Born sinners, we know we need to be redeemed, cleansed, and born again. But how? The Greek word metanoia sheds some light on the subject.
We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
Metanoia: Change of Heart
Death is a huge part of our world, but often, this death is tied to new growth. An apple must fall to the ground and be trampled on in order to plant a seed and grow a new tree. Environmentalists and farmers will tell you the importance of prescribed or controlled burns, in which a field is set on fire to both kill the remaining crop from last year and improve the health of the new crop. The biblical account of Noah and the flood is a perfect example as well. The whole world was filled with sin, violence, and unbelief, so God covered the whole world with water, killing everything outside of the ark. But this resulted in a new life and new start for both Noah’s family and humankind. Hundreds of examples point to the same idea: death can lead to life.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, metanoia is defined as “a transformative change of heart; especially: a spiritual conversion.”  This word comes from the Greek metanoiein, which is often translated as “to change” or “repentance.” In Aramaic, this word can mean “returning home.” The biblical use of metanoia mirrors this definition perfectly and is used in passages referring to our repentance and rebirth in Christ.
The Lost Son
In the parable of the lost son, we see a young man who asked for an early inheritance, ran away from his father, squandered his wealth in frivolous living, and resolved to feed pigs in order to survive. The son thought he knew better than his father and went off on his own to live a worldly life. We are this son. We have rejected God through our unrepentant sins. We ran from His loving embrace and thought we could find our way on our own. We were lost in our selfishness, blindness, and sinfulness. But God our Father called us home.
Just like the lost son, we are called by God to repent and return home. Romans 6:6–7 says,
We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
Jesus took our sin and guilt upon Himself and through His death and resurrection has set us free from the shackles of sin and death. Without His death on the cross, there would be no life.
Rebirth in Baptism
The Sacrament of Baptism provides the best example of the Holy Spirit working spiritual conversion, producing life from death. That’s where metanoia comes in. Metanoia is used over twenty times in the New Testament and is often found in passages describing Baptism. In this Means of Grace, the Spirit drowns our sinful nature along with its evil desires and emboldens our life of faith.
In John 3, Nicodemus inquired about new life. Jesus answered him in verse three, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus explained that this rebirth is provided through the water of Baptism. He says later, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (vv. 5–6).
With the redeeming grace and forgiveness provided by Christ, we gladly remember our Baptism and live a life reflective of our rebirth.
 Merriam-Webster, “metanoia,” accessed February 25, 2022, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/metanoia.
Hoping to learn more about spiritual rebirth and the Christian life? Check out Gene Veith’s Spirituality of the Cross!