What is it to repent?


Repentance involves sorrow for sin, leading one to hate and forsake it because it is displeasing to God.

In our last question, we learned that only those who repent and believe in Jesus the Christ will be saved from their sins. Now it’s time to look more closely at what it means to do those things. We’ll start with the word “repent.” To “repent” means to change your mind and change your behavior.

Imagine you were traveling in a boat headed for a tropical island. After sailing for a long, long time, you start to see icebergs and penguins. Guess what that means? You’ve been headed in the wrong direction for weeks! Knowing that, would you keep sailing the wrong way? No, you’d turn your boat around and change to the right direction. That’s what it means to repent: to realize you’re headed in the wrong direction and turn toward the right one.

Let’s look closely at each of the different parts of this question’s answer: “Repentance involves sorrow for sin.” Repentance starts with feeling sorrow and sadness for our law-breaking ways. This isn’t the kind of “I’m sorry” you mumble to your parents to try to get out of trouble. Repentance is a deep sadness, sorrow, and shame for the sinful way we’ve behaved. It’s where we recognize that we’ve been living our lives headed in the wrong direction. It’s knowing that if we kept going the way we are going, we wouldn’t end up in paradise, but in the fiery flames of God’s anger and judgment!

But when someone repents, they don’t stop at feeling sorry about their sin. Their sorrow drives them to do a couple of things. The answer above says our sorrow about our sins should lead us to “hate it and forsake it…” The word “forsake” means to abandon something and leave it behind. People who truly repent hate their law-breaking ways so much that they want to completely leave those evil deeds in their past.

But why does a repenting person hate their sin so much they want to forsake it? It isn’t simply because sin brings bad consequences. A repenting person turns from their sin because “it’s displeasing to God.” The reason we should feel sadness about our sin, the reason we should hate it and forsake it, is because God hates our sin! And we should hate anything our good God hates!

For some of the best examples of what it looks like to repent, read the story of Zacchaeus the Tax Collector in Luke 19:1-10 or David’s song of repentance in Psalm 51. There you will read about two men who did exactly what our answer says: because they felt such sorrow for their sin, it led them to hate it and forsake it because it displeased God!


+ Have you ever said, “I’m sorry,” but didn’t mean it? Why?

+ How is real repentance different from simply saying, “I’m sorry”?


Luke 19:8-10; Rom. 6:1, 2; 2 Cor. 7:9-11; 1 Thes. 1:9, 10

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