On Repentance

The word we translate as repentance is metanoia in the New Testament. It is a word made from two elements: meta, implying change, and noia, which means “mind” in terms of the way you look at the world, and think about it.

According to the Bible, how you think about the world will dictate what you do in it. Following a suggestion made by the celebrated English theologian Dr Tom Wright, we can say that repentance can be understood as changing the way you look at the world, and behaving accordingly.

The implication I want to draw out is that even the preaching of repentance is not primarily a moral, or moralistic action in the Bible. It is not a matter of wagging the finger, pointing at the wine-stain on the pristine linen tablecloth and drawing everyone’s attention to it – it is not a matter, in other words, of shaming.

It is a matter of getting your mind around the way things really are, as revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, seeing the full picture, and changing the way you think, so that you think and walk in the context of the truth of God’s Kingdom.

The Bible as a whole, from Genesis to Revelation, reveals the way things really are. The Gospel is the Bible in a nutshell. Re-think your mind and actions in the light of what you now know to be the case, and believe what Jesus called the Gospel of the Kingdom. “The old has gone; behold, the new has come.”

The idea is contained in the Biblical proverb “as a man thinks to himself, so will he be”. In the opinion of respected contemporary Bible scholars, re-aligning how you think, and therefore how you live, with God’s reality, is what the word “repent” is all about.

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