3 Elements of Repentance

This past weekend’s weather in South Central PA has been a breath of fresh air, literally. The temps climbed well into the 60s and stayed there. It’s been feeling a whole lot like spring in February. And so our family pulled the chairs out of the shed and basked in the Sunday sunshine.

In my hands was Nate Pickowicz’s Reviving New England: The Key to Revitalizing Post-Christian AmericaI especially appreciated his time spent on the subject of repentance. Perhaps it is because many of us take it so lightly. Or that it can be easy to misdiagnose at first blush—is the person simply sorry that he was caught or sorrowful over his actual sin before a holy God? It’s the defining difference between Peter and Judas. One repented and was restored (John 21:15-19). The other’s despair resulted in his own eternal death (Matt 27:1-10; 2 Cor 7:10).

Wisely so, Pickowicz first helps us with some instruction on what the word “repentance” truly means:1

51tYFCak2mL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_In the Old Testament, a word commonly used for repentance is shub, meaning “to change a course of action, to turn away, or to turn back.” [Quoted from Sinclair Ferguson’s The Grace of Repentance). The word was often used to refer to a geographical return, as in the return of God’s people from exile. However, it was also used to articulate a spiritual return to God.

But the New Testament is dominated by the Greek word metanoia, which literally means “afterthought” and has to do with a change of mind. Sinclair Ferguson defines repentance as “a change of mind that leads to a change of lifestyle.” Puritan Thomas Watson notes that “Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.” John MacArthur offers an even more nuanced definition: “It is a redirection of the human will, a purposeful decision to forsake all unrighteousness and pursue righteousness instead.”


Now that we know how to recognize repentance, we need to know what steps will leads us there. The author shares these three main elements of repentance:

1. Intellectual — a mental acknowledgement

We must first realize what we have done; and agree with God’s Word on the matter.

At a certain point, one needs to recognize that they’ve sinned. God’s command has been transgressed and rebellion is taking place… One of the biggest problems we face is an inability, even an unwillingness, to recognize and admit our own guilt over sin.

2. Emotional — where feelings enter the equation

Our emotions do matter. A hardened heart is not a broken one. Whereas a soft one has a tender conscience.

As a Christian believer, we should be deeply troubled that we have offended God with our transgressions. Further, we have broken communion with Him.

3. Volitional — an act of the will

A change must take place that actually results in something: change!

When King Solomon set out to dedicate the new temple… the Lord told him, “If My people who are called by Name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron 7:14, emphasis mine). A definite turning must occur, otherwise there is no visible evidence of repentance (see Matt 3:8)!

There’s much more in this book that Pickowicz shares dealing with the issue of repentance (as well as its inseparable connection to faith); and for that alone, I would recommend you pick up a copy. Let me close with what I believe to be his most important paragraph from my reading yesterday:

What is God’s promise to us with regards to repentance? “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The promise is two-fold; He will forgive our sins, removing our transgressions from us (cf. Ps 103:12; Col 2:14) and will cleanse us, washing us from the inside out, restoring our souls (Ps 51:7; Eph 5:26-27; Titus 3:5). While sin must be confessed because of its sheer offense to God, He is also gracious in desiring to forgive and restore us.

But the cleansing process can be difficult.


Pickowicz, Nate. Reviving New England: The Key to Revitalizing Post-Christian America (Entreating Favor, 2016). 45-48.