No, this is not a trick question.  I’m actually very curious about this and I want to know what your opinions are about the word, “Repent.”  Is it a 4-letter word?  My good friend, Chris, and I have conversations about the word on occasion and it’s healthy.  I just want you to chime in, no matter what your opinion is.

I know that it’s in the Bible.  Jesus used it, as did many others.  What I really want to know is if you think the word “repent” is necessary to use when communicating a clear and compelling Gospel to a non-believer.  Personally, I lean towards the fact that it is unnecessary, but I know others who believe it is necessary to use the word “repent” in order to communicate a clear and compelling Gospel.

Here are the random facts I understand about “repent” that have led me to believe what I believe:

  • Repent is not used once in the Gospel of John, which is the only book in the New Testament written to non-believers.
  • Repent is often explained in correctly to include stop sinning (which is an impossibility even for believers).
  • the original Greek word, metanaio, means to change your mind or change the way you think.
  • Paul clearly communicates that we are saved by faith or because we believe, and by nothing else – not by repenting. 
  • I’ve heard it said that the only people ever instructed to repent in the New Testament were Jews, but I’m not positive on that myself.

Please hear me.  I’m not scared of the word and I don’t want to avoid using it when and where it’s necessary.  However, because of the baggage that it comes with and the fact that I haven’t found where repent is deemed to be necessary in communicating the Gospel I tend not to use it.  Not of fear, but out of a desire to not confuse or muddy the Gospel.

What do you think?  Am I correct in my leanings of the word, “Repent” or am I letting the baggage weigh me down too?

15 thoughts on “Is REPENT a 4-letter word?

  1. I don’t have a straight answer either Jason but your question strikes me as VERY relevant. I haven’t put much thought into my use or non-use of the word Repent when teaching. I would agree that it’s a word I naturally try to avoid with non-believers but probably not with specific bias. When I think about the word Repent – I think of it as a “Christianese” word and something that would have instantly turned me off when I was an Atheist so that’s probably why I avoid it.

    Also – when engaged in the act of Evangelism … how are they supposed to Repent or even begin to understand what that means when they haven’t even grasped the idea that there’s something greater and bigger than them to which they would owe a decisive change? I mean that to say – how can you ACCEPT forgiveness if you’re not Sorry? If you haven’t committed to changing?

    Just to be a little more clear and to agree with you more significantly… when I was an Atheist and those so-called Christian freaks would shout at me to “repent or burn in hell in eternal damnation”… that didn’t really strike fear into my heart – or knowingly lead me to salvation.


    On the word itself… No less necessary in general than anything else Jesus said eh?

    I think it’s important to understand, not ignore… but also use appropriately as you suggest.

    • Thanks for the scripture reference. I don’t dispute that we need to repent and that when a person believes in Jesus that in and of itself is repentence. I’m more curious to know if that is a word or term that needs to be communicated to the unbelieving…

      Thanks for chiming in!

  2. If anything, you’ve got me thinking about this one today which is probably why I’m wrestling with a response. From personal experience I don’t consciously use the word repent when having a conversation with a non-believer. Maybe it’s because, for example, during a chat one night about 4 years ago with my atheist neighbor he was offended when I used the word repent. And…why shouldn’t he be offended? I mean, he doesn’t see a need nor has the desire to repent. During that conversation that night, as you stated in your post, once the word was brought out into the open it only caused further confusion which lead us down rabbit trails, muddied the Gospel I was presenting and eventually our “chat” became a debate about Christianity vs. Atheism.

    Thanks for the post and for causing me to think deeper on this topic.

  3. Hi Jason.
    If we have not sinned, or if we are fine on our own, there is no need for Jesus and the cross. What was John the Baptist talking about? Repent for the kingdom is near.
    What did Jesus say to the woman at the well? Leave your sin.
    What did Paul say about godly sorry that brings on repentance? That it would lead to salvation.

    Whether you use the word or not does not matter. Repentance is all over the book of John whether the word is used or not. We must turn away from ourselves and put our faith and trust in Jesus. We should not turn this very important point into a word game.

    John 3:18 says that we are condemned. Would you rather use that terminology?

    When I share the gospel, I make a good effort to share that we are separated from God and that we NEED Jesus. We are lost on our way and Jesus is our only hope. We need to stop trusting in ourselves and trust in the only one that can save us.

    Do we need to repent to be saved – YES. Do we need to use the word ‘repent’ to be saved? NO

    • Alan,
      After reading Jason’s blog and scrolling through the answers from various people I’m a bit confused by your response. To my understanding and please, Jason, correct me if I’m wrong but Jason is discussing whether or not the word “repent” should be used within the context of sharing the Gospel with someone or not in fear of “mudding” up the message. Whereas in your response I read that you are chastising Jason because he is questioning the use of the word “repent” in sharing the Gospel NOT necessarily the need or use of the word AFTER someone becomes a believer. Is repentance necessary AFTER someone trusts in Christ as their Savior…yes…but does it impinge on them receiving the salvation…no.

      After reading through each biblical example you gave, John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul are all speaking to Jews or believers NOT Atheists or unbelievers. I don’t believe that Jason is attempting to make the word “repent” into a word game but rather a healthy and respectful conversation about the necessity of the word “repent” in sharing the Gospel with an unbeliever. Perhaps you should seek first to understand then be understood.

  4. Alan – thanks for your thorough and well thought out answer.

    I hope you didn’t misunderstand my post. I definitely agree we need Jesus and the cross. We are sinners and need to be redeemed. I get that, totally.

    I also completely agree that the process of repentance does take place when someone puts their faith and trust in Jesus. When someone comes to faith, they are changing their mind about what they believe and what they believe in. Thus, I agree with your summary statement and actually love the way you worded it.

    The point I was trying to make, which may have been a poor attempt on my part, is that the word repent has enough baggage with it that it can do more harm than good when communicating to non-believers, which may in fact be what we don’t find the word in the Gospel of John, even though the idea exists.

    The heart of my blog post goes to Pauls prayers in Colossians 4:3-4 “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”

    I want to make sure that when we proclaim the Gospel that we do it clearly.

  5. Hi Jason! hm. I don’t know much about it, but I can tell you Jason that from experience, before I was a believer (not that long ago… haha… 4 months now!), and after I’ve seen what the word “repent” can do. Usually it’s not positive. On campus there is this preacher who comes and talks in this fountain area outside the student center every so often. He wears this huge sign that says something about repentance, and all the while he is saying how everyone on campus is going to hell and that they need to repent from their sins. I think it’s good he’s sharing the gospel, but in using the word repent (and how confrontational it is), it only causes arguments and fights to break out (and we are talking at least 50-60 students gathered at one time). It distracts from everything else. Pretty soon no one is really listening to what the gospel is about…. they just get angry or ignore him and unfortunately get pushed away from ever wanting to explore it anymore. When I wasn’t a believer it was things like that, that caused me to turn the other way.

    I think that in the end the word repentance is not necessary in communicating the gospel- it’s really important, yes, but it comes out of our love for Christ to ask for forgiveness and to turn down a better road to please the One who showed us love despite those things. And how can we do that if we don’t understand the gospel entirely and our perspective is clouded by unnecessary, confrontational language?

    People freak out with the word repent, I know I used to, and I know a lot of my friends probably would too. Even in sharing with one of my friends about the gospel, one friend told me “what… so you’re going to ask me to turn away from my life huh? and repent?” and long story short, I told him no, that it’s so much more- that Christ loved us first, even with all that junk… and that when we truly see God for who He is, that we want to please him and ask for forgiveness. It is just a word, but with years of people using it in the wrong way with unbelievers or it being portrayed by crazy hypocritical preachers in movies, it has a stigma attached to it. End result? I say don’t use it unless the situation calls for it… Just my random thoughts though 🙂

    Ephesians 2:8

  6. I think it’s a “the chicken or the egg” issue in Christianity. Personally, I do feel the need for repentance to be mentioned at sometime. Since it’s a word/concept used by Christ should certainly be taken under consideration. However, we have to look carefully at the context each time it is used.

    It seems repentance is an issue which comes “post-belief”. In other words, repentance comes as a result of a saving knowledge of Christ. It is a result of seeing one’s state of sin. When an serious commitment to Christ is made, the Spirit should be in control and cause the believer to want to repent of lifestyles, choices, actions, even speech which doesn’t bring glory to God. True repentance, I believe, comes as a result of a changed life, someone becoming a new creation.

    Is the word necessary for the believer? Undoubtedly. Is it a hindrance when trying to get someone even interested in Christ? Perhaps. But we cannot keep from using the concept because it is uncomfortable. I’m not implying you think that way, Jason! But I know there might be people who think we should just remove the term from our evangelistic vocabulary.

  7. Good thought-provoking stuff.

    Having read through all the comments now, I can say that I had many of the same thoughts that have been posted as well. One thing I would add, I personally reacted most strongly to your question as to whether the word will “muddy the waters.” My hope is that I am so emotionally and relationally tuned in to the person I am sharing with that terminology doesn’t matter but that essential concepts are understood. I firmly believe (as has been stated) that the concept of repentance (understanding and recognition of the need for redemption) be clear, but the semantics are secondary. In some conversations it is clear that theological/biblical words and The Word can/should be used in the conversation; in other conversations it is clear that the concept is what I need to lovingly convey. A skeptic may clearly want to see chapter and verse (which means the possibility of that “R” word). We need to pray for wisdom and know the Words and concepts so well ourselves that the Holy Spirit can use us and any words to convey the most important and eternal truth there is.

    Hopefully our own lives are modeling repentance so well that the concept (and word) is an easy one for our friends to grasp anyway!

    Appreciate your post Jason, fun stuff to think about.

  8. @Christ and Jason – my writing style sucks. I didn’t mean to sound negative in anyway but it does come across like that. I often talk with a smile but I write like I am angry and in a hurry. My apologies.


    • Alan – don’t even sweat it. i enjoy varying points of view on my blog and try my best to respond to as many as i can. feel free to contribute anytime and know that i appreciate your perspective. thanks for writing back!

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