Repentance means different things to different people. If you’ve been raised under performance-based religion, repentance is something we must do to be saved… „If you don’t repent, you’re not saved. What is the something we must we do? Turn from sin, of course.” But as we will see, this is a limited and misleading interpretation of repentance.


What is repentance?

The Greek word commonly translated repentance (metanoia) literally means “to change the content of the mental attitude,” but it is generally known by the phrase „to change your mind.”

The Greek word for repent (metanoeo) is similar and both words are derived from the Greek word for mind (nous). So to repent is to change your mind. Why is changing your mind important? Simply because right believing always leads to right living.

You cannot renew your mind without repenting, for repenting means to change your mind. When I discover something new about the goodness of God, I repent – I change my way of thinking so that my life lines up with what is true.


Is repentance turning from sin?

Let’s look at an example from scripture:


“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mar 1:15)

The religious mind interprets Jesus’ words as “turn from sin and believe the good news.” But that is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is addressing unbelievers. He is saying “change your unbelieving mind and believe the good news.”

Repentance is not primarily a sin issue, it’s a faith issue. We are born walking by sight and trusting in the flesh. Jesus says, change the way you think and believe the good news.

Since repentance means changing your mind, it’s certainly possible that one can repent by turning from sin and there are plenty of people in the Bible who did so. But that’s only one kind of repentance and it is not the kind that leads to salvation. In the New Testament, repentance typically means turning to God.


I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (Act 20:21)

Turning from versus turning to may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s the difference between life and death! Someone who turns to God automatically turns from sin and from their dead religious works, but someone who turns from sin does not automatically turn to God. This is why it is misleading and dangerous to preach repentance as “turning from sin.” Paul never did. “I preached that they should repent and turn to God” [simple_tooltip content=’but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.’](Act 26:20)[/simple_tooltip].

As usual, Paul took his lead from Jesus:


I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luk 5:32)

Again, the religious mind interprets this as a call to turn from sin but turning from sin doesn’t make you righteous. An unbeliever who turns from sin remains an unbeliever. Turning from sin will make you a moral person, but it won’t make you righteous. Righteousness comes to us through faith in Christ alone.

The message we often hear is this: “God is holy and he won’t accept you unless you turn from sin.” It’s sold as a message of repentance and it appeals to our Adamic sense of “I can fix what I broke” but it’s utterly false. It’s a lie to promote the flesh and keep you from coming to Jesus.

The fact is God is holy and he won’t accept you no matter what you do. His acceptance and favor come by grace alone. Got a sin-problem? Turn to the cross and behold Christ. Come boldly to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace. His grace is your only hope.


What does it mean to practice repentance when you fail?

There is something beautiful about the word for repentance in the Hebrew language. [The Hebrew alphabet is made up of twenty-two letters, from aleph to tav. And each Hebrew letter has a picture, numerical value, and meaning.]

The Hebrew word for repentance is teshuvah, which is made up of five Hebrew letters—tav, shin, vav, bet, and hei. The first letter, tav, has as its pictogram a cross.2 The last letter, hei, is the fifth letter in the Hebrew alphabet,3 and the number five in Bible numerics represents grace. Sandwiched between tav (cross) and hei (grace) are the letters shin, vav, and bet. These three letters form the word shuv, which means “to return.” Putting it all together, teshuvah or repentance means this: “Because of the cross of Jesus, return to grace”!

[Note that Hebrew reads from right to left.]

Repentance is all about returning to God’s grace because of His goodness demonstrated at the cross of Jesus. It is about turning to the cross and returning to His grace. His grace is your source of power and strength over every sin. So if you have made a mistake, or you are struggling with a sinful habit today, repent by turning to the cross—seeing that mistake pun­ished in the body of Jesus—and receiving God’s unmerited favor to overcome this area of weakness. This is how you practice true repen­tance when you have failed. Don’t run away from Him. Run to Him! He is your solution. He is your answer. He loves you and longs for you to return to His loving embrace!

When you believe right about God’s grace, about your righteousness in Christ, and how you are called to be set apart for holiness, everything changes! His love touches you in the deepest recesses of your heart and you begin to experience transformation from the inside out. You begin to live above defeat and experience lasting breakthroughs because the power to fight off any temptation is not from without, but from within. It is not contingent upon your willpower; it is contingent upon the power of the Holy Spirit living mightily and actively in you, bearing witness to the gospel truths you believe.