 3:9: “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.”

God does not pour out His wrath upon sinners as soon as sin is committed. Many think this means there is no judgment coming. They think that the promise of coming judgment is but a fairytale. Quite the contrary! He is longsuffering because it is His desire that all should come to repentance.

What Is Biblical Repentance

Now that we know the importance of repentance, it is time that we learn what it is. Some define it as reformation, or turning over a new leaf. Some define it as being sorry for one’s sins. Some define it as going from a state of unbelief to a state of belief. What does the Bible say it is?

With one exception, repentance is always translated from μετανοεω in the New Testament. The Greek word “μετανοεω” comes from μετα which means “with” and νοεω which means “to exercise the mind.”

The one exception is Romans 11:29 which translates αμεταμελητος, meaning irrevocable, as “without repentance” This verse does not relate to our discussion but it is telling us that when God gives us a gift it is irrevocable and when He calls us to do a job the call is permanent.

Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines repentance as sorrow, regret, or pain for past conduct; or as a change of mind. The last part of this definition, “a change of mind” comes closer to the meaning of the Greek definition so we will use it in our discussion.

We can best define repentance as a change of mind about something. To change ones mind one must first have an opinion or mindset. Therefore repentance is the changing of one’s mind or opinion from one thing to another.

Acts 20:21 tell us that our repentance toward God. In other words, we change our mind to agree with God. We will look at what this means later.

Since we have to change our mind from our preexisting opinion to agree with God, what is the preexisting opinion we are to turn from? Most people say we are to turn from our sins or our sin. After searching every time any word in English, Greek, or Hebrew is used that could mean repent I found no place where the lost are to turn from their sin as a requirement for their salvation. I did, however, find that the foundation upon which our faith exists is “repentance from dead works and faith toward God.” Hebrews 6:1 says “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,”

So, the biblical repentance that is required for salvation is the turning from our dead works as a basis of our salvation and turning to God for the mercy that is found only in Christ.

What Causes Repentance?

II Corinthians 7:9-10 gives us the results of Paul’s first epistle to this church. “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”

Godly sorrow worked repentance in the hearts of the people at Corinth. The world’s sorrow is being sorry for having gotten caught in sin. Godly sorrow is being heart broken because of having offended God. This kind of sorrow caused the Corinthians to, by an exercise of mind, chose to turn from their errors at the rebuke of Paul in his first letter to them. This is the kind of repentance that saves the soul. It is an irrevocable repentance (repentance…not to be repented of).

The world’s sorrow works death. It does not kill, but if one is only sorry because they have been found out, the final result will be the second death.

Repentance Has Fruit

Matthew 3:7-8 tells us that there is fruit that comes from repentance: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:”

Remember, repentance is a mental exercise. A person who has truly repented will think differently than one who hasn’t. He will have a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).

Acts 26:20 sheds more light on the issue of the fruit of repentance: “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.”

Repentance causes one to turn to God and to do works meet for repentance. Works meet, or suitable, for repentance are those things that we do because of a changed attitude of mind.

Before you get the idea that this makes works part of salvation, let me assure you that the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace, through faith, without works (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is true, however, that if a person is truly sorry for having offended God his actions will change. If a person is truly born again his whole life will change, including his works (II Corinthians 5:17). The works are the result of repentance and faith, not the cause.


Repentance is required for salvation. It is cause by a godly sorrow. It results in fruits or works that fit or suitable, or make evident a changed mind toward God.

In my next article we will look at the most important tool that the Holy Spirit uses to bring people to a conviction of sin and a repentant heart.

Copyright 2017 Pierre Coovert, All rights reserved

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