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Metanoia: Understanding the True Meaning of Repentance

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Such was the heralding call of both John the Baptist and Jesus, but sadly many people miss the importance of this command. To many Christians the term repent (and repentance) simply mean to “feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.” Therefore, when they see these words in the Bible, that is what they understand it to mean. Unfortunately, this is a major error both in the translation and understanding of the underlying Greek word metanoia (and its verbal form metanoeō).

You see, biblical repentance is much more than sincere regret or remorse. Clement of Alexandria wrote that “the frequent asking of forgiveness, then, for those things in which we often transgress, is the semblance of repentance, not repentance itself.” So what, then, is the true meaning of repentance and this underlying Greek word, metanoia?

The word metanoia is defined as “a change of mind.” This definition, however, is much more complex than it first appears. When we, as Christians, have a “change of mind” it refers to our whole inner being, not simply the way we think. It is a complete transformation: “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” as Paul says. Sadly this transformation isn’t seen among some Christians today. I am reminded of Christ’s words to the Pharisees when He says, “these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” and again “for you are like white-washed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”

Many people claim to be Christians, yet there has been no transformation of their minds, of their inner being, of their heart. They talk-the-talk and look the part on the outside, but inside they haven’t changed. Their thoughts remain the same. Their deeds behind closed doors (of course some don’t even hide them) remain the same. They are those white-washed tombs.

I think some people just don’t know any better, and I think the others just don’t really care. With so many false teachings within Christianity today, sometimes it is difficult to discern what is right from wrong. But with diligent study of the Word, one can find the truth. With that being said, I would like to point out some of those passages about what true repentance is.

There are many examples throughout the Bible about a true change, a turn from wickedness, i.e. metanoia. In the Old Testament we see in 2 Chronicles, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” It is a change from wickedness to righteousness that God wants from us. It has been seen and told throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

In Ezekiel 18 we are told “if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” Again it is a complete change. A turning away from wickedness and towards righteousness.

As we go forward into the New Testament John the Baptist says to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” and Paul teaches that people should “repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” If we are to produce fruit in keeping with repentance, or to demonstrate our repentance by deeds, then it has to be much more than simply feeling sorry for a wrong we’ve done or simply asking for forgiveness. It is an actual inward change of our minds and our hearts, a change that can only be given through the Holy Spirit.

When we decide to put our faith completely in Christ, become baptized, and allow the Holy Spirit to work within us, and we work back with it (synergy) allowing our will to be inline with that of God’s, only then can we really understand what metanoia and the true meaning of biblical repentance is. When we choose to “worship in Spirit and in truth,” we begin to see these changes in our lives. We begin to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. We become repulsed by sin and wickedness, and we become transformed by this renewing of our minds.

So I would like to ask you today if you are producing fruit that demonstrates your repentance, your change of mind, or are you continuing in the way that you once were? Biblical repentance is not simply asking for forgiveness and feeling sorry for a wrong you committed, but being sorry you sinned and then you completely turn from that sin. You change your life as you strive for perfection: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Because remember, “if we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”

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