Is repentance a separate step to salvation that precedes genuine belief in Christ? Or, are repentance and faith simultaneous responses to God—flip sides of the same heart-action?
Entire books have been written on the subject of “repentance and faith.” So, I won’t attempt an exhaustive study of those concepts here. The key, however, is to understand the meaning of the Biblical terms translated “repentance.”
The meaning of repentance. Because of some common, traditional religious practices, “repentance” and “penance” are often confused. The basic meaning of penance is to express sorrow for sin—in some cases even to the extent of self-castigation and deeds of attempted self-justifying righteousness. Even some evangelicals demand that overt expressions of sorrow for sins and renouncement of those sins must precede saving faith.
But the main word for repentance (metanoia) in the New Testament has a very different meaning—“to change one’s mind.”* It’s a mind-change that is so deep-seated that the person’s total being—values, choices, and lifestyle behaviors—will be impacted. Often, this change will be accompanied by visible expressions of sorrow, but those emotions are not essential to true repentance.
Instead of ignoring repentance or just giving “lip service” to it, genuine Biblical repentance is a major focus of Good Soil Evangelism and Discipleship theology, training, and resources (particularly The Story of Hope and The Roots of Faith). The Good Soil E&D scale and the “worldview onion” model are designed to help us assess the status of a person’s mind, in relation to the truths of God’s Word. The “worldview noise” communication model is designed to help us come to grips with the challenges we face in presenting the gospel to people whose minds need to be deeply changed by God’s Word—people who need to repent.
*The verb metanoein means to take subsequent note of something, to adopt another view, and therefore to regret the prior viewpoint. (from page 49 of Conversion in the New Testament by Richard V. Peace)…