What is Repentance About? Part 1 (Understanding God’s Great Salvation #31)

The Bible says in Galatians 3:26-27: “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

Allow me to share with you some commentary on this passage from the Bible Knowledge Commentary by Dr. John F. Walvoord and Dr. Roy B. Zuck:

First, all who believe in Christ become sons of God. The change in person from the first to the second indicates that Paul turned from looking at Israel as a nation to address the Galatian believers. Under the dispensation of Law, the Law was a discipling pedagogue, and those under its supervision were regarded as children. However, now that Christ had come, the Galatian believers were adult sons through faith and were no longer under a Jewish slave-guardian. Why should they seek to revert to their inferior status? The exalted position of “sons of God” is explained in verse 27 to involve a living union with Christ brought about by being baptized into Christ. This is the baptism of (or in) the Holy Spirit, which according to Paul joins all believers to Christ and unites them within the church, Christ’s body. This union with Him means being clothed with Christ. In the Roman society when a youth came of age he was given a special toga which admitted him to the full rights of the family and state and indicated he was a grown-up. So the Galatian believers had laid aside the old garments of the Law and had put on Christ’s robe of righteousness which grants full acceptance before God. Who would want to don again the old clothing?

Today’s God’s Great Salvation quote is from Alan Redpath. He said: “The conversion of a soul is the miracle of a moment, but the manufacture of a saint is the task of a lifetime.”

Our topic today is titled What is Repentance About? (Part 1) from the book, “So Great Salvation: What it Means to Believe in Jesus Christ” by Dr. Charles Ryrie. 

Most of you are probably too young to remember the “mourners’ bench.” I did not grow up in a church that had one, but I knew friends who did. The mourners’ bench was simply a place to kneel at the front of the church where the sinner could weep over and confess his sins. Then, with a resolve to turn from those sins, he would receive Christ as his Savior. Mourning, turning, and believing met at the mourners’ bench.

No criticism of this practice is implied. Indeed, it would be a healthy thing to see more sorrow for sin today. But what is the place of sorrow for sin or a resolve to turn from sin in relation to salvation? Since many consider sorrow for sin and repentance to be equivalent, then the questions could be worded, What is the place of repentance in relation to salvation? Must repentance precede faith? Is it a part of faith or a synonym for it? Can one be saved without repenting? What does it mean to repent?


A number of scriptural terms have a basic, almost generic meaning yet require that one ask some questions in order to understand the exact meaning in a particular situation. For example, the word salvation means “to rescue or to save.” But you must ask a further question about this basic meaning if you are to understand the meaning in a particular context: To be rescued from what? In Philippians 1:19 Paul uses the word salvation to mean rescue from his confinement in Rome. In that text, salvation does not mean rescue from eternal damnation but deliverance from his present incarceration. But, of course, in other contexts salvation does refer to being rescued from eternal condemnation. Yet the basic meaning of salvation remains the same whether it refers to a temporal or an eternal rescuing.

Or another example. What does it mean to redeem? It means “to buy or purchase something.” To purchase what, one must ask, in order to tailor this generic meaning to its use in a particular passage? In Matthew 13:44 a man redeems a field; that is, he buys it. This use has no relation to the redemption our Lord made on the cross, though the same word is used of the payment He made for sin when He died. The basic meaning remains the same—to purchase—whether the word refers to paying the price for a field or for sin.

The same principle applies to the word repentance. In both the Old and New Testaments repentance means “to change one’s mind.” But the question must be asked, About what do you change your mind? Answering that question will focus the basic meaning on the particular change involved.

Back to the mourners’ bench. Many people consciously or unconsciously connect repentance with sorrow, so much so that sorrow becomes for all practical purposes the meaning of repentance. Sorrow may well be involved in a repentance, but the biblical meaning of repentance is to change one’s mind, not to be sorry. The presence or absence of sorrow does not necessarily prove or disprove the genuineness of the repentance. The change of mind, however, must be genuine and not superficial.

Biblical repentance also involves changing one’s mind in a way that affects some change in the person. Repentance is not merely an intellectual assent to something; it also includes a resultant change, usually in actions.


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