Some Christians believe repentance means simply to “turn around” and go in the opposite direction. But the Bible tells us repentance is much more than this.
The full, literal meaning of the word “repent” in the New Testament is “to feel remorse and self-reproach for one’s sins against God; to be contrite, sorry; to want to change direction.” The difference in meanings here rests on the word “want.” True repentance includes a desire to change!
Moreover, simply being sorry does not constitute repentance. Rather, true sorrow leads to repentance. Paul states, “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Paul is speaking here of a sorrow that is without regrets—one that is genuine, that “sticks” in the life of the repentant person. This kind of godly sorrow naturally produces a repentance that includes a hatred for sin, a righteous fear of God and a desire to right all wrongs.
It should not surprise us, then, that Paul preached repentance to believers. He delivered a strong message of repentance to the Christians in Corinth. The Corinthian believers had been richly blessed by God, having sat under mighty teachers of the Word, yet their congregation remained rife with sin.
First Paul testifies to the Corinthians, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (2 Corinthians 12:12). But then Paul tells them very directly: “I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would” (verse 20).
What was Paul’s fear? It was simply this: “Lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall [mourn] many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed” (verse 21).
This tenderhearted shepherd loved the compromising saints in Corinth. Yet he knew they had been well-taught that a lifestyle of gross sin was wrong. He told them, “When I come to visit you, you’re going to see me hanging my head in grief. My eyes will flow with tears, and my voice will wail in sorrow.
“If I see you continuing to indulge in uncleanness, fornication and lust, I’ll be utterly broken, because the gospel has not done its work in your heart. You haven’t yet repented of your sin. And I will call you loudly to repent!”