Metanoia = A Change of Life
The term “metanoia” is derived from the Greek prefix meta, meaning “over,” “after,” or “with”—and nous, meaning “intellect” or “mind.” Translating literally, metanoia means a change of one’s mind or purpose. The term is generally used in two different contexts, both of which retain this literal meaning. In the Bible, the term is most often translated as “repent.”
The Christian scholar Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225 AD) argued that, in the context of Christian theology, metanoia is best translated as “change of mind.” In this specific context, the change of mind may be taken to refer to the change from nonbeliever to believer. Furthermore, this particular kind of change of mind is expected to entail a wholesale change in the person’s behavior and disposition; the person who experiences metanoia is expected not only to embrace a pious attitude but to act accordingly. Hence the word “repent” refers to renunciation of sin in both thought and act.
According to Mark’s gospel, John the Baptist went about “preaching a baptism of repentance [metanoia] for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3) From Matthew’s perspective, the essence of the Baptist’s message was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2) Metanoia here and elsewhere in the Bible means “not just a change of inward disposition but a complete turn-around of one’s life, with all that such a re-direction implies of the need for God’s help on the one side and of ethical conduct on man’s side.”
—Lewis and Demarest
A change of mind and purpose
Simply put, metanoia is a word filled with remarkable meaning by the preaching of Christ and the apostles. … The word means “after-mind” and signifies a change of mind: thinking one way, but then afterwards thinking another. …
The gospel is what the change of mind is about. The preaching of Jesus and the apostles speaks to the nous [mind], and men change or don’t change their mind as they hear it. When a man changes his mind at the preaching of the gospel, he has experienced metanoia. Thus, the proclamation of metanoia at the beginning of the New Testament is the doorway into the entire rest of the doctrine of the New Testament: Change your mind! About what? Listen! A radical mind-shift in the religious world is about to happen … no, it is happening now… What we thought about God and the law and righteousness and forgiveness is all about to change. Hear! Metanoia and believe the gospel!
New Testament metanoia is a divine call to a radical mind-shift in the way men think about religion. Therefore “repentance” is an entirely unsatisfactory translation of the amazing word “metanoia,” which gives a completely different feeling to the preaching of Jesus and His apostles. Was the major proclamation of Jesus and the apostles “Repent! Feel sorry for your sins”? Or was it “Metanoia! Think a new way”! Do you see what a difference these two words make? Which one is in keeping with the gospel of grace as we know it from the New Testament? Not the first, but the second.
The gospel calls us to a new way of thinking about religion. Whereas men think that they are good, and that obedience to the law is the way of salvation, and that the law only requires partial obedience, and that most people won’t perish, Jesus calls us to believe that there is none good, and that no one will be saved by obedience to the law, because the law requires perfect obedience, and that is the broad road that leads to destruction. The apostles call us to believe that the cross of Christ is the power and the wisdom of God, the only way whereby we are saved, and live, through faith, while the world thinks that the cross is foolishness.
True repentance is metanoia, Greek for a complete change of direction. Many people are sorry but never really change, like King Saul. Poor Saul never learned. He apologized and was sorry many times, but he never really repented, he never turned and went the other way. Saul would break down and weep before the prophet Samuel, but he didn’t weep because he was repentant; he wept because he was sorry he was about to lose the kingdom. (1 Samuel 15:24–30) He didn’t really confess and forsake his sin, the evil root beneath the outer show. (Proverbs 28:13)
Though King David also committed great sins, he had great repentance and a genuine change. Therefore God had great forgiveness for him. David sought God’s heart. (1 Samuel 13:14; Psalm 51) David deeply loved God, and he really wanted to glorify God and please Him. God loved David in spite of all his sins and mistakes because David was willing to confess and change—and he went on to become one of God’s greats, in spite of himself.
So true repentance is not just being sorry: it is “metanoia,” a complete change of mind and heart and direction—a whole new man, a new personality, a new creature in Christ Jesus—born again! Only God can do it, but we must put forth the effort of a believing will.
You’ve had a genuine repentance when your heart is changed, your life is changed, you’ve had a complete change of mind. It means a complete turning around and going the other way!—Like when you’re driving your car down the street and you decide you want to go the opposite direction, you have to make a U-turn.
When you do, you’re doing exactly what the word “metanoia” translated in our New Testament means: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” (Matthew 4:17) Do you know what Jesus was saying when He said that? He was saying, revolute your life—for the kingdom of God is at hand! He said, turn around and start going the other direction. You cannot keep on living the same way. You cannot travel the same way anymore. You cannot go back and be a slave of mammon and serve God. You cannot serve God and mammon. It’s impossible; Jesus Himself said it. You’ll either “love the one and hate the other, or hold to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24) Which are you serving?
—David Brandt Berg
Repentance for salvation
When Paul calls for the elders of Ephesus to come to the island of Miletus, he tells them that he publicly and from house to house was “thoroughly testifying both to Jews and Gentiles repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:21) Then, when standing before King Agrippa, Paul says, “I did not become disobedient to the heavenly vision, but I declared first to the ones in Damascus and Jerusalem, and unto all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and that they should turn to God, while producing works worthy of repentance (metanoia).” (Acts 26:19–20) Paul is proclaiming the same message as that of John, Jesus, and Peter, continuing to present that repentance is necessary for salvation and that the fruit or works worthy of repentance (literally, a continuous process under the control of the Holy Spirit) indicate true repentance.
The Bible also teaches that repentance is a gift from God. In Acts 5:31, Peter and the other apostles tell the Sanhedrin, “God exalted this One to His right as Ruler and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” Then, after Peter explains his calling from the Lord to go to the Gentiles with the message of salvation, his Jerusalem brethren respond by “glorifying God, saying, ‘Then God also gave to the Gentiles repentance unto life.’” (Acts 11:18)
In our day and age, the condition of repentance is largely absent from the message of Christian salvation. Too often salvation is offered as a free ticket to Heaven, a ticket costing us nothing. However, the Bible teaches that both the call to repentance and the condition of repentance are absolutely necessary for the salvation process to take place: The verb form [of metanoia] expresses the call for the action of making the decision to change the direction of one’s life; the noun form metanoia states the condition necessary for salvation. Only when these two are present will the fruit of repentance follow. Simply put, a person must perceive that he needs a change in the direction of his life. He must make the decision for change, and then surrender his life to Christ, receiving Christ’s Spirit into his own spirit. Herein lies the cost, the surrender of his life. This is necessary because, as Biblical language makes clear, no person has the ability to change himself; spiritual change comes only from God. The good news is that repentance is God’s gift to all who surrender to Christ.
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