The Greek word for repentance is metanoia (μετάνοια) which is compounded from the preposition μετά (after, with) and the verb νοέω (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing)—metanoia means "a change of mind".
A man is driving his car toward his place of employment. As he does every morning he turns left on Main Street and approaches the Main Street Bridge that will take him across the river and to his place of business. He has no reason to even question his belief that the bridge will be open. As he approaches the bridge he sees a large sign in the middle of the road that says “BRIDGE CLOSED - TAKE THE JFK BRIDGE”. Before he has turned his car around he has repented, in other words because of the sign and the obvious repair work on the bridge, he now does not believe he can take that bridge to work. He has change his mind about that bridge.
Now he turns his car around AS A RESULT of his changing his mind, his repentance (metanoia). The turning around of his car was a manifestation of the genuineness of his repentance, his changing of his mind about that bridge. Had he not believed the sign he might have stepped on the gas and gone through that sign which may have caused him his life. In that scenario he would not have changed his mind or repented. But he has changed his mind, and because he has he now turns his car around. What does he believe now? He now is heading toward the JFK Bridge because he now trusts the sign in front of the closed bridge. In order for him to get to work, he not only had to change his mind about the Main Street Bridge, he had to take the faith he used to have about the Main Street Bridge and place it on the JFK Bridge.
There has been a misrepresentation about the nature of what the Bible calls, in the English translations, repentance. Some have mistakenly taught that repentance is the act of forsaking or giving up sin and some even attach that to a prerequisite for believing on Jesus Christ for salvation. That is not what the Bible means when it says, “Repent you, and believe the gospel” (Mk.1:15). What Jesus is exhorting sinners to do is “Change your mind and believe the good news”. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the reason some could not enter into God’s salvation was because of unbelief.
Heb.3:18-19 - And to whom swore He that they should not enter into His rest but to them that BELIEVED NOT? So we see that they could not enter in BECAUSE OF UNBELIEF.
Notice God doesn’t say because of sin, of which there was plenty, but the Lord clearly states that they would not change their evil hearts of unbelief and believe, or as the New Testament would say in one inclusive word - repent. The writer even goes so far as to warn the brethren about renouncing your state of repentance.
Heb.3:12 - Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in DEPARTING from the living God.
That warning my friends should not be taken lightly regardless of your theology concerning apostasy and eternal security. But it is clear that sin can and does contribute to unbelief by hardening the heart and by desensitizing the conscience to both sin and God Himself. Notice this warning from the same chapter in Hebrews.
Heb.3:13 - But exhort one another daily while it is called To day, lest any of you BE HARDENED through the deceitfulness of sin.
Sin is a destroyer. It destroys the conscience, it destroys lives, it destroys families, it destroys souls, and it destroys faith. We must be continually changing our carnal minds about sin. We cannot rely upon a decade old profession of faith we must as Spurgeon observed “be daily turning from sin and unto Christ”. But you cannot forsake sin until you allow the Holy Spirit to change your mind about it. And so it is concerning salvation. A sinner can no more forsake sin than can a dead person, it is not within his power to do so. In fact, an unsaved person does not even know what sin is or have the ability to accurately identify the sin in his life. All he can know by the Spirit’s illumination is that he is a sinner.
And repentance is not enough for conversion. A sinner can change his mind about his atheism and believe in Buddha and still be lost. He must repent, change his mind about his unbelief, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. And people can give up certain sins without true repentance. Many support groups that are not spiritual or religious have helped people out of addictions that were harming and even killing them, but that is not Biblical repentance. They haven’t changed their minds about the nature of their sin and about the Person of Jesus Christ. Biblical repentance is allowing God’s Spirit to change your mind and then having faith in His grace and power to change your life.
I have seen people repent of sin and yet it has taken time for them to completely forsake that sin, but because their minds had been changed they now feel differently and willingly enter the struggle about which all true believers know. Paul so vividly describes that struggle in Romans chapter 7 and anyone who reads Pilgrim’s Progress recognizes that same struggle which begins with repentance and culminates with God’s victory. So often we have judged people who say they have repented by saying “If they had truly repented they would not still be doing it”. Can you see the self righteousness in that statement? If true repentance means a complete forsaking of sin, then why don’t all of us truly repent of ALL sin and be totally sinless?
So Bible repentance is a changing of our minds, our wills, and then proceeding to walk out that repentance through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our lives should be filled with repentance, continually and daily changing our minds about ourselves and renewing our minds about Jesus Christ. Paul tells us that we should not be conformed to this world, but we should be transformed. How? By the renewing of our minds. And just how do we renew our minds? We seek God’s will through God’s Word and through repentance we garner faith in God’s Word and not our own worldly views.
When a sinner sees Christ and believes on Him as Lord and Savior, that act of faith carries with it the very act of repentance. As he believes on Christ, he has substantiated the fact that he is repenting of his unbelief. He has changed his mind, he has changed his will, he has changed his heart, and God has now changed his life. The process of sanctification has now begun, and the ongoing washing of the Word will bring new fruits of true repentance that all have sprung from the day in which he first trusted Christ. And although I am an Arminian let there be no mistake, this is all the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes!