What is Repentance? Biblical Meaning and Definition

We are bound to make mistakes, but God will always give us a way back so let us learn about repentance.

There is a phrase that goes, “Nobody’s perfect. I’m only human.” It is true. Aside from the fact that perfection is subjective, we are not perfect not only because of our flaws but because of our limitations. We do not always make the right choices because we cannot see the future. 

We do not always react in the best way because we cannot read other people’s minds. Because of this, we make mistakes, we break rules and hearts. This is where repentance comes in. let us look at repentance and other things associated with it from a Christian perspective.


What is Repentance?

In our language and culture today, repentance is used interchangeably with regret. However, in the Bible, repentance means “to turn away from” or “to change one’s mind.” This change then manifests in a change of actions. To understand it better, let us look at what repentance is in the Bible.

Repentance in the Old Testament

Gestures often accompany repentance. These days, one could say sorry, maybe bring some food over. But in the Old Testament, people would visibly and, at times, even publicly show their repentance by tearing their clothes, putting ashes or dust on their heads, and fasting until they obtain forgiveness from God if He is willing. 

These practices are part of their culture. These are gestures associated with grieving. When people realize that they have sinned against God, they would mourn their sin and beg God for forgiveness.

Repentance in the New Testament

With the coming of Jesus Christ and the salvation from sin and eternal damnation, repentance started to change. Jesus’s sacrifice cleansed our sins and restored our relationship with God. 

We can now come directly to Him. In the Old Testament, people showed grand gestures with their repentance. When Jesus died for our sins, repentance became an internal thing. Repentance has become an inward thing rather than an outward one. 

What Does the Bible Say about Repentance?

Repentance and salvation

Some may be confused with the relationship between repentance and salvation because we have been taught that only faith can lead to salvation. The truth is that faith and repentance cannot exist without the other. Salvation is given to those who give their faith to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. 

Repentance means “changing one’s mind.” We will not be able to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior if we do not change our minds about our sins, our previous way of life, and Jesus’ role in our lives. We have to repent to get a hold of faith, and we need faith to prompt us towards repentance. In other words, repentance is necessary for salvation.

Repentance and baptism

We have already established what repentance means and now let us determine its connection to baptism. Many churches teach that we are not required to be baptized to be saved. Unlike repentance, baptism is not required for salvation.

Still, there is a connection between the two. Repentance is about changing one’s mind and life, while baptism signals our new life with Christ. Baptism came from the Greek word baptizo, and it can mean a lot of things.

It can mean immersing, dyeing, and washing. These can all relate to our concept of baptism. Baptism is a gesture of our eagerness to live as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Repentance prompts us to make changes in our lives.

Repentance and regret

Repentance and regret are often used interchangeably these days, and while it is true that they are connected, they have their differences as well. Regret dwells on the past, evoking feelings of shame and guilt, while repentance dwells on the future, where we vow never to repeat the things we regret doing. We can say that regret prompts us to repent, and repentance casts away regret.

Why Repent When Jesus Already Cleansed Me?

We believe Jesus cleansed us from our sins when He died on the cross. He promised that all our sins were washed away by His blood, even the sins we are yet to commit. So, we might wonder why we have to repent again and again when God has already forgiven us for everything. 

Whenever I want to understand God and His commands, I look at Him as a parent because it is the closest comparison I can think of. When we have children, we establish our relationship with them. Their mistakes cannot cut that relationship, but they can strain it. Repentance helps us restore the relationship.

Repentance also keeps us from making the same mistakes again and again. Repentance is all about changing our minds about sinning. When we repent, we turn away from our old life and look toward the future, where we are free of that sin.

Another reason why we should repent is that it keeps us humble. Repenting reminds us that we are not perfect, but God’s grace is abundant and always available for us. It also frees us from the claws of sin. When we repent, we turn away from the sin we committed and are free from it.


Steps Towards Real Repentance

Identify the sin and accept that you have committed it

I said, “Have mercy on me, Lord; heal me, for I have sinned against you.” (Psalms 41:4)

Responsibility is crucial in repentance. We must accept that we have sinned, and we should also pinpoint the sin we committed. This way, we can repent for our sins. By identifying the sin we have to repent for, we will know which sins to avoid in the future. 

Turn towards God and away from sin

Isaiah 55:7 says “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

Repentance does not end with saying sorry. It involves changes in our lives. We can only make real changes when we turn toward God for direction and guidance. God and sin will always be in different directions. So, if we are facing God, we are facing away from sin and vice versa.

Pray to God for mercy

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. (Psalms 51:1)

God is merciful, and anyone who comes to Him seeking forgiveness and mercy will never be disappointed. When we repent and stay true, God will give us another chance to do better. 

Confess the sin

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalms 32:5)

Confession is crucial in repentance because admitting our sins to God lifts the weight of guilt from our hearts. 

Make the resolve to avoid the sin

1 John 3:6 reminds us that “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”

We believe that we should strive to be better than we were yesterday, and one of the best ways of achieving this is by deciding that we will not make the same mistakes. 

Start a better beginning with God

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10)

God is the God of second chances. He never runs out of second chances to give to us. We can always start anew with God. He will never weaponize our past mistakes.



No human is indeed perfect, but it does not mean we cannot strive for perfection. Repentance helps us let go of the past and take hold of a better and brighter future. Time will come when we slip in our faith, but God will not count the number of times we fell. God will count the times we fell, got back up, and resolved to do better next time.

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Alex Shute
Alex Shute, MBA
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.

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