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Jesus Fish 3

BSO: Repentance: Repent Of Your “Primary” Sin First

Written By: Steve Shirley

     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.” Let’s look at four examples of this:

(1 Kin 8:33-34)

(2 Chr 7:14)

(Ezek 14:6)

(Ezek 18:30)

     Also see: (2 Kin 17:13)(Jer 3:14)(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, let’s turn to and look at what they did in conjunction with this confession.

David – (2 Sam Ch. 11-12), then (Ps Ch. 32 & 51).

David – (2 Sam Ch. 24)

Saul – (1 Sam Ch. 15)

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

Judas Iscariot (Mt 26:14-16, 47-51, 27:3-5)

The “prodigal son” (Lk 15:11-32)


     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 3:7-12), John the Baptist says a similar thing to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Let’s look at this.

     What do think these verses in (Acts 26:20) and (Mt 3:7-12) mean? Why did John say this to the Pharisees and Sadducees?


     Let’s turn to a few examples of this happening in the New Testament:

The Thessalonians: (1 Th 1:9)

Zaccheus: (Lk 19:1-9)

Paul: (1 Cor 15:9)(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 5:3-20)(Jon 3:5,7)

Laying on ashes – (Job 42:6)(Isa 58:5)(Jer 6:26)(Jon 3:6)(Lk 11:13)

*** 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?”


     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)(more on “fasting” here:, but simply that we should consider doing more than what we may normally do.

     Crucial #2. – (I am going to spend some time on this one!) Let’s turn to (Mt 22:36-37) and look at the “greatest commandment.”

     Therefore, based upon this, what is the “greatest sin?”


     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?


     Let’s look at three verses that explain the “primary” goal of all Christians:

(2 Cor 3:17-18)

(Eph 4:13)

(Phil 3:12-14)

     Therefore, when we sin, we have “missed our mark.” 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). (More on “pride” here:

     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. Let’s look at a few:

(Acts 3:19)

(2 Cor 7:10)

(Lk 13:3,5)

     Also see: (Mt 4:17)(Act 11:18)(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). (For more on this, go here: 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 16:6).

     Let’s look at two sections of Scripture that talk about “turning” from our “old life” to our “new life.”

(Eph 4:20-24)

(Col 3:5-10)


     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. Let’s look at these:

(Ex 20:3) First Commandment

(Ex 20:4-5) Second Commandment

     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. Let’s look at a few verses that tell us this:

(1 Jn 5:4)

(Rom 7:24-25)

(Rom 6:6-7,11-22)

(Also see: 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