What does repentance mean to most Christians?
What do most Christians do when they sin and feel bad about it? Their traditional response to God is “repent”!
Gee whiz, even John the Baptist said, “Repent! The kingdom of God is at hand.” But, what did he really mean by this? If you stick with the traditional mindset of repentance you will miss the good news in his declaration. Hey, don’t forget that John the Baptist also said, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Christians gloss over the ‘takes away’ part, because Christianity has a sin focused mind set.
Traditional Christianity also preaches that unbelievers are big time sinners and they really need to repent in order to get saved! If they don’t they will go to hell. Sounds like traditional Christianity is presenting God as One who declares – “I really do love you, but you must repent and love Me with all your heart, otherwise I will torture you for all eternity.” Now that’s a God I would want to know! (tongue in cheek here)
Of course the Christian religious system makes it clear that because God is so good, He will forgive those who repent, whether they are believers or unbelievers. Doesn’t that sound like a conditional goodness. Isn’t God’s goodness bigger than that? Isn’t His goodness unconditional?
Here’s the sad part about all this ‘must repent’ doctrine. Have you ever considered that many will still not ‘feel’ forgiven, in spite of their sincere repentance! Their sin, failure, guilt still haunts them.
Now sometimes believers will ‘cleanse their conscious’ by doing certain rituals or works. They are taught these activities will help persuade God to forgive you, and they will show you are very serious about your repentance. Amazingly these rituals/works seem to help make them ‘feel’ better. At least until the next time, then the cycle repeats itself again. Been there, done that.
Is that what the “abundant life” is in Jesus? Is this His fullness for us? Do believers really feel intimate with God because of this pattern of how to repent? No, No, and No!
Isn’t it interesting that the way most Christians understand and use the word “repent” (v.) or “repentance” (n.) has nothing to do with the Greek meaning of this word used in scripture! ‘Repentance’ is not even found in the ancient Biblical Greek manuscripts.
Repentance is an old English word where some folk added ‘re’ (a prefix that means to do again and again) to the Latin word ‘penance’.
The meaning of ‘penance’ (Merriam Webster Dictionary) –
- an act of self-abasement, mortification, or devotion performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin
- a sacramental rite that is practiced in Roman, Eastern, and some Anglican churches that consists of private confession, absolution, and penance directed by the confessor.
So when the scriptures say “repent” what does it really mean in the Greek?
The Greek word is metanoia – made up of two Greek words –
- met – primary preposition denoting accompaniment – together with, amid,
- nous – the intellect, that is, mind (divine or human; in thought, feeling, or will); by implication understanding
metanoia means literally
- to come to your senses
- to come into your right mind
- to think as the result of observing
- to change your mind, to change your way of thinking
- to intelligently understand
- to think differently after taking a closer look at a matter
- suggesting a radical mind shift – an about face in the way you think
Metanoia is like your mind ‘coming together’ with God’s mind – joining Him in His thoughts, His feelings about you. When He made man He said it was ‘very good’ – He has never changed His mind about that. This is why Jesus came, to restore what is really true about you! He wants us to metanoia!
Thus we see metanoia (the Greek word man translated as repent) has absolutlely nothing to do with penance, with regret, with sorrow and remorse! Man has built a false doctrine on a mistranslated word. This has kept us from truly knowing His eternal unconditional love, goodness, and kind intentions for us!
This mistranslated word of metanoia is a factor in why so many Christians still see themselves as “sinners saved by grace”. Our focus on ‘repent’ in order to be forgiven maintains a ‘sin consciousness’ in Christianity and misrepresents the Gospel. Sin consciousness and traditional ‘repenting’ has nothing to do with the Good News! Having to repent of your sins to get saved and continuing to repent (as the religious system teaches) will not help you to really know Him or for you to really know your true identity in Him.
This sin consciousness is like a heresy against the finished work of Jesus dying on the cross. God doesn’t remember our sin (Heb 10:17,18), He took away all sin (1Jn 3:5), He forgave us ALL our transgressions (Col 2:13) – so why in the world are we elevating sin!?
Hey, how good is your God anyway?
- May you begin to realize that the Christian religious system has perpetuated a kind-of-good-news that includes a lot of ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’, and ‘musts’.
- Get it through your head and heart – ALL your sins are already forgiven. Jesus took ALL sin away for ALL men. So who are you, and who is your neighbor – really?!
- Get ready to metanoia – as you discover the real truth of the Good News it will set you incredibly free!