God’s Kindness Should Cause You to Change
“Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4
The original Greek word used in this verse and translated as “repentance” is “metanoia” and from Strong’s concordance is defined as “compunction (for guilt, including reformation); by implication reversal (of [another’s] decision) – repentance” . Compunction in Webster’s dictionary is defined as “anxiety arising from awareness of guilt”. Looking deeper into the root of this Greek word, we see that it comes from a word “metanoeo” that is translated as “repent” and defined as “to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider (morally, feel compunction). Looking deeper still, this Greek word comes from the combination of two words “meta” and “noeo”. The word “meta” is a primary preposition whose usage implies a change or reversal, and the word “noeo” is defined as “understand, perceive, consider, think”.
I’m taking the time here to drill down into the root words in the original language because I am well aware that words can take on new meaning over time. Remember that this word was written about 2000 years ago. Think of how the English language has change over the past few hundred years from Shakespeare’s time.
Today the word repentance seems to have been shifted to focus more on the feeling of regret, sorrow and contrition associated with the guilt of sin, and less emphasis on the need for us to change our mind and thinking. In fact, if you look at the Greek word “noeo” it indicates a need for us to change our understanding or perception, to change the way that we think. At the very least both items, compunction and a change in thinking, should be considered equally a part of the meaning of the word. Of course, a change in thinking would automatically include feelings of sorrow and remorse when associated with a change that involved a correction of sin and the guilt of that sin.
Honestly, looking at the original Greek word for repent or repentance, and the root words, I don’t see why the idea of feeling sorrowful and remorseful is included in the definition, except that it is implied when applied to a change from doing wrong or thinking wrong. I have to think that the usage over time of the words repent and repentance (i.e. applying them to feeling sorrowful and remorseful) have contributed to a change in the definition. (Consider how the word “talent” has changed over the centuries from its original meaning to represent a unit of currency, to now meaning a person’s skill due to it’s usage in the parable of Jesus.)
It should be noted that a change of a person’s thinking will result in a change of their actions. Consider this from the Apostle Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa in the book of Acts:
“….that they should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance.” Acts 26:20
I believe that Paul was saying here that he was urging people to change the path of life that they were on, from a path that leads to death to a path that leads to life (turn to God) and to then align their actions with this new path (perform deeds worthy of their repentance).
There are other Scriptures that support this need to change the way that we think, most directly this verse in Romans 12:
“Do not be conformed to this world (or age) but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
People who are “conformed to this world” have a mindset that is focused on the physical world, with an understanding that they are totally responsible and in control of their circumstances (without God) and must through their own power, hard work, ingenuity, perseverance and intelligence control their destiny and the destiny of those under their guidance. This places huge amounts of stress and anxiety on them. They also see their value and identity based on what they have physically accomplished and what they have gained recognition for. This puts their focus on material success and pleasing others. They have also set their goals and set their hopes on the things of this world, looking to some future state in this life as their destination. This mindset is absent of faith. For these people with a world centered mindset, and thoughts towards God, if done at all, happen only on weekends (Sunday) or maybe Holidays, or when dire circumstances arise that cause them to feel helpless and trapped and then look to God. This mindset, or way of life, leads to (spiritual) death.
As Christians we have found the pathway that leads to life. We now include faith in our thinking and focus on the spiritual world, and not the physical. We understand that God is in control of our lives and circumstances, totally and completely. This brings peace and calm, the absence of stress. We now look to God for our destiny. Our success comes from pleasing Him, not other men. Our identity and value come from being in Christ, a child of the living God. Our hope is set in heaven, so any negative circumstances here on earth have little impact on us since we are focused on the next life. We exercise our faith constantly. Our way of thinking, understanding and perceiving is based on our faith. This is the way that leads to life.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Proverbs 14:12
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
True repentance means changing from walking on the path of death to the path of life. It means changing your mindset from a faithless approach to life to a faith centered approach that includes the living God as presented to us by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Walking the path of death is equivalent to living in sin and is the root cause of a person’s bondage to the pattern of sin and death. A change must occur in the way that we think in order to set us free.
As a part of this change we must humble ourselves, put aside our pride, and admit that we are on the wrong path. We must also admit that we have sinned and offended our Creator, and have not honored Him, nor followed His ways, and are in need of His forgiveness. This will involve sorrow and remorse, but this sorrow must be a godly sorrow that leads to the change in our thinking.
God’s mercy and kindness towards us, as manifested through the forgiveness that He has offered through the redemption of His Son Jesus Christ, is intended to lead us to this change of mindset, turning us towards God, walking in faith, and resulting in the performance of good deeds, the fruit of the Spirit. If this change does not occur, we are in error. It is not enough to just feel remorse for past sins and accept God’s forgiveness, there must be the resultant change. This is the context of the introductory Scripture verse quoted above from Romans 2. In this portion of Scripture, Paul is correcting men who have judged others who have done wicked things, or who are in error and have sinned against God, but are practicing the same things. He then points out that it is wrong to expect God to be merciful towards them if they have not changed. Here’s the broader context:
“Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well doing seek glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” Romans 2: 3-8
It should be noted the word “impenitent”, used above in Romans 2, in the original Greek is “ametanoetos” which is the antonym of repent (the same word starting with a negative participle), and also the word “heart” could be translated as “mind”. My point is that I think it is clear that Paul is communicating that God’s kindness should produce a change in our minds and thinking that results in a change in our actions and deeds. Those who change will be rewarded with glory, honor and immortality on the day of judgment; those who refuse to change but expect that God will be merciful towards them because He is a merciful God, will be mistaken and will come under His wrath.
So what does this mean for those of us who are on the path of life, who have turned to God and are people walking and living by faith? I believe that there is constant pressure for us to turn back to our old way of thinking. We are surrounded by people who are walking the world’s path, conformed to the world’s way of thinking, and are either directly challenging us, or indirectly trying to influence our thinking. We must follow the Scripture’s exhortation to “Be not conformed to this world” and to change our thinking or “be transformed by the renewal of our minds”. This requires our daily attention as we read the Word and meditate on the things of God, we need to both reinforce our correct thinking that is based on Biblical truth and faith, as well as guard against deceptive, worldly thinking that will draw us back to the world’s mindset, devoid of faith. We need to pray that the Holy Spirit will also help us in this area.
I also think it is important to understand the proper meaning of the word “repent” and “repentance” in the Scripture. The differences may be subtle, but could make a large difference in our view of things. Repentance (metanoia) is about a change that occurs in our mind; it’s about changing the way that we think, understand and perceive our surroundings and situation (now with faith); it’s about changing the path of life that we are taking. Repentance causes us to change from a mindset that is focused on this physical world only, to a mindset that is focused on the spiritual world, heaven and the things of God. We change our mindset to now think in the realm of faith in the living God, and we walk, live, and exist in this new way of thinking.
Lastly, I know that the things that cause us to change are extremely important. We need to make sure that we are changing, most importantly that we are maturing spiritually. I believe there are some key elements surrounding God’s kindness towards us that result in positive changes. I would like to discuss more of this in the future.
For now remember this:
“There will be…..glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good…..For God shows no partiality.” Romans 2:9-10