Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Repentance: Repent Of Your "Primary" Sin First

     In the Bible, there are primarily 4 words (2 in the OT, 2 in the NT) that are used for “repent” or “repentance.” In Hebrew (the OT), these two words are “nasham” and “shub. In Greek (the NT) they are “metanoeo” (a verb), usually translated “repent,” and “metanoia” (a noun), usually translated “repentance.” (***Note: A noun is “the name of a person, place, thing, or idea.” A verb is an “action” word, meaning “taking action”).

     “Metanoeo” comes from two words: “meta” meaning “after or beyond,” and “noeo” meaning “mind.” Putting these two words together, we would have “the mind after” or “an afterthought.” This has come to be known as “changing your mind.” Therefore, regarding sin, from a Biblical standpoint, “metanoia” (“repentance” – as a noun) describes the “thing or idea” (“changing our mind”), and “metanoeo” (“repent” – as a verb) is “taking action” to do it (to “TURN” from our sin).

     I caps emphasized “turn” because when the Hebrew word “shub” is used for “repent” in the Old Testament, it is often translated as “turn.” Here are some examples:

(1 Kin 8:33-34)(NKJV) “When Your people Israel are defeated before an enemy because they have sinned against You, and when they turn (shub) back to You and confess Your name, and pray and make supplication to You in this temple, (34) then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which You gave to their fathers.

(2 Chr 7:14) “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn (shub) from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

(Ezek 14:6) “Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Repent (shub), and turn (shub) yourselves from your idols; and turn (shub) away your faces from all your abominations.

(Ezek 18:30) “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn (shub) yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.”

     Also see: (2 Kin 17:13)(Jer 3:14)(Ezek 18:30-32)(Ezek 33:10-11)

     Before we go forward, I need to address something that repentance is “not.” Repentance is not to feel “sorrow” or “remorse” for sin. “Sorrow” and “remorse” are a part of repentance (2 Cor 7:10), but they are the “second elements” in what I believe are “three elements” needed for “true” repentance. These “three elements” are very well laid out by a man named Louis Berkhof in a book he wrote in 1932 called “Systematic Theology.” These three “elements” are used to define what composes “true repentance” from a Biblical standpoint. These are:

#1. An intellectual element – “a change of view (mind), a recognition of sin as involving personal guilt, defilement, and helplessness.”

***Berkhof note to #1. – “If this is not accompanied by the following elements, it may manifest itself as fear of punishment, while there is as yet no hatred of sin.”

#2. An emotional element – “a change of feeling, manifesting itself in sorrow for sin committed against a holy and just God.”

#3. A volitional element – “a change of purpose, an inward turning away from sin, and a disposition to seek pardon and cleansing.”

*** Berkhof note to #3. – “This includes the two other elements, and is therefore the most important aspect of repentance.”

     These three elements are connected, and without any of them, we CANNOT have “true repentance.” I will be using these elements as an outline going forward.


     Many people mistakenly believe that the first two elements are what compose “true repentance.” When a person sins, then realizes that it was wrong (a change of mind), feels “personal guilt” for their sin, and “sorrow” and “ remorse” over it, this alone is not “true repentance.” These two elements “must” be combined with element #3, which is to “take action” (“repent” is a verb, meaning “taking action”) to “TURN” from our sin.

     A part of this “taking action” should be to turn to God, confess our sin, and ask for forgiveness. Let’s look at one great example of the difference between “partial repentance” and “true (full) repentance” involving David and Saul.” (Notice that after committing sin, both of them confessed, “I have sinned” (David – 2 Sam 12:13)(Saul – 1 Sam 15:24,30, [again in: 26:21]), however, look at what they did in conjunction with this confession.)

David – After committing adultery, and murdering the husband of the woman he committed adultery with (2 Sam Ch. 11-12), David wrote two Psalms (Ch. 32 & 51) to “repent.”

David – He took a census of Israel and Judah, to know the size of his army. This was a prideful thing, done with wrong motives. God judged David’s sin, and brought a plague upon Israel, which killed 70,000 men. David repented, buying a threshing floor, building an altar, and offering “burnt offerings and peace offerings” (2 Sam Ch. 24).

Saul – Saul was told to “utterly destroy” the Amalekites, and all that they had (1 Sam 15:3), but he failed to do this, not killing the king, and saving the best of what the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:7-9) for himself and his men. When confronted by Samuel about his sin, Saul’s response was to justify his actions (1 Sam 15:15,20-21). He is never shown to have confessed his sin, to turn to the Lord, to ask the Lord for forgiveness, or “turn” (repent) from his sin. (He did offer some hollow “worship” afterwards: 1 Sam 15:31.)

     We can also find a contrast between “partial repentance” (Judas Iscariot) and “true repentance” (the “prodigal son”) in the New Testament.

     Looking at Judas Iscariot in the New Testament (Mt 26:14-16,47-51, 27:3-5)(Mt 14:10-11,43-45), we can see that after he had betrayed Jesus, he felt “personal guilt” over his sin (element #1.), and he felt “sorrow” and “remorse” for his sin (element #2.). However, he did not perform (element #3.), to “seek pardon and cleansing” from God for his sin, nor did he take the “action” to “turn” from his sin. (The evidence is strong that Judas is now in Hell.)

     In contrast to this, we have the parable that Jesus told of the “prodigal son” in (Lk 15:11-32). He sinned by going astray, later felt “personal guilt” over his sin (element #1.), and felt “sorrow” and “remorse,” for sinning against his father (element #2.). However, unlike Judas Iscariot, he performed (element #3.). He returned to his father and pleaded for forgiveness. He humbled himself, saying he was no longer worthy to be called his father’s son. He was willing to work as a “hired servant.” His actions showed his repentance.


     In (Acts 26:20)(NKJV), Paul says, “but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting (“meet for” – KJV) repentance.” In (Mt 3:8), John the Baptist says a similar thing to the Pharisees and Sadducees, telling them to “bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.”

     What these mean, in short (I explain more here), is that when we “repent,” our lives afterwards should reflect that we have “turned” from our sin. When John the Baptist said this to the Pharisees and Sadducees, he did so because their lives did not reflect that they were repentant. (We see all through the NT that they were “self-righteous.”) John refused to baptize them because of this (his baptism was a “baptism of repentance” Lk 3:3, Acts 13:24, Acts 19:4).

     In other words, if we have “true repentance,” our “works” and “fruits” should display this. If we have “changed our mind” about our sin (“repentance”), and taken “action” to “turn” from it (“repented”), our lives should look different.

     Here are a few examples of this happening in the New Testament:

The Thessalonians “turned from idols to serve the living God” (1 Th 1:9).

When Jesus came to his house, Zaccheus told him “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor, and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” (Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house…”) (Lk 19:1-9).

Paul had been persecuting Christians, and then after Jesus appeared to him, and he became a Christian (see Acts Ch. 9), the persecution stopped. Several times afterwards, we can see how repentant Paul was about his persecution of Christians. (1 Cor 15:9)(NKJV), “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God.” (Also see: 1 Tim 1:12-15, Phil 3:6-7).


     In relation to what I have said to this point, I believe there are “two” things the are “CRUCIAL” to “true repentance” that SO many people miss.

     Crucial #1. – When we look at acts of repentance in the Bible, look at what people did in conjunction with their “personal guilt” and “sorrow” / “remorse” over their sin when they were “repenting.”

Crying – (Lk 22:62 – Peter “wept bitterly”)(2 Kin 22:19)(Ezra 10:1)

Tearing their clothes – (1 Kin 21:27)(2 Kin 22:11,19)(2 Chr 34:19)

Putting on “sackcloth” (a course, rough, generally dark colored garment, made of animal hair: Rev 6:12) – (Mt 11:21)(1 Kin 21:27)(1 Chr 21:16)(Jon 3:4-10 – They even put sackcloth on their animals!)

Fasting – (1 Kin 21:27)(Neh 9:1)(Dan 9:3-20)(Jon 3:5,7)

Laying on ashes – (Job 42:6)(Isa 58:5)(Jer 6:26)(Jon 3:6)(Lk 10:13)

*** Remember David buying a threshing floor, building an altar, and offering “burnt offerings and peace offerings” (2 Sam Ch. 24), as well as writing two Psalms (Ps. 32 & 51)

     So let me ask you this: “The last time you “repented” of your sin, what did “you” do?” For most of us, I would guess it entails a quick prayer saying “I am sorry for sinning against you Lord, I repent, and I am going to try to go in a new way going forward.” (Our act of repentance is over and done in less than a minute.) Is this why so many people struggle to “repent” and “turn” from their sins? I truly believe a lesson can be learned from the examples of repentance in the Bible vs the examples of what constitutes repentance for so many today!

***Note: I am not necessarily saying that we need to do the things above when repenting (although fasting is a great thing), but simply that we should consider doing more than just a praying a simple prayer.

     Crucial #2. – (I am going to spend some time on this one!) In (Mt 22:36-37)(Mk 12:28-30), Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment,?” and Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, and with all of your heart, and with all of your mind.” Based upon this, “What then is the greatest sin?” The opposite would be the “greatest sin,” right? Not loving the Lord with all of our soul, heart, and mind.

     I believe that a failure to do this is at the “heart” of repentance.

     Going back to our “three elements,” after we do (elements #1. & #2.), we have a key phrase in (element #3.): “a disposition to seek pardon and cleansing.” My question is, “What sin are we seeking pardon and cleansing from?” I think most would say it is whatever sinful act we have committed, that we no longer want to commit.

     However, I believe that whatever sinful act we have committed is “secondary” to the “primary” sinful act we have committed, and that is “putting ourselves before Jesus (God).” We have not loved the Lord “with ALL of our soul, heart, and mind.”

     Adding to this, the word “sin” is used 448 times in the Bible. The vast majority of times it is used in the Bible, it literally means “to miss the mark.” What is the “mark” that we are supposed to aim for: it is Jesus / God. The “primary” goal of all Christians should be to become more and more like Jesus (2 Cor 3:17-18)(Eph 4:13)(Phil 3:12-14).

     Therefore, when we sin, we have “missed the mark” of Jesus / God. We have failed to “love the Lord our God with all of our soul, heart, and mind” We have placed ourselves, and our desires ahead of His. This is pride. Pride is sin (Prov 21:4). Pride is an “abomination” to God (Prov 16:5). Pride is at the root of ALL sin. God “hates” pride (Prov 6:16-19).

     This is why I say that when we sin, and “repent,” and want to “turn” from our sin, I believe we are placing our emphasis on the wrong sin. If we place our focus on repenting of our “primary” sin, of “missing the mark” of Christ, of failing to put the Lord first, of failing to “love the Lord with all of our soul, heart, and mind,” and we “take action” to turn from that sin, it will follow that we will commit “secondary” sins less and less.


     OK… keeping in mind what I have said to this point, I want to spend the rest of this study addressing “repentance” and “repenting” in relation to salvation.

     Over and over and over again, verses in the New Testament tie repentance / repenting and salvation together. Here are a few:

(Acts 3:19) “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord”

(2 Cor 7:10) “For Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”

(Lk 13:3,5) “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

(Mt 4:17) “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

(Acts 11:18) “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”

Also see: (2 Pet 3:9)(Mk 1:15)(Lk 5:32)(Ezek 18:30)(Acts 17:30)(Acts 20:21)(Rom 2:4)(Mk 6:12)(Prov 28:13)(Ezek 14:4).

     What does the non-Christian need to repent of in order to be saved? Unfortunately, some teach that the non-Christian needs to “stop sinning” before they can be become a Christian (saved or “born again”). Instead, similar (but yet different) to the above, I believe the focus for the non-Christian needs to be on “repenting” of the one “primary” sin: the “greatest” sin.

     When the Christian sins, his “primary” sin is that he has “missed the mark” of Jesus, failed to become more and more like Him, and failed to “love Him with all of their heart, mind, and soul.” However, the “primary” sin of the non-Christian is that he has never “turned” to Jesus to begin with to pay for his sins. He cannot “miss the mark” of Jesus, or “love him with all of his soul, heart, and mind” because he has “never known” Jesus!

***Note: I felt like God gave this to me: “The first and “primary” sin of the unbeliever is that they have not made Jesus first in their life. The first and “primary” sin of the believer is that they have not kept Jesus first in their lives.”

     Therefore, THIS is what the non-Christian needs to “repent” of first and foremost in order to be saved (“born again”). This takes us back to our “three elements” that constitute “true repentance.”

     Three keys parts of salvation are:

#1. We must realize that we are desperately wicked and evil sinners (1 Jn 1:8,10)(Rom 3:10,23)(Prov 20:9)(1 Kin 8:46)(2 Chr 6:36). (One of our sins being that we have failed to “believe” in Jesus [Jn 16:9, Jn 8:24], and all that that entails [see note below].) We must have “personal guilt” and heart-rending, brokenness, “sorrow,” and “remorse” for embracing sins that God hates and despises, and in particular for our “primary” sin of putting ourselves before Jesus, and failing to make Him the Lord and Savior of our life.

#2. We must “repent” of our failure to make Jesus the Lord and Savior of our life, and we must “surrender” control of our life to Him (giving up “our” control).

#3. Because of our sins, we are judged by God, and condemned to Hell (Rom 6:23). However, Jesus lived the “sinless” life we could never live (1 Jn 3:5)(1 Pet 2:22)(Heb 4:15), and then died on the cross to pay for our sins (1 Pet 2:24). We must accept Jesus’ sacrificial payment for our sins, and when we do, the “sinless” life He lived is “imputed” to us (counted or credited to our account)(2 Cor 5:19,21)(Rom 4:7-8, 24-25)(1 Pet 3:18)(Phil 3:9). Jesus’ perfect righteousness becomes our righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). Through His blood shed for us on the cross, we can be forgiven of our sins (Col 1:14,20)(Eph 1:7)(Heb 10:16-19)(1 Jn 1:7)(Rev 1:5).

***Note: There is a little more to understand and accept regarding salvation than these three things (i.e. the resurrection of Jesus, the deity of Jesus). You can find these here

     I must add here that this does not mean that we can simply make a profession of faith in Jesus, and then return to our old life of sin. Giving up control of our life to Jesus means that we must be willing to “turn” from our old life, and the sins connected with it. Over and over, I have seen people make professions of faith in Jesus; feeling “personal guilt” for their sins, and “sorrow” and “remorse” for their sins (elements #1. and #2.), however, they have not made a total commitment to surrender their life to Jesus, to “turn” from their old life (and the sins connected with it), and go in a new direction, seeking to obey the commandments given by God in the Bible.

***Note: In (Jn 14:21), Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who love Me.” Much of what I say in this study regarding what these “commandments” are tied into this study, and I urge you to read it here.

     I have seen the drug addict who made a profession of faith, and then returned to selling and doing drugs, the alcoholic who returned to getting drunk, the homosexual who returned to same sex relationships, the witch who returned to witchcraft, and more.

     Yes, Christians (especially new Christians) may “struggle” with these sins (and others) after being saved (“struggle” being the key), but we CANNOT continue “practicing” unrepentant sin, because if we do, the Bible says that is proof that we don’t know Jesus (1 Jn 3:9). (Go here for more on this.) God lives inside of all Christians, in the form of the Holy Spirit (Gal 4:6)(Rom 8:9)(1 Cor 3:16)(Eph 1:13-14)(Eph 4:30)(1 Cor 2:12), and because of that, it is impossible to sin without “conviction” (Jn 16:8).

     Two sections of Scripture talk about “turning” from our “old life” to our “new life:”

(Eph 4:20-24)(NKJV) “But you have not so learned Christ, (21) if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: (22) that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man (our sinful life before conversion) which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, (23) and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, (24) and that you put on the new man (our new life after conversion) which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

(Col 3:5-10)(NKJV) “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (6) Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, (7) IN WHICH YOU YOURSELVES ONCE WALKED WHEN YOU LIVED IN THEM. (8) But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. (9) Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, (10) and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” (caps emphasis mine)

     I have learned a lesson on this in reading testimonies from several Christian brothers who “struggle” with the sin of homosexuality. After being saved, they bravely confess that they still struggle with same sex attraction. However, they are well aware that it is a sin to commit homosexual acts. Their testimony is, “I have decided to place Jesus above acting on my same sex desires.” THIS is what we are talking about!

     This is in contrast to some in the homosexual community who profess to be Christians, but unrepentantly (i.e. “gay pride”) continue their homosexual lifestyle after professing Jesus, often twisting Scripture to justify their their actions.

     In closing, I ask you to consider this: “What do you think is the sin that most often upset God in the Bible?” I believe it was “idolatry.”

     God hated this sin so much, and it was so rampant, that the first two of His 10 Commandments addressed this:
#1. “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Ex 20:3)
#2. “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” (Ex 20:4-5)(NASB)

     God called this sin an “abomination” (Deut 7:26)(Deut 27:15)(Isa 44:19)(1 Kin 21:26), and said those practicing it were to be put to death (Ex 22:20)(Deut 17:2-5)(Num 25:2-5)(1 Kin 18:40), as well as those who enticed others to practice it (Deut 13:1-18).

     God said those who practice this sin: forget God (Deut 8:19)(Jer 18:15), go astray from God (Ezek 44:10), are estranged from God (Ezek 14:5), forsake God (2 Kin 22:17)(Jer 16:11), hate God (2 Chr 19:2-3), and provoke God (Deut 31:20)(Isa 65:2)(Jer 25:6) among many other bad things.

     A good definition of idolatry that I use is: “anything or anyone that we love or worship more than God, place ahead of God, or put in place of God.”

     As has been said throughout this study, when we sin, we are “missing the mark” of Jesus, failing to become more and more like Him, and failing to “love Him with all of our heart, mind, and soul.” We are putting ourselves, and our sin ahead of God. We are breaking the first two of the “10 commandments.” We are committing “idolatry!”

     Each time we sin, this is our “primary” sin. I truly believe that we spend “way” to much time “repenting” of whatever sin we have committed, and not enough time “repenting” of our “idolatry.”

     Remember, that through Christ, all Christians have the power to overcome sin (1 Jn 5:4)(Rom 7:24-25)(Rom 6:6-7,11-22)(Rom 8:1-11)(Gal 2:20)(Titus 2:11-14)! When you fail to overcome, “repent” of your idolatry, and turn back to the Lord! He will forgive!

Copyright: © Steve Shirley

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments