Repentance Definition, Bible Repentance Prayer, Quotes, Meaning

Repentance definition

1. An act or the process of being repentant; penitence.
2. Remorse or contrition for one's past actions or sins.
3. Deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition for a past sin, wrongdoing, or the like.
4. To feel remorse, contrition, or self-reproach for what one has done or failed to do; be contrite.
5. To feel such regret for past conduct as to change one's mind regarding it: repented of intemperate behavior.
6. To make a change for the better as a result of remorse or contrition for one's sins.

7. Turning away from sin by changing one's actions to obey the teachings of Jesus Christ. The repentance process consists of feeling sincere regret or sorrow for doing wrong, confessing the sin(s), asking for forgiveness, making restitution for any damage done, and promising not to repeat the sin.

Repentance, also called penitence, is a change of mind and of heart with regard to sin so as to correct a wrong and gain forgiveness from God or a person who is wronged or sinned against. Repentance is the God-granted attitude of having sorrow for personal sin and the turning away from it towards a new life (Matt. 27:3; 2Cor. 7:9,10). In religious contexts it usually refers to confession to God, ceasing sin against God, and resolving to live according to religious and church law. It typically includes an admission of guilt, a promise or resolve not to repeat the offense; an attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible. Repentance is necessary to Salvation (Matt. 3:2,8; 4:17)

There are three Greek words used in the New Testament to denote repentance. (1) The verb metamelomai is used of a change of mind, such as to produce regret or even remorse on account of sin, but not necessarily a change of heart. This word is used with reference to the repentance of Judas (Matt. 27:3); however, his "repentance" appears to have only involved regret and a change in mind that did not positively manifest itself in making himself right with God (Acts 1: 25). In the case of Judas, suicide was the result of his change in mind (Matt. 27: 5). Initial repentance must be guided by God's word and continue to result in obedience to God; not simply being engulfed in sorrow. (2) Metanoeo, meaning to change one's mind and purpose, as the result of after knowledge. This verb, with (3) the cognate noun metanoia, is used of true repentance, a change of mind and purpose and life, to which remission of sin is promised.

Characteristics of true repentance

True repentance consists of (1) being heartily sorry for having sinned against God and for offending Him; (2) a true sense of one's own guilt and sinfulness; (3) an apprehension of God's mercy in Christ; (4) an actual hatred of sin (Ps. 119:128; Job 42:5, 6; 2 Cor. 7:10) and turning from it to God; and (5) a persistent endeavour after a holy life in a walking with God in the way of his commandments. The true penitent is conscious of guilt (Ps. 51:4, 9), of pollution (51:5, 7, 10), and of helplessness (51:11; 109:21, 22). Thus he apprehends himself to be just what God has always seen him to be and declares him to be. But repentance comprehends not only such a sense of sin, but also an apprehension of mercy, without which there can be no true repentance (Ps. 51:1; 130:4). Repentance is not true if for fear of punishment the penitent feel sorrow.

When one repents, one experiences change regarding sin. They no longer love darkness and error but love light and truth (Jn. 3: 19). They are willing to surrender their will to God and thus view God differently (Heb. 12: 28). They realize their own sinfulness and cease being selfish (Rom. 3: 23; 2 Cor. 5: 15). They respect the word of God and desire to obey it (Acts 2: 37-42). Repentance produces change in how we view our enemies, others, money, work, and life in general (I Pet. 5: 8; Matt. 7: 12; I Tim. 6: 10; Col. 3: 22, 23; I Pet. 3: 10, 11).

The Nature of Repentance

Repentance is, biblically viewed in the setting of salvation, a change of mind or will that is produced by godly sorrow and the goodness of God that results in a change or reformation of life (Matt. 21: 29; 2 Cor. 7: 10, Rom. 2: 4; Matt. 21: 29). In true Biblical repentance, there will be three things to occur as God does a work of grace upon the sinner's heart:

1) Conviction -- where sin is admitted. Man must see himself as a lost, ruined, guilty, desperately wicked sinner without hope or help, in danger of hell. In repentance, a lost sinner not only sees himself as a sinner, but he recognizes the fact that he has sinned against a righteous and holy God. The message that Paul preached was: "penance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). In repentance, there will be confession of sin to God (Psa. 32:5; 51:1-4).

2) Contrition -- where sin is abhorred. When one sees himself as he appears before God, he is brought to a place where there is godly sorrow for his sin and hates it altogether.

"For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin" (Psa. 38:18); "For the sorrow that is according to God worketh penance, steadfast unto salvation; but the sorrow of the world worketh death..." (2 Cor. 7:10).

To hate sin is to love God. In true repentance, there is not only the desire to escape the consequences of sin, but to be rid of sin itself as a thing displeasing to God.

3) Conversion -- where sin is abandoned. Repentance involves the forsaking of sin:

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unjust man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God: for he is bountiful to forgive" (Isa. 55:7); "He that hideth his sins, shall not prosper: but he that shall confess, and forsake them, shall obtain mercy" (Prov. 28:13).

Repentance is not only a heart broken for sin, but also from sin. We must forsake what we would have God forgive.

It should be stressed that it is not enough just to turn away from sin; one must also turn to God for salvation:

"... to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins ... should do penance and turn to God ..." (Acts 26:18,20).

In true repentance, there is conviction, contrition, penance and conversion as one turns from his sin to Christ for salvation. Salvation is deliverance of a person from his sin, not merely from a sinful environment. Jesus Christ is the Saviour from not only the penalty and punishment of sin, but also the power of sin.

"Be penitent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19).

The greatest need for any sinner is have his sins blotted out by doing penance, but a man will never have the pardon of sin while he is in love with his sin. There must be a hatred of sin, a loathing of it, a turning from it. Repentance is a revolution in dealing with our attitude and view towards sin and righteousness. Repentance is not something one does with his hands, but it is an inward attitude of the soul. Sin must become, in the eyes of the sinner, exceedingly sinful.

Repentance in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament, repentance generally leads to salvation. In some cases, individuals or nations repented and made penance of their sins and are spared God's judgment. Sometimes the punishment avoided is destruction in this life, sometimes it is damnation (Genesis 4:7; Leviticus 4, 5; Deuteronomy 4:30, 30:2; I Kings 8:33, 48; Hosea 14:2; Jeremiah 3:12, 31:18, 36:3; Ezekiel 18:30-32; Isaiah 54:22, 55:6-10; Joel 2:12; Jonah 2:10). In the book of Jonah, the prophet initially chose to disobey God's command, and then he repented and became obedient. However, Jonah returned to disobedience when he hoped for the destruction of the city of Nineveh. In Biblical Hebrew, the idea of repentance is represented by two verbs: שוב shuv (to return) and נחם nicham (to feel sorrow). The Hebrew term teshuvah (lit. "return") is used to refer to "repentance". This implies that transgression and sin are the natural and inevitable consequence of man's straying from God and His laws, (Deut. 11:26-28; Isa. 1:4; Jer. 2:13, 16:11; Ezek. 18:30) and that it is man's destiny and duty to be with God. The Bible states that God's loving-kindness is extended to the returning sinner.

The Pentateuch (five books of Moses) distinguishes between offenses against God and offenses against man. In the first case the manifestation of repentance consists in: (1) Confession of one's sin before God and his priest (Lev. 19:21-22; Lev. 1:10; Num. 5:7), the essential part being a solemn promise and firm resolve not to commit the same sin again. (2) Making certain prescribed offerings (Lev. 5:1-20). Offenses against man require, in addition to confession and sacrifice, restitution in full of whatever has been wrongfully obtained or withheld from one's fellow man, with one-fifth of its value added thereto (Lev. 5:20-26). If the wronged man has died, restitution must be made to his heir; if he has no heir, it must be given to the priest who officiates at the sacrifice made for the remission of the sin (Num. 5:7-9).

There are other manifestations of repentance and penances mentioned in the Bible. These include pouring out water, (I Sam. 7:6) which symbolizes the pouring out of one's heart before God; (Lamentations 2:19) prayer (II Sam. 12:16) self-affliction, as fasting; wearing sackcloth; sitting and sleeping on the ground (I Kings 21:27; Joel 2:13; Jonah 3:5). However, the most important manifestation of repentance insists rather on a complete change of the sinner's mental and spiritual attitude towards God and himself (a change of heart). "And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil" (Joel 2:13). In Isaiah 55:7, the Bible states that repentance brings pardon and forgiveness of sin. Apart from repentance (sorrow for having sinned against God and for offending Him) and the sacrament of penance (confession to a priest) instituted by our Lord in the New Law, no other activities, such as sacrifices or religious ceremonies can secure pardon and forgiveness of our mortal sins.

Repentance in Christianity

In the New Testament, John the Baptist began his public ministry by preaching penance, as did Jesus, with a call to repentance (Matthew 3:1–2; Matthew 4:17). In the Acts 2 sermon on Pentecost, Peter commands repentance and penance. In the Acts 3 sermon at the Beautiful gate of the Temple, Peter interchanges the phrase "turn again" at a similar place in his presentation. When Jesus sent forth messengers to proclaim his gospel, he commanded them to preach penance and repentance (Luke 24:47; Mark 6:12). Teachings on penance are found in the New Testament in Peter, (Acts 2:38); Paul, (Acts 20:21). God wants everyone to repent and do penance (2 Pet. 3:9; Acts 17:30). Indeed, failure on the part of man to heed God's call to repentance by doing penance means that he shall utterly perish (Luke 13:3).

Why Did Jesus Come?

"... I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matt. 9:13).

Haydock commentary explains this verse as following:

I am not come. The just appear to be mentioned ironically, as it is said in Genesis, Behold Adam is become as one of us: and if I hunger, I will not tell thee. (Psalm xlix.) For St. Paul asserts, that none on earth were just: all have sinned, and need the glory of God. (Romans iii.) (St. Chrysostom, hom. xxxi.) --- Christ came to call all men, both just and unjust, since he called Nathanael, who was a just man. But the meaning of these words is, I came not to call you, Scribes and Pharisees, who esteem yourselves just, and despise others, and who think you have no need of a physician; but I came to call those who acknowledge themselves sinners. (Theophylactus) --- Or the meaning may be, "I came not to call the just to penance, of which they have no need;" thus in St. Luke, (chap. v.) I came not to call the just, but sinners to repentance. Or again, the meaning may be, I came not to call the just, because there are none just of themselves, and who stand not in need of my coming. St. Paul says, All have sinned, as above. (Menochius) --- Mercy, and not sacrifice. Christ here prefers mercy to sacrifice; for, as St. Ambrose says, there is no virtue so becoming a Christian as mercy, but chiefly mercy to the poor. For if we give money to the poor, we at the same time give him life: if we clothe the naked, we adorn our souls with the robe of justice: if we receive the poor harbourless under our roof, we shall at the same time make friends with the saints in heaven, and shall afterwards be received by them into their eternal habitations. (St. Ambrose) --- I will have mercy and not sacrifice: these words occur in the prophet Osee, chap. vi. The Pharisees thought they were making a great sacrifice, and acceptable to God, by breaking off all commerce with sinners; but God prefers the mercy of the charitable physician, who frequents the company of sinners; but merely to cure them. (Bible de Vence)

Jesus soundly declared the message in His day: "repent ye, and believe the gospel." Repentance and faith are inseparable and occur simultaneously in a sinner's heart; you cannot have one without the other. The order as given in the Bible is repentance, penance and faith (Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21; 26:20; 2 Tim. 2:25; Heb. 6:1).

Repentance, a radical act

By "radical" I do not mean fanatical but drastic. Drastic is relative and in this sense, good. Allow me to demonstrate what I mean.

The son when first approached by his father to work in the vineyard refused (Matt. 21: 28 ff.). However, we read that "he went." What was there that caused the important change? "He answered and said, I will not: but afterward repented, and went" (Matt. 21: 29). Some of the Jews who crucified Christ later became Christians who worshipped and served Christ. Repentance brought about this radical change (Acts 2: 23, 36, 37-41, 42, 44, 46). Saul of Tarsus had persecuted Christians and had them murdered, but then became a servant of Jesus Christ himself, the great apostle Paul (Acts 9: 12). What caused this change in Saul's life? Saul repented (Acts 9: 3-18, repentance is necessarily inferred, Acts 2: 38). The Philippian jailer who was a pagan had charge of Paul and Silas in prison. Later he is found washing their stripes and feeding them in his house (Acts 16: 33, 34). Repentance drastically changed his thinking regarding himself, Paul, and Silas (Acts 16: 30 ff.).

Repentance will also result in consequential changes today in a person's life. Repentance will cause the person who has a foul mouth to use pure speech; the thief to cease his sealing, and the drunkard to forsake the bottle (Eph. 4: 28; Eph. 4: 28; Prov. 23: 29 ff.). Repentance also involves restitution, as is seen in the case of Zacchaeus (Lk. 19: 8-10). Money that is stolen will not be retained but returned, when repentance is present. The adulterer will return the wife of another man or will cease his adultery with a women to whom he has no scriptural right (Matt. 19: 9). There will be no "if I have sinned" or "I sinned but…," when repentance is truly experienced. Repentance pervades every fiber of our being and soul and can truly transform us into a mindset that receives and loves the word of God and will obey it at all costs (I Jn. 5: 3, 2: 3 ff.).

In conclusion, repentance is not just an isolated act that is performed when one initially comes to God. Repentance is ongoing (2 Cor. 7: 8 ff.). I shall close by quoting what Paul said repentance produced in a people who had before been spiritually indifferent: "For behold this self-same thing, that you were made sorrowful according to God, how great carefulness it work in you: yea, defence; yea, indignation; yea, fear; yea, desire; yea, zeal; yea, revenge: in all things you have shewed yourselves to be undefiled in the matter" (2 Cor. 7: 11).

The Sacrament of Penance

Penance is a sacrament of the New Law instituted by Christ in which forgiveness of sins committed after baptism is granted through the priest's absolution to those who with true sorrow confess their sins and promise to satisfy for the same. It is called a "sacrament" not simply a function or ceremony, because it is an outward sign instituted by Christ to impart grace to the soul. As an outward sign it comprises the actions of the penitent in presenting himself to the priest and accusing himself of his sins, and the actions of the priest in pronouncing absolution and imposing satisfaction. This whole procedure is usually called, from one of its parts, "confession", and it is said to take place in the "tribunal of penance", because it is a judicial process in which the penitent is at once the accuser, the person accused, and the witness, while the priest pronounces judgment and sentence. The grace conferred is deliverance from the guilt of sin and, in the case of mortal sin, from its eternal punishment; hence also reconciliation with God, justification. Finally, the confession is made not in the secrecy of the penitent's heart nor to a layman as friend and advocate, nor to a representative of human authority, but to a duly ordained priest with requisite jurisdiction and with the "power of the keys", i.e., the power to forgive sins which Christ granted to His Church.

By way of further explanation it is needful to correct certain erroneous views regarding this sacrament which not only misrepresent the actual practice of the Church but also lead to a false interpretation of theological statement and historical evidence. From what has been said it should be clear:

  • that penance or repentance is not a mere human invention devised by the Church to secure power over consciences or to relieve the emotional strain of troubled souls; it is the ordinary means appointed by Christ for the remission of sin. Man indeed is free to obey or disobey, but once he has sinned, he must seek pardon not on conditions of his own choosing but on those which God has determined, and these for the Christian are embodied in the Sacrament of Penance.

  • No Catholic believes that a priest, simply as an individual man, however pious or learned, has power to forgive sins. This power belongs to God alone; but He can and does exercise it through the ministration of men. Since He has seen fit to exercise it by means of this sacrament, it cannot be said that the Church or the priest interferes between the soul and God; on the contrary, penance is the removal of the one obstacle that keeps the soul away from God.

  • It is not true that for the Catholic the mere "telling of one's sins" suffices to obtain their forgiveness. Without sincere sorrow and purpose of amendment, confession avails nothing, the pronouncement of absolution is of no effect, and the guilt of the sinner is greater than before.

  • While this sacrament as a dispensation of Divine mercy facilitates the pardoning of sin, it by no means renders sin less hateful or its consequences less dreadful to the Christian mind; much less does it imply permission to commit sin in the future. In paying ordinary debts, as e.g., by monthly settlements, the intention of contracting new debts with the same creditor is perfectly legitimate; a similar intention on the part of him who confesses his sins would not only be wrong in itself but would nullify the sacrament and prevent the forgiveness of sins then and there confessed.

  • Strangely enough, the opposite charge is often heard, viz., that the confession of sin is intolerable and hard and therefore alien to the spirit of Christianity and the loving kindness of its Founder. But this view, in the first place, overlooks the fact that Christ, though merciful, is also just and exacting. Furthermore, however painful or humiliating confession may be, it is but a light penalty for the violation of God's law. Finally, those who are in earnest about their salvation count no hardship too great whereby they can win back God's friendship.

Both these accusations, of too great leniency and too great severity, proceed as a rule from those who have no experience with the sacrament and only the vaguest ideas of what the Church teaches or of the power to forgive sins which the Church received from Christ.

Teaching of the Church

The Council of Trent (1551) declares:

As a means of regaining grace and justice, penance was at all times necessary for those who had defiled their souls with any mortal sin. . . . Before the coming of Christ, penance was not a sacrament, nor is it since His coming a sacrament for those who are not baptized. But the Lord then principally instituted the Sacrament of Penance, when, being raised from the dead, he breathed upon His disciples saying: 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained' (John 20:22-23). By which action so signal and words so clear the consent of all the Fathers has ever understood that the power of forgiving and retaining sins was communicated to the Apostles and to their lawful successors, for the reconciling of the faithful who have fallen after Baptism. (Sess. XIV, c. i)

Farther on the council expressly states that Christ left priests, His own vicars, as judges (praesides et judices), unto whom all the mortal crimes into which the faithful may have fallen should be revealed in order that, in accordance with the power of the keys, they may pronounce the sentence of forgiveness or retention of sins" (Sess. XIV, c. v)

Necessity of Repentance

The Council of Trent expressly declares (Sess. XIV, c.i) that penance was at all times necessary for the remission of grievous sin. Theologians have questioned whether this necessity obtains in virtue of the positive command of God or independently of such positive precept. The weight of authority is in favour of the latter opinion; moreover, theologians state that in the present order of Divine Providence God Himself cannot forgive sins, if there be no real repentance (St. Thomas, III:86:2; Cajetan, ibid.; Palmieri, op. cit., thesis VII). In the Old Law (Ezekiel 18:24) life is denied to the man who does iniquity; even "his justices which he has done, shall not be remembered"; and Christ restates the doctrine of the Old Testament, saying (Luke 13:5): "except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish." In the New Law, therefore, repentance is as necessary as it was in the Old, repentance that includes reformation of life, grief for sin, and willingness to perform satisfaction. In the Christian Dispensation this act of repentance has been subjected by Christ to the judgment and jurisdiction of His Church, whensoever there is question of sin committed after the reception of Baptism (Council of Trent, sess. XIV, c. i), and the Church acting in the name of Christ not only declares that sins are forgiven, but actually and judicially forgives them, if the sinner already repentant subjects his sins to the "power of the keys", and is willing to make fitting satisfaction for the wrong he has done.

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