True Salvation: The Gift of Repentance

True Salvation Part 2: The Gift of Repentance

In our last lesson we established that true salvation begins with God’s initiating activity of grace. From eternity, God chose to shed His grace in our hearts, chose to redeem us. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit working through the word of God, He awakens us to an awareness of our sins. As we are awakened, He then gifts us with repentance.

Question: What is repentance?

Answer: The New Testament word for repentance is metanoia which refers to a change of mind, a reorientation of the mind. But more than just a new way of thinking — it is a turning from the old nature to the Christ in whom we become new creations. True repentance is not a turning away from some sins while holding on to others. It is a transformative turning from evil to the Christ in whom we are made new.

1. Repentance begins with a conviction of sin, an awareness that we have sinned, and an awareness of the destruction which our sin has created in our lives, in the lives of others and especially, a conviction that it is ultimately against the Lord that we have sinned. David prayed, Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge (Ps. 51:2-4).

2. Because sin is a violation of the heart /  the moral nature of God, there is sorrow in true repentance because we realize we have offended and grieved God: For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death (2 Cor 7:10, NLT). Worldly sorrow is remorse for the consequences of our sin but not for the sin itself. There is no turning from the sin, no change in the heart of the sinner and so he continues his fall into self-destruction and separation from God.

3. It is not we who convict ourselves of sin — repentance is a work of God in the human heart. Paul advised Timothy to correct oppositional people in the church with gentleness, If perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25).

4. Repentance involves confession. David prayed, I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin  (Psalm 32:3-5). 

The Apostle John reminds us, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I Jn. 1:9).

Confession is not telling God what He does not know — He knows all truth. The word confess means to say the same thing. Confession is agreeing with what God has shown us about our sin.

5. Repentance involves not just confessing but forsaking sin, turning from it. He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion (Prov. 28:13).  

But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die (Ezkl. 18:21).

Repentance is more than confession to God. It is turning from the sin, forsaking the sin.

6. Repentance is an ongoing work, part of the process of maturing in Christ. Because we still sin, we need continually to repent. John reminds us, If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I Jn. 1:8,9). Repentance is a lifestyle.

7. The goal of repentance is restored relationship with God and restored blessing: Then if my people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). When we turn from our sin, not merely confess but forsake, there is a restoration of relationship and blessing.

In summary, repentance is the capacity to realize our sin and turn from it leading to restored relationship with God.

Question: What is God’s response to true repentance?

1. He forgives, cleanses:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).

2. He breaks the death hold which sin had established in our lives:

But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live. ‘Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord God, ‘rather than that he should turn from his ways and live’ (Ezekiel 18:21-23). Sin separates us from God, the Source of life. Therefore, sin creates death in all it touches. When we turn from our sin through honest repentance, God breaks the death-grip of sin.

3. He restores the refreshing flow of His blessing:

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land (2 Chron. 7:14). 

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19)

Question: How is true repentance demonstrated? 


1. There is the fruit of a changed life. 

John the Baptist said, Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). If we have turned from our sin, this will be evident in the way we live. If there has been no lifestyle change, then there has been no true repentance.

2. Sometimes repentance involves restitution.  

In Luke 19:1-8 we read of a fraudulent tax collector named Zaccheus who encountered Jesus. After spending time together, Jesus said, Today salvation has come to this house (19:9). How do we know that this was real salvation? Because Zaccheus said, Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much (19:8). We know he truly turned from his sin because he was a different man with different values which produced a different way of living. Instead of taking, he was restoring.

The result of true repentance is a changed life made evident in the way we live. Paul declared that people should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance (Acts 26:20).

When the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming out to John the Baptist for baptism, he said, You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:7,8). What John meant is that neither the water nor the words of baptism are going to cleanse or change anyone. Baptism is an outward sign of the inward reality of repentance and faith in Christ and a picture of the cleansing that has taken place. But if there is no repentance, then nothing has changed and neither the water nor the words will change the reality of unconfessed, unrepented sin.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were like people who say, “I’ll pray the prayer, do the ritual and God will give me all the stuff, right?” No. The prayer, the water, the rituals mean nothing if there is no genuine change of heart. The proof of genuine repentance is in the living — the fruit. We are not talking about perfection. We are talking about direction, a new, Christ-directed orientation of our life.

Question: What is the result when people refuse to confess their sin and turn from it?


1. We are devoured by the forces released by that sin.

Through Isaiah the Lord called Israel to be cleansed of their sin, But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword (Isa. 1:18-20). Sin consumes, devours the sinner from within and from without. Separated from God by their sin, the nation was subject not only to their own depravity but also to the violence and darkness of the surrounding nations.

2. There is a wasting away of vitality from within:

David said, When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer (Psalm 32:3,4). 

But then David said, I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin (Ps 32:5).

3. If we do not repent of our sin, which separates us from God, then we will die in our separation from God and will live forever in conscious separation from God. 

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebr 9:27). If I die without trusting in a Savior who carried my sins and bore my judgment, then I will carry my own sins and bear the judgment of God against me. Jesus said to the people of Jerusalem, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3). 

Repentance is not how we earn God’s forgiveness. It is how we access and receive the forgiving grace which the Lord already desires to lavish upon us but which we could not experience while we were separated from Him by our sin. It is God who approaches us and offers grace. Repentance is the sincere act of turning from whatever sin was blocking grace so we can receive the grace which God already desires to pour out upon us.

A beautiful picture of true repentance, and an ugly picture of the proud refusal to repent, is found in Luke 18. Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to raise his eyes toward heaven, but was beating his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other one; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:10-14).

When we humble ourselves in true repentance, God will bless us with forgiving, restoring  grace.

Question: How important is the call to true repentance?


It was the core of John the Baptist’s message, Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt 3:1).

Repentance was the foundational message of Jesus. According to Mark, these were among the first words of Jesus as He began his ministry, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mark 1:15).

The disciples preached repentance. When Jesus sent out the 12 on their first missionary journey, we read, They went out and preached that men should repent (Mark 6:12) 

Jesus commissioned the church to preach repentance, And He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:46,47) 

Peter responded to the commission to preach repentance with his first sermon, Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38).

When Paul preached in Athens, he said, Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30). 

How important is repentance to the saints and angels who are alive before God in heaven? Jesus said, I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 15:7).  

How important is repentance to God?

Paul declares, Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4). God lavishes His mercy on us because He is kind and gracious but also in order to draw us to repentance. His desire is to convince us to turn from our sins and return to Him.

Peter was responding to people mocking the delay in the Lord’s return and he said, The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The reason God has not concluded history is because He wants to give people the opportunity to repent. His patience reveals His merciful desire that we not perish in our sins but that all will have time to turn to Him.

Repentance is an ongoing work because we are continually surrounded by sin, tempted to sin and therefore, we do commit sin. Repentance is a continual refusal to allow our old nature to exert any lordship over us, a continual putting off of the old nature. Yes, we do sin but do not remain in the sin, do not practice the sin but confess it and by the power of the Holy Spirit turn from it. 

Repentance is a continual reorientation of the will, a turning of our being to God. Just as saving faith is more than mere intellectual agreement that Jesus is the Son of God or Messiah, so repentance is more than thoughts and words. It is a continual turning to God manifested in the way we live. Paul said to the church at Thessalonica, You turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God (I Thes 1:9). Notice they turned to serve — turned  from idols to serve a living and true God. 

Surrounded by the idols and depravity of a wicked, idolatrous city, the church practiced a new lifestyle.

True salvation is a sovereign work of God which God purposed in eternity past. It is made available through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. It begins in our lives as the Lord awakens us to the reality of our sin and enables us to turn from our sin through repentance. It continues as the Lord gifts us with saving faith to believe in His offer of grace through Jesus Christ. We will discuss saving faith in our next lesson.

Study Questions

1. What is repentance and how do we know if repentance is genuine?

2. What is God’s response to true repentance?