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“Repentance” means “to change one’s mind.” The Hebrew word is “naham” as in Exodus 13:17. In Greek, the word is “metanoia” which is literally “afterthought” or “change of mind.” These terms figure in the account of Jonah. Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh that their city was slated to be destroyed, Jonah 3:4, because their wickedness had come up before God, Jonah 1:2. As a result, the Ninevites believed God and turned from their wicked ways. In speaking of this, Jesus used the Greek word “metanoia,” Matthew 12:41. They had a change of heart. Then, when God “saw their works,” He changed His mind (“naham”) about the disaster He had planned, Jonah 3:10. Thus, because the Ninevites repented or changed their minds, God relented or changed His mind. Israel was another nation called on to repent because of a broken relationship with God, Matthew 3:2, 4:17, Acts 2:38, 3:19, 5:31, 26:20. However, Israel did not heed the message, resulting in destruction and tragedy in AD 70. Yet, individuals did repent and proved it by submitting to baptism of repentance. Repentance is required to be in the right relationship with God, Acts 17:30, but repentance is never said to be a condition for eternal life. One proof is that John’s Gospel, widely accepted as the book for evangelism, is purposely written for people to believe on the Lord, John 20:31. However, “repent” and “repentance” are not once found in the book. John does not mention repentance because he did not consider it a condition for eternal life. Some say the concept is there, but no passage explicitly says one must turn from his sins to have everlasting life. At various points in the gospel, there were occasions for John to say so, but he did not. It is not that he did not know, because he used it several times in Revelation, and his gospel was the last of the gospels to be written. What John clearly says is that salvation is by believing in Jesus, John 3:16, 6:47. Some think repentance and faith are two perspectives of salvation as though Luke presents the repentance angle while John gives the faith angle. But Luke wrote mainly to believers, emphasizing fellowship. Repentance and faith are two distinct concepts, Luke 24:47, Acts 5:30-31, 20:21. In general, repentance prevents an untimely physical death, Luke 13:3, 5. It can also prepare one for saving faith, Acts 19:4. It is an important ingredient after salvation to maintain fellowship with God and avoid God’s judgment, Revelation 2-3. Other passages covering the specific topic of salvation are just as quiet about repentance. It is notably absent in Acts 10:43, 13:39, 13:48 and 16:31. The section on justification of Romans 3-5 does not mention repentance, but only the matter of faith, Romans 4:5. Also, in Galatians, when Paul defends the gospel, he never mentions repentance. Repentance is not necessary for eternal salvation, but it is essential for the right relationship and fellowship with God at any time.
What is repentance? At Dallas Theological Seminary, a professor of mine, Dr. Roy B. Zuck, said, "The Greek word for repentance (metanoia) means to change one’s mind. But to change one’s mind about what? About sin, about one’s adequacy to save himself, about Christ as the only way of salvation, the only One who can make a person righteous.” (“Kindred Spirit,” a quarterly publication of Dallas Seminary, Summer 1989, p. 5). I am almost 100% sure that Dr. Zuck meant that we have to change our mind about our inadequacy to save ourselves before we can be saved by the Adequacy of our Savior. I would write and ask him for sure what he meant, but Dr. Zuck died on March 16, 2013 at age 81.
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