Upon completion of this post you will be able to:

  • Write the Key Verse from memory.
  • Define “repentance from dead works.”
  • Explain the origin of sin.
  • Recognize different names used for sin in the Bible.


For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.    (Romans 3:23)


Hebrews 6:1-3 lists principles of the doctrine of Christ on which a believer is to build his spiritual life. These principles are called the “foundations” of the Christian faith. They are the basic doctrines on which the Christian faith rests. The first of these principles is “repentance from dead works.”


The basic meaning of the word “repentance” is a change in mind which results in a change in outward actions.

Some people associate repentance with emotions, like shedding tears and feeling sorry for wrong actions and thoughts. Repentance is not an emotion. It is a decision. Emotion sometimes accompanies true repentance. But it is possible for a person to feel great emotion and to shed many tears and yet never truly repent.

Other people associate repentance with meeting special religious requirements. This is sometimes called “doing penance.” It is possible to fulfill many such religious requirements and yet never repent in the true Biblical sense.

True repentance is a change of mind that results in a change in outward actions. Outward change is the act of turning away from sin towards God and righteousness. This “turning away” shows the inward change of mind which has occurred.

To summarize: Biblical repentance is an inner change of mind resulting in an outward turning away from sin to move towards God and righteousness.


There are some passages in the Bible where the word “repent” is used in a different way.


In Matthew 27:3-4 Judas Iscariot realized Jesus had been condemned to death. He repented of his part in betraying Christ:

Then Judas, which had betrayed Him, when he saw that He was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,

Saying I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood…

(Matthew 27:3-4)

The Greek word used here is not the same word which means change. It is a word which people often misinterpret as true repentance. In many languages there are words which have more than one meaning. This is true in the languages in which the Bible was written. There is more than one meaning to the word “repent” in the Bible. The word used in this passage about Judas means emotion, sorrow, and anguish.

Judas experienced sorrow over what he had done but he did not experience true Biblical repentance. He did not make a decision which resulted in change in his actions. He continued in sin and in the end, hung himself.


Esau was another man who made this tragic error. Esau sinned by selling his God-given birthright for a bowl of soup. The Bible records:

…ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. (Hebrews 12:17)

Esau exchanged his birthright for a bowl of soup. In doing so, he rejected all the blessings and promises of God associated with the birthright.

Later, Esau regretted what he had done. He cried aloud and shed bitter tears. But strong emotion is not proof of repentance. Esau did not truly repent. He was just sorry he had lost the birthright and wished he could have it back. His “repentance” was not acceptable because there is a difference between regret and true repentance.


If we are to fully understand the meaning of repentance, we must understand what it is from which we are to repent. We must understand “dead works.” “Dead works” are the actions of a life lived apart from God. These works may be wrong deeds or acts of self-righteousness.

These are called “sin” in the Bible. The basic thing that causes sin is selfishness. It is the love of self as opposed to the love of God. This love of self results in man going “his own way”:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way… (Isaiah 53:6)

Jesus died for the sins of men in order that…

…they should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again. (II Corinthians 5:15)

When you repent from these dead works of selfishness it means you acknowledge the existence of the one true God, realize you are a sinner, ask forgiveness of your sin, and accept God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.

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