Slightly over a year ago, my friend Ed (after whom this blog is named) gave a brief presentation about repentance. This was at a graduation ceremony at the end of FORM, a discipleship year he undertook after university. I asked him whether he could rewrite it as a guest post for this blog. In his own words, “this would have been a lot easier if he had written it down in the first place”, but, a year on, it is here!


Photo: bradleypjohnson, re-used under CC license

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

FORM takes its name from this verse, which handily sums up one of the key things I learned about during the year – repentance. Repentance is a tricky word, because the way we use it in modern English does not correspond very well with the New Testament Greek word it generally serves as a translation for. Ask most people (or a dictionary) what repentance is, and they are likely to say something along the lines of “feeling sorry or regretful for past wrongdoings or sins”.

However, the word we translate as repentance – μετάνοια – comes from roots meaning beyond (μετά), and mind or thought (νοια). A simple way to put it might be a change of mind or belief. Literally, repentance is the renewing of your mind! This led me to some key realisations about what repentance is and is not:

  • Repentance is not feeling sorry for sin

Life would be pretty simple if Jesus’ command to us was to feel bad when we sin. I know I’d be doing pretty well, at least! Simply knowing our wrongness doesn’t give us the ability to stop being wrong.

  • Repentance is not primarily about our actions, but our minds

We humans have an amazing ability to focus on what we do rather than what we believe. But God is more interested in the hearts of his people. Repentance is not about feeling sufficiently sorry so that God will be satisfied with us. It requires us to humble ourselves and let God transform us.

  • Repentance is turning away from sin…

The previous point notwithstanding, there is an active element in repentance. Once we recognise our need to be renewed we have to change our behaviour in light of the truth, and keep on rejecting the temptation to go back to our old patterns of behaviour or to return to a stance of rejecting God’s truth.

There is more to repentance than just a rejection of sin. In fact, without letting God renew our minds, our attempts to reject sin only draw more of our attention towards them! Jesus said “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. Repentance and belief go hand in hand.