Monday, January 21, 2008

Repentance Isn't "Turning From Your Sins" (Transcript)

You probably know what Gospel tracts are. Gospel tracts are usually small little pamphlets or booklets which are handed out to people or left behind for people to pick up, so that they can read about the Good News of Jesus Christ.

If you use Gospel tracts, or if you have read many Gospel tracts, you know that most Gospel tracts end with some kind of sample prayer or “decision” that the reader is encouraged to pray or decide. And the decision or prayer is often put in the context of, “Okay, what do I do if I want to accept Christ?”

And the answer usually starts out biblically with something like, “Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

So far, so good.

But then you will invariably find some so-called explanation of Repentance which goes like this: “Repentance means to turn from your sins.” This is even explained further sometimes as a “180-degree about face. You were going one direction, and now you completely turn your life around and head 180 degrees in the other direction.”

And that's where most tracts, in my experience 90 to 95% of tracts, and many sermons, depart from Scripture.

Repentance is not “turning from your sins”. Repentance is simply a change of mind.

I remember as a kid, when we were first exploring the primitive concepts of logic and common sense, we had a little logical trick question we used to ask. We could often fool the kids with this simple question, but what really gave us pleasure was fooling the adults, which was about as easy as fooling the kids.

Here's the simple question with its scenario: “There were three frogs on a log, and one decided to jump off. Now how many frogs are on the log?”

If I had asked you that question when I was a kid, and you answered, “Two”, I would have chuckled with delight and gently mocked you because you didn't listen carefully and logically to the question. If one frog DECIDED to jump off, at that moment in time, there were still three frogs on the log, because DECIDING to jump off is not in fact jumping off.

Did the frog eventually jump off? Of course, because he had decided to. But the "decision" is not the "jumping". Get it?

In the same logical, common-sense way, repentance is not “turning from your sins”. Repentance is simply a change of mind.


Before going further with the concept of repentance, I want to take a little side road, and say a few words about logic itself. Often logic is seen as something the atheists use against Christianity. Logic is ridiculed by Christians sometimes because logic is used by anti-Christian thinkers, and so these Christians reject logic and say something like, “I don't care how logical your argument is, it goes against the Word of God, and so it's wrong.”

Now that attitude toward the Word of God itself is good and commendable. We should have that attitude of sola scriptura, scripture alone, as our final authority. But that doesn't mean that we should throw out logic.

God is the Father of logic. God is the Father of right reasoning. We should exert our God-given reason or logic in making conclusions. However, unlike the atheist or pagan, our logic, our logical arguments, must be based ultimately on the truth of the Scriptures.

So don't disparage logic, or refuse to think logically, just because the pagans use logic. They have different foundations, different premises, than you do, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ and His Word. Use those premises, those truths, from the Word of God, and then make your logical conclusions, and you will be on the right track.

O.K., back to our point about repentance. We said repentance is not “turning from your sins”. Repentance is simply a change of mind.

I want to look at four reasons why this is true, and why it's important:

The Greek Word For Repentance

1. First we have the simple linguistic meaning of the Greek word which we translate “repentance” or “repent”. The word translated “repent” is metanoeo. The noun form is metanoia. And it comes from two Greek words meaning “change” and “mind”.

Now I will admit immediately that this simple linguistic explanation is not enough. And the reason that it's not enough all by itself is that sometimes a simple Greek word has taken on more meaning than its basic original meaning.

We have this in English, too, and I assume in every human language. If you say, “That car of mine is a lemon”, you can't be committed to some mental asylum as if you thought your car was really a small yellow citrus fruit. Why? Because although the simple original meaning of lemon is the citrus fruit, it has taken on an additional meaning of a defective car that keeps breaking down.

And so, in looking at the word “repentance”, we have to ask if it has biblically taken on a meaning other than "changing one's mind". We'll deal with that question in reason number 3, but first we have to admit something else.

We have to admit that if there is no biblical reason to give “repentance” a meaning other than its basic original meaning of “changing the mind”, then we have to accept that it simply means “to change the mind”.

In other words, always take a word at its basic original meaning, unless there is good reason to do otherwise. And with that rule in place, I think we will see clearly that “repentance” simply means “to change the mind”, NOT “to turn from your sins”.

Blatant Legalism

2. The second reason why this is true and important is this: to say that “repentance” is “turning from your sins”, is blatant Legalism, even if taught by well-meaning teachers, preachers, and gospel tracts.

Now if you pointed this out to one of these teachers or preachers, they would, of course, immediately deny that they were teaching Legalism. But think this through.

I believe it is impossible to convey the idea of “turning from your sins” without conveying the idea of “doing” something, or “not doing” something. To put it another way, you can't logically speak of “turning from your sins”, without referencing some kind of obedience. That is, obedience to some Law of God, or some biblical command to “do” or “not do” something.

Now, let me take another little side road, and talk about the New Birth.

Jesus told Nicodemus that unless a man is "born again", or what the theologians call “regenerated”, he can't “see” the Kingdom of God. The implication is that if he can't even “see” the Kingdom of God, he sure can't believe in the King.

Scripture teaches that he is dead in his sins and trespasses, and can't do a thing about it, because he is an enemy of God. And until the wind of the Holy Spirit blows where He wills, and gives New Life (the New Birth) to someone, they're going to stay dead in their sins and their trespasses. Lost and headed for Hell.

But the Bible teaches that before the foundation of the world, God has chosen to save His people. And He does this through the preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ, His death on the cross to pay for our sins, His burial and His resurrection from the dead. And that through believing in this Jesus Christ, we are saved.

That's what John 3:16 means when it says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

That's the Gospel. But the important thing about this Gospel, the critical thing that makes it different than false gospels, is that it is completely by Grace. In other words, the salvation is completely a free gift from beginning to end. “Not of works, lest anyone should boast." (Eph. 2:8,9)

Now if I “turn from my sins”, I've got something to boast about. I've DONE something that I can boast about, haven't I?

But that's not the Gospel. And that's why “repentance” can't be “turning from your sins”. It's simply a change of mind.

But what is it a “change of mind” about? Two things basically.

First, our sins. We used to be FOR them, now we're AGAINST them. We used to think they were O.K. Now we see them as evil and rebellious against a holy and just and good God.

But the second thing we change our mind about is Jesus Christ Himself. We used to not believe in Him in any way, or maybe thought He was just a “good teacher”, or whatever. But now we believe in Him as our Lord and our Savior. We “see” the Kingdom of God. We “see” His rightful place as our Master, and we “see” that through His work on the Cross, we have forgiveness of our sins.

We "repent" or change our minds about our “dead works” (Heb. 6:1), and believe in Jesus Christ.

And this is why this subject is so important. Because if we preach the Gospel as requiring people to “turn from their sins”, we are confusing the Grace of God with the works of people. We are giving them something to DO, instead of something to BELIEVE, and salvation comes from BELIEVING.

How Much Turning From Sins Is Enough?

3. The third reason for the truth and importance that repentance isn't “turning from your sins” is closely related to the second on Legalism.

It simply asks the question, “How much turning from your sins is enough?”

Is it completely turning from all your sins forever? Then no one qualifies, do they?

Is it just turning from sins somewhat for a little while? That's not much of a repentance, is it?

This brings the same kind of confusion brought by those who confuse salvation with discipleship. They say things like, “Give your life to Christ and He will save you”, or “Give all that you are for all that He is”. That's not the Gospel. It prompts the same type of confusing question. “How much do I 'give' Him? How much is enough? Did I give Him ALL of my life?” And on and on the legalistic confusion.

See, that's the problem with Legalism. It's never enough. It's like the leech of Proverbs 30:15 that says, “give, give”, but it's never enough. How much Performance is enough? How much obedience is enough to secure the love and favor and forgiveness of God?

And of course the answer is that you can never have enough obedience, or enough “turning from sins” to earn God's love and favor. His love and favor had better be by Grace, or we are all in trouble. But of course it is by Grace, thank God.

Thank God that repentance, like faith, is a gift of God through the New Birth. Thank God that He sovereignly blows the wind of His Spirit and regenerates us, and then we “see”, and we repent, we change our minds. We once were blind, but now we “see”.

We are new creatures, but we still are sometimes deceived by the world, the flesh and the devil, and walk by the flesh instead of walking by the Spirit, and we sin. Thank God those sins are paid for and forgiven, and He leads us back to change our minds again. We should never stop changing our minds back to the truth. Back to the Word of God and the truth of the Gospel of Grace.

The Catch-22 of Repentance As “Changing the Mind”

4. The fourth reason for the truth and importance that repentance isn't “turning from your sins”, is that “turning from your sins” will only result in more sinning. But “changing your mind” will result in less sinning.

Here's what I mean by that.

Remember our little frog friends, on the log? When one of the frogs decided to jump off of the log, even though he had not jumped off yet, we were confident that he would jump off, right?

Why? Because that's what he had decided to do. The decision was his "repentance", we might say. And his jumping off was the reasonable result of his repentance.

Likewise, when a person repents (changes their mind) about their sins, and about Jesus Christ, just as sure as the frog jumps off of the log, the new believer will have a changed life.

The Bible says he will have “fruit” in his life, the result of the Holy Spirit indwelling his new heart (Col. 1:27; Gal. 5:22,23), and the Life of Christ living through Him (Gal. 2:20), and God working in Him both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).

The so-called Free Grace theology that says a person can repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but then turn from the Lord, and embrace his sins again, and never come back to Christ, never have any “fruit” in his life, but still be "saved" in the end, is a serious error.

Why? Because the New Birth brings a New Creation, and the New Creation, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and producing a “change of mind” (repentance), will bring a changed life. It will bring “fruit”.

So, in conclusion, where does salvation come from?

Well, it's a free gift brought by the New Birth, which results in our changing our minds about our sins and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who paid for our sins on the Cross, and said, “It is finished”, and died and rose again from the dead.

In other words, it's by Grace, not by the works of “turning from our sins”.


Bhedr said...

Good post. Its hard to find a good tract though. I like Gods simple plan of salvation and All this I did for thee, but Dr Curtis Hudson has done one called Salvation clear and simple that I pass out mainly to the Mexican framers. Some Americans.

Also, Dr Hudson(an Arminian but one with some good points) once said that if repentance means to turn from sin then when God repents does that mean he is turning from sin?

Excellent truth. The change of mind. The mind is the battlefield and so God tells us to keep that helmet of salvation on. Always remembering that it is all of grace.

Terry Rayburn said...


I agree it's hard to find a good tract. I'm on a search now. Thanks for the suggestions.

Good reminder on the helmet of salvation.

Jim said...

Terry, this was an exceptional post. While you sound like a Calvinist, your demeanor and approach were very loving and full of grace.

I have to agree with you...this is how I have seen repentance. I just could never put it in a logical sequence like this before. It really does bring a peace whereas the the turn-from-your-sin approach leaves one wondering as you say, "how much is enough".

Blessings in Christ,

Terry Rayburn said...

Hi Jim,

Nice to hear from you. Thanks.


JustinCase said...

Good post. Certainly a different turn on turning from.

I was intrigued by your frog question. I noted that you used the term "were" three frogs on a log. "Were" indicating past events, or that there "are" none sitting on the log, as opposed to three sitting on the log. Just my weird thinking I guess.

Terry Rayburn said...



The "were" simply puts the story itself in the past tense, not that the frogs are not still on the log at the point in time of the story itself. :)

This might sound a little tricky because the modern way to tell a story, at least in America among the younger generations, is to tell a "past" story in the "present" tense.

For example, "So last year Sam GOES to the store, and he SAYS something to the clerk. And the clerk LOOKS at him like he's crazy. So he EXPLAINS to the clerk...", and so on.

This sounds kind of weird and even illiterate to some older folks, but did you know that's how some of the New Testament is written?

Mark, the writer of the Gospel, did this all the time, and it gives a sort of fast-paced atmosphere to the narrative.

(Not all translations reflect Mark's Greek present tense, by the way. Some have translated Mark's verbs in the English "past tense", thereby missing his style. Not a big deal, but it does take away from the fast-paced flow Mark naturally wrote in.)

I'm sure some who are reading this comment are yawning by now, but I love this kind of linguistic stuff.

dec said...

Terry, I'm with Jim.
For a Calvinist, you do have a loving demeanor. :-)

Terry Rayburn said...


Appreciate your encouragement.

Sidharth said...

Great post.

I agree totally that the Greek word used for "repent" means "to change ones mind".

However, there is much more to it.

For example: Initially I decide to go to Jim's blog, and then I change my mind and decide to come to your blog. This is repentance.

I was going in one direction, I take a "U turn" and pursue another direction. And that would certainly involve changing our mind to pursue a sinful lifestyle.

Repentance again is not a one time process where you change your mind once and for all, it is a process. In the New Testament, we see this mostly in the words "renew your minds" [Rom 12:2, Eph 4:23].

In Isaiah 55:7, we see a clear description on repentance:

"Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon".

"Repentance from dead works and faith towards God" [Heb 6:1-2]. This is a profound truth.

When started preaching His first words were:

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; Repent and Believe in the gospel." [Mark 1:15]

This was far from just a call from turning from a sinful lifestyle, though as we pursue to obey this command, that will be required. It goes onto tell us..."Change your mind set, and make it Kingdom mind-set".

This is one of the prerequisites to faith, changing our mindsets to believe all that God will and can do in this age of the Kingdom.

Thanks again for pointing out to this.

Imrah Ministries

Terry Rayburn said...


Thank you, brother, for your comments.

May God bless you in your ministry.

And may Galatians 2:20 become bright and real to you as you walk in His Spirit.


Sidharth said...

I just wanted you to read this article...

Be blessed


Sivraj Jarvis said...

Ok. I was confused when I first read your post because it seemed like it was more than tracts that were kicking against what you wrote. It was also Wayne Grudem's & Millard Erickson's Systematic Theology texts.

Likewise also an article by John Reisinger on your blog seemed to suggest otherwise:

"ONE: A man must repent and believe the gospel in order to be saved. No one was ever forgiven and made a child of God who did not willingly turn from sin to Christ. Nowhere does the Bible even hint that men can be saved without repentance and faith, ..."

(See )

I think I now see what going on... these gents are saying that repentance involves turning from sin - not sins. That is a different matter. Sin - singular - refers to a condition. Sins refers to actions.

Am I correct?

R. Rao

Sivraj Jarvis said...

I might be splitting hairs here... if so forgive me.

From Grudem, I get the idea that conversion involves two turns:

1) a turn away from -> sin (= repentance)
2) a turn to -> Jesus (= faith)

So conversion = repentance + faith

You said:
"...And that's why “repentance” can't be “turning from your sins”. It's simply a change of mind.

But what is it a “change of mind” about? Two things basically.

First, our sins. ///CUT///

But the second thing we change our mind about is Jesus Christ Himself. ///CUT///

We "repent" or change our minds about our “dead works” (Heb. 6:1), and believe in Jesus Christ.

~ So then how do you understand what is involved in conversion?

Thanks for your thoughtful and provoking posts!

God Bless,
~ R. Rao
"from Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth" ~Psalm 50v.2

Terry Rayburn said...


I believe the Bible teaches "conversion" as...

1. The proclamation of the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ in His death for our sins, burial, and resurrection.
2. Regeneration (being born again), entirely as a work of God by grace, by the Holy Spirit.
3. The person, who previously was dead in their sins and trespasses, and opposed Jesus Christ, changes their mind (repents) about their sins AND about Jesus Christ, and believes in Him as Lord and Savior.

That is the conversion itself. What is immediately conferred by God is forgiveness of sins, and the justification wherein one is declared righteous, indeed given the gift of God's righteousness by grace.

Thanks for commenting.