the term repentance to mean “a turning from sin.” Regretting sin and turning from it is related to repentance, but it is not the precise meaning of the word. In the Bible, the word repent means “to change one’s mind.” The Bible also tells us that true repentance will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8–14; Acts 3:19). In summarizing his ministry, Paul declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20).
The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind
that results in a change of action.
What, then, is the connection between repentance and salvation? The book of Acts especially focuses on repentance in regard to salvation (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). To repent, in relation to salvation, is to change your mind regarding sin and Jesus Christ. In Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), he concludes with a call for the people to repent (Acts 2:38). Repent from what? Peter is calling the people who rejected Jesus (Acts 2:36) to change their minds about that sin and to change their minds about Christ Himself, recognizing that He is indeed “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Peter is calling the people to change their minds, to abhor their past rejection of Christ, and to embrace faith in Him as both Messiah and Savior.
Repentance involves recognizing that you have thought wrongly in the past and determining to think rightly in the future. The repentant person has “second thoughts” about the mindset he formerly embraced. There is a change of disposition and a new way of thinking about God, about sin, about holiness, and about doing God’s will. True repentance is prompted by “godly sorrow,” and it “leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Repentance and faith can be understood as two sides of the same coin. It is impossible to place your faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior without first changing your mind about your sin and about who Jesus is and what He has done. Whether it is repentance from willful rejection or repentance from ignorance or disinterest, it is a change of mind. Biblical repentance, in relation to salvation, is changing your mind from rejection of Christ to
faith in Christ.
Repentance is not a work we do to earn salvation. No one can repent and come to God unless God pulls that person to Himself
Repentance is something God gives—it is only possible because of His grace (Acts 5:31; 11:18). No one can repent unless God grants repentance. All of salvation, including repentance and faith, is a result of God drawing us, opening our eyes, and changing our hearts. God’s longsuffering leads us to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), as does His kindness (Romans 2:4).
While repentance is not a work that earns salvation, repentance unto salvation does result in works. It is impossible to truly change your mind without that causing a change in action. In the Bible, repentance results in a change in behavior. That is why John the Baptist called people to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). A person who has truly repented of his sin and exercised faith in Christ will give evidence of a changed life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:19–23; James 2:14–26).
To see what repentance looks like in real life, all we need to do is turn to the story of Zacchaeus. Here was a man who cheated and stole and lived lavishly on his ill-gotten gains—until he met Jesus. At that point he had a radical change of mind: “Look, Lord!” said Zacchaeus. “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8). Jesus happily proclaimed that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’s house, and that even the tax collector was now “a son of Abraham” (verse 9)—a reference to Zacchaeus’s faith. The cheat became a philanthropist; the thief made restitution. That’s repentance, coupled with faith in Christ.
Repentance, properly defined, is necessary for salvation. Biblical repentance is changing your mind about your sin—no longer is sin something to toy with; it is something to be forsaken as we “flee from the coming wrath” (Matthew 3:7). It is also changing your mind about Jesus Christ—no longer is He to be mocked, discounted, or ignored; He is the Savior to be clung to; He is the Lord to be worshiped and adored.
John 14:5-1 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?”
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
7 If you had known Me, you would have known
My Father also.
From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.”8 Philip said to Him,
“Lord, show us the Father,
and that is sufficient for us.”9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you such a long time, and
yet you have not known Me, Philip?
He who has seen Me has seen the Father. So how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?
The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority. But the Father who lives in Me does the works.
11 Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me. Or else believe Me on account of the works themselves.
12 Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in Me will do the works that I do also. And he will do greater works than these, because I am going to My Father.
13 I will do whatever you ask in
that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
14 If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.
Jesus and the Father is
“Father, forgive them, for
they do not know what they are doing”
are found in Luke 23:34. Jesus looked down from the cross upon a scene that must have been distressing to Him. The Roman soldiers were gambling for His clothing (John 19:23–24); the criminals on the crosses to either side of Him were reviling Him (Matthew 27:44); the religious leaders were mocking Him (Matthew 27:41–43);
and the crowd was blaspheming Him
Surrounded by this most unworthy lot, Jesus prayed for them.
"Father, forgive them” is a prayer of unmatched
mercy and love.
Even in His agony,
Jesus’ concern was for the forgiveness of those
who counted themselves
among His enemies.
He asked the Father to forgive the thieves on the cross who jeered at Him.
He asked the Father to forgive the Roman soldiers who had mocked Him,
spit on Him, beat Him, yanked out His beard, whipped Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, and nailed Him to the cross.
Jesus asked forgiveness for the angry mob that had mocked Him and called for His crucifixion (Mark 15:29–30).
It is important to note that Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them,”
does not mean that
everyone was forgiven,
unilaterally, without repentance and faith.
It does mean that Jesus was willing to forgive them--
forgiveness was, in fact,
the reason He was on the cross.
The words “Father, forgive them” show
the merciful heart of God.
Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them,” because
He was fulfilling Old Testament prophecy:
“He bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors”
From the cross, Jesus interceded for sinners.
Today, risen and glorified,
Jesus remains the “one mediator between God and mankind”
(1 Timothy 2:5).
Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them,”
because He was putting into practice the principle He had taught in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43–44).
Jesus, the persecuted,
prayed for His persecutors.
Coupled with the willingness of Jesus to forgive His tormentors
is the fact that they
-did not know what they were doing-
The sinners who put Jesus on the cross were
ignorant of the true import of their actions.
The soldiers personally held no ill will toward Him.
They were simply following orders.
This was how they normally
treated condemned men,
believed that He truly deserved it.
They didn’t know that they were killing the Son of God
(see 1 Corinthians 2:8).
The mob didn’t really know whom they were trying to destroy.
The religious leaders had deceived them into believing
that Jesus was a fake and a troublemaker
In praying “Father, forgive them,” Jesus revealed His infinite mercy; He still loved them and would forgive them if only they would
humble themselves and repent
(Matthew 18:14; 2 Peter 3:9).
Jesus’ prayer “Father, forgive them” was answered in the lives of many people. The Roman centurion at the foot of the cross, upon seeing how Jesus died, exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). One of the two thieves crucified with Jesus exercised faith in Christ, who promised him paradise (Luke 23:39–43). A member of the Sanhedrin publicly aligned himself with Jesus (John 19:39).
And, a little over a month later, three thousand people in
were saved in one day as the church began
On the cross Jesus provided forgiveness
for all those who would ever believe in Him (Matthew 20:28).
Jesus paid the penalty for the sins that
we commit in our ignorance,
and even the ones we’ve committed deliberately.
We too, become an answer to Jesus’ prayer “Father, forgive them.”