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Repentance is quite a popular term in the christian circles. You may have heard, so  times, sermons being preached where unbelievers (and believers) have been called to repent from their sins in order to be saved.

Probably, you may have also been admonished to repent from any bad deed you’ve committed. 

This term is quite popular. But what is it, really?

I first want to note that there is a difference between repentance and forgiveness of sins. Let us see what the Bible has to say about that in Acts 2:38:

“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission (forgiveness) of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” 

Both terms are seen here in Peter’s statement. This shows how different they are. They cannot be used interchangeably. Did you notice that repentance comes first? After repentance comes being baptized for the forgiveness of sins. If repentance is not the same as forgiveness, then what is it?

In the Old Testament, Hebrew words were originally used for the term ‘repent.’ They were the words “nacham” and “shuwb.” Let’s go through them, one after the other.


Nacham” simply means to change one’s mind in regret, to feel sorry, or to console. 

After God freed His people from the hands of the Egyptians, in the Book of Exodus; God did not want them repenting. 

“And it came to pass when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest peradventure the people repent (nacham) when they see war, and they return to Egypt:’”

Exodus 13:17

God did not lead them through the shorter way of Philistia, because He knew they would be attacked. They just became free people. They just left the bondage of slavery. Imagine what would happen if they experience war right after leaving Egypt. 

War will definately be way worse than slavery. They will regret and change their minds to return back to Egypt.

Have you noticed that this had nothing to do with sin? It was simply a change of mind out of regret.


The next Hebrew word often translated in English as “repent” is the word, “shuwb.” This word simply means to “turn”or  “return.” 

This word has the imagery of a person in a wrong path. This person hears an instruction and then turns the other way.

To grasp this word concept, imagine ….

It was translated as “repent” in this Bible verse:

 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord GOD. “Repent (shuwb), and turn (shuwb) from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.”

Ezekiel 18:30

The direct translation should be “Turn, turn from all your transgressions…” This word shuwb, in this case, was used in correlation to wrongdoings. They were told to turn back from their wrongdoings and return to him. Another instance in scripture where shuwb is seen is in Genesis 3:19:

“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return (shuwb) to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return (shuwb).”

When Adam disobeyed, mankind was made mortal and hence their bodies return back to being dust (soil), when they die. shuwb simply means to return or turn.

New Testament Concept

In the New Testament, the word ‘repent’ or ‘repentance’ was used as a translation for two original Greek texts. The New Testament was written originally in ancient Greek.  These words are “metamellomai” and “metanoia.”


Metamellomai literally means to care afterwards. It stands for changing one’s mind out of regret. This is closely related to the Hebrew word nacham. One example of its usage is in the story of Jesus and Judas Iscariot.

“Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented (metamellomai) himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, what is that to us? See thou to that.” 

Matthew 27:3-4. 

Judas regretted what he did against Jesus. He changed his mind because of that and returned the money they paid him for his betrayal. 


The next Greek word translated as ‘repent,’ is the word metanoia/metanoeo. This word simply means to think differently or afterwards, change your mind or  reconsider

It stems from two words, meta which means with or after; and noieo which means to exercise the mind or to think. This word has the imagery of one turning his/her mind or way of thinking to the other direction. 

In Paul’s message to his student, Timothy, this Greek word was used in this bible verse:

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance (metanoia), so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” 

2 Timothy 2:24-26

This passage advises the ministers (servants) of God on how to approach the unbelievers with the gospel. 

That they should teach in patience and humility; and if done right God may cause their minds to turn, such that they may come to their senses and escape the hold of the devil. 

question, questions, man

Change Your Mindset

With all these words sorted out. Let us head back to the beginning, right back to Peter’s epic speech that converted about 3000 people, winning them to Christ (same one we reviewed earlier).

l’ll start with a question. What word did Peter use when he spoke of repentance? Let’s return (shuwb) to it, shall we?

“Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 2: 38.

Can you guess the original Greek word used for ‘repent’ in this context? It is the word metanoeo. (Yay, if you guessed right). 

What was Peter actually telling them? He told them to turn their minds, think differently, or reconsider the message given them. 

They needed to change their former way of thinking about the Messiah (a topic all of them was acquainted with but misconstrued the context), and get baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. 

Repentance can be used on any person at all, believer or unbeliever. Peter 2:9 speaks of “all coming to repentance.” It is simply a change (turning) of heart or mind towards or away from something. Whether it is toward God, better deeds, or away from bad decisions like what happened Judas and the Israelites in the examples I gave earlier.

For those in Christ, you may repent when you find out that you’ve been going contrary to something in the Word. You may also repent when you realize that your relationship with God wasn’t as it was before. 

You don’t need an altar call for that. Just simply change (turn) your mind and start doing the things you used to do. 

Revelation 2:4-5 speaks about it:

“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. ‘Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent (metanoeo) and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent (metanoeo).’” 

They simply had to change their way of thinking and revert back to the works they were doing right before they began to dwindle in their relationship with God. 

Anytime you gain new knowledge or revelation which was contrary to the way you once thought or believed, you simply repent by changing your thinking and walking according to your newly acquired knowledge. You simply have to turn to the right path.

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