What is Repentance?

Note: This topic has been written on a sixth-grade level in order to provide understanding to both adults and children.

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Many people think that repentance is the same as asking for forgiveness, but there is a difference.

Repentance is a change of heart. Let’s look at two different versions of Acts 2:38.

“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  (KJV)

“Peter replied, “Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (NLT)


Esau (Genesis 27:41): Esau hated his brother, Jacob, for stealing his blessing from their father, Isaac. Esau vowed to kill Jacob, which caused Jacob to flee for his life. Many years later, when Jacob met his brother once again, Esau accepted Jacob and no longer wanted to take his life (Genesis 33:4).

Saul (Acts 22:3): Saul lived his life faultless (without blame), loved God with all of his heart, and obeyed the law exactly as it was written. Saul was a Pharisee who followed the teachings of the Old Testament. The Christians were preaching that Jesus was the Messiah, and Saul believed that this teaching was in direct conflict with the laws of Moses (Deuteronomy 13:6-10). God had to blind him to get his attention! Saul had not broken any of God’s laws. He had nothing for which to ask forgiveness, because he truly believed that he was following God’s laws. He did not understand that the Christians were actually worshiping God himself. So, how did he repent? He changed his heart (Acts 22:4-16). Saul changed from persecuting the Christians to being a Christian himself, becoming of the greatest apostles that the world has ever known.

God is looking for is a change of heart. Have you repented of the things you’ve done that you know made God unhappy? Or, have you simply asked Him to forgive you? Although we may naturally feel sad that we have wronged God, this is not repentance. Repentance is a change of direction.

How do we repent? We ask God to clean our hearts, to forgive us for the things that we have done that displeased Him or made Him sad. We then show that we have repented by doing our best to never do the things that make God unhappy. We change our actions and our attitudes, which in turn changes our heart. A change of heart shows true repentance.

Copyright © 2003 Growing with God by Mark and Glenda Alphin

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version.—Electronic edition of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version.—Oak Harbor, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995

Scriptures marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible [computer file]: New Living Translation/Tyndale House Publishers.—electronic ed.—Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1997, c1996.