The essence of believing, of faith, is to transfer one’s dependence to Christ for salvation from sin and hell. What then is the essence of repentance? The verb repent is primarily from the Greek word metanoeo, which means “to change one’s mind.” Since the Holy Spirit convinces the world regarding sin, righteousness and judgment, the change of mind must be regarding these same three truths (John 16:8). To “repent” is to change one’s mind about sin, about the need for Christ’s righteousness and about judgment in hell without it.

Repent (metanoeo) is derived from a compound word. The first word, meta, means “after.” The second, noeo, “to perceive,” is from the noun nous, which translates as “mind” or “way of thinking.” Therefore, the compound metanoeo means “to change one’s mind.” As the familiar term metamorphosis denotes a change of form, so metanoia (the noun form of metanoeo) describes a change of mind or way of thinking.

The issue is not just to understand in the mind (intellect) regarding sin, righteousness and judgment, or even to agree in the heart (affections), but to change one’s mind (volition) and trust Christ to save from sin and hell. Regarding the mind, the matter central to repentance is one’s way of thinking because it reveals what a person perceives as absolute. It’s the grid of thinking that will disclose where (in what or in whom) the individual has placed dependence. Therefore, to change one’s mind is to embrace new thinking in exchange for one’s previous way of thinking. The thinking abandoned in such an exchange would be the former dependence, whether that be in a false god (for the religious idolater), works salvation (for the self-righteous moralist), atheism, agnosticism, hedonism (for the unrighteous sinner), or any combination of such things.

When one recognizes that his sin is taking him to hell and that Christ is his only hope (he is convicted of sin, judgment and righteousness), and then forsakes his wrong way of thinking (abandons the wrong object of dependence) by casting his dependence on Christ, he has repented. The change of mind is about sin, righteousness and judgment. Sin is the problem. Judgment is the consequence. Christ is the only Savior. Repentance abandons all wrong ways of thinking, all wrong objects of dependence, and trusts Christ alone for salvation from sin and hell.

A biblical study of the compounds metanoeo and metanoia harmonizes with the definitions offered for the terms in the lexicon. There is no confusion surrounding either word—as there might be with something like “pineapple,” a word with elements that can be variously interpreted. Rather, scriptural usage supports defining the verb as “to change one’s way of thinking” and the noun as “a change of way of thinking” regarding the problem of sin, the penalty of hell and the payment of Christ.

In the next article we will address the relationship between faith and repentance.

John Van Gelderen

John Van Gelderen

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