The below post is from the archives – January 2012. It seems to bring a fairly steady stream of visitors to my blog who were searching for the difference between repentance and confession. Therefore, I thought I’d re-blog it as it seems to be a topic of interest. On my original post, a commenter left a link to an article by Tim Keller entitled All of life is Repentance which you may also find helpful if this topic interests you. But here is my post:
Repentance is for believers too
If we’re already Christians, is repenting something we need to do? I’ve always believed that we indeed have to repent at various times throughout our Christian life. As we grow in the faith and get closer to the Lord, “new” sins and shortcomings will become evident to us. As a bright light reveals things that may have been hidden, getting closer to the holy and majestic God is revealing too. We are also prone to self-deception and sometimes need to be knocked upside the head to see the hard truth about ourselves!
What got me thinking about this was that I heard someone say that Christians did not need to repent, but only needed to confess their sin. They made a distinction between “repentance” and “confession”, with repentance being for unbelievers and confession for believers.
Repentance and confession are, of course, two different words. Repentance meaning (based on the original Greek word) “to change one’s mind or purpose” and always in the New Testament it involves a change for the better. It is true that many verses about repentance tend to be associated with the initial act of believing or the moment of our conversion. Repentance is mentioned more frequently in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (books which are more geared towards conversion to Christ), and less frequently in the Epistles (which are more geared towards believers).
Confession (based on the original Greek word) means to “assent, accord, agree with” with some nuances. Such as, “to confess by way of admitting oneself guilty of what one is accused of, the result of inward conviction.” A classic verse for the later would be I John 1:9, where Christians are told to confess their sins. Confession can also be “positive” as in confessing the Lord Jesus for who He is (Romans 10:9-10).
Yet, I do not think a strict differentiation can be made between “confession” and “repentance” in regards to whether it is referring to believers or unbelievers. There is clearly some interchange. This really hit me when I was recently reading through the book of Revelation.
The opening chapters of Revelation have messages for 7 churches in Asia Minor. These were actual and real churches in existence at that time. What jumped out at me was that 5 of the 7 churches were specifically told to repent about something. The emphasis on repentance is quite strong. In Rev. 2:5, repentance is double emphasized, when the church at Ephesus is twice told to repent in only one verse. Again, these were Christian people at churches being told to repent.
As we grow in the faith and become aware of things that displease God, we will need to repent. Repentance does not stop with our conversion to Christ, but should be a lifestyle for the Christian. AW Pink states that:
The Christian who has stopped repenting has stopped growing.
While we may have some things right in our lives (the churches of Revelation were indeed commended for what they were doing right!), we also have things not right in our lives (most of the churches were clearly told where they lacked!). The churches of Revelation should be a warning to us. It seems easy to overlook our own sins especially when we do have commendable and positive traits. There are times when we all need to be jolted out of our complacency and repent like the churches of Revelation.
Perhaps this blog post could be seen as nitpicking the difference between two similar words, but I think there is a difference worth noting. Yes, we need to admit our sin and call it what it is (sin!), instead of rationalizing it. This, for me, is what confession is about. But we also need to change our mind and turn in a positive new direction. And that, for me, is what repentance is about.
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg church on that historic day of October 31, 1517, did you know that the very first theses was on repentance? It stated:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent”, he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
Luther saw repentance as a word for everyone, believers included. It was not a one-time admission of guilt or prayer for salvation, but was to be a part of one’s whole life as a Christian.