What Is True Repentance?

The Lord Jesus said, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Then what is true repentance? Many people believe that as long as we pray and confess our sins to the Lord, practice being patient and tolerant according to the Lord’s words, suffer and take up the cross, preach the gospel more, and have much good behavior, it shows that we have true repentance. But is that really the truth?

Let’s read God’s words about the Ninevites’ true repentance and see what exactly true repentance refers to.


God’s word says, “Regardless of how angry God had been with the Ninevites, as soon as they declared a fast and donned sackcloth and ashes, His heart began to soften and He began to change His mind. When He proclaimed to them that He would destroy their city — the moment prior to their confession and repentance for their sins — God was still angry with them. Once they had carried out a series of repentant acts, God’s anger for the people of Nineveh gradually transformed into mercy and tolerance for them…God used His attitude to tell people the following: It is not that God does not tolerate people, or that He does not want to show mercy to them; rather, it is that they rarely truly repent to God, and it is rare that people truly turn away from their evil ways and abandon the violence in their hands.

This ‘evil way’ does not refer to a handful of evil acts, but to the evil source from which people’s behavior springs. ‘Turning away from his evil way’ means that those in question will never commit these actions again. In other words, they will never again behave in this evil way; the method, source, purpose, intent and principle of their actions have all changed; they will never again use those methods and principles to bring enjoyment and happiness to their hearts. The ‘abandon’ in ‘abandon the violence in their hands’ means to lay down or to cast aside, to fully break with the past and to never turn back. When the people of Nineveh abandoned the violence in their hands, this proved and represented their true repentance. God observes people’s outward appearances as well as their hearts. When God observed the true repentance in the hearts of the Ninevites without question and also observed that they had left their evil ways and abandoned the violence in their hands, He changed His heart. This is to say that these people’s conduct and behavior and various ways of doing things, as well as their true confession and repentance of sins in their hearts, caused God to change His heart, to change His intentions, to retract His decision and not to punish or destroy them. Thus, the people of Nineveh achieved a different outcome for themselves. They redeemed their own lives and at the same time won God’s mercy and tolerance, at which point God also retracted His wrath.

From the repentance of the Ninevites, we see that true repentance is not merely manifested in words, nor does it refer to some good outward behavior or constraining ourselves from doing a certain evil thing. But it means that we can examine the source of our acts, that is our intention and principle of doing things. According to God’s requirement and God’s will, if our acts don’t conform to God’s will, we will be able to completely abandon them and stop doing such things forever and act according to God’s words in everything. Only such repentance is true repentance!

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