Part 5 – Repent and Believe
Preachers and evangelists are constantly calling people to “repent of your sin” before it is too late.
The implication is that, if the preacher can convince someone of how lost they are, then they will feel enough guilt and remorse, along with fear of the consequences, and will repent of all their evil deeds. Consequently, God, because He is gracious, will accept that remorse as repentance and respond with salvation.
There are two major issues here.
The first is the emphasis on sin. Needless to say, the issue of sin is critical in understanding repentance as well as salvation. The problem is the undue emphasis on the sinfulness of man in terms of individual sins. We teach that no person can act good enough to earn God’s grace. I submit that the opposite is also true: No person can act badly enough to prevent or cause the withdrawal of God’s grace.
The reason is that our lostness is not determined by our sin – by our bad behavior – but by our birth. The theological term, rejected by many Christians, is total depravity. The basic premise is that humankind, as descended from Adam, has inherit the fallen nature of Adam. Unless they confess Christ as Lord, all people are condemned to death and eternal separation from God by their sin nature, not their behavior.
Mankind does not become “lost,” or the subject of God’s wrath because of individual sins, no matter how egregious. Hitler was no more lost than Billy Graham was before Billy came to know Christ as Lord and Savior. Man sins because he is lost.
The second issue is that there is nothing required from man for him to experience the saving grace of God.
The emphasis in evangelistic programs and training is not the lordship and the righteousness of Christ, but the lostness of man due to his sins. Furthermore, we insist that people must repent of their sins before they can come to know the grace of God in salvation.
The problem with such an approach to evangelism is that people have been led to believe that if they simply acknowledge their sin and express sincere remorse for that sin, then they will be saved. However, the Bible very clearly teaches that acknowledging and demonstrating sorrow for sin is not enough.
There is no scriptural support for calling people to repent of their sins in the sense of confession and sorrow as a step on the road to salvation. That does not mean that confession and sorrow for sin are not integral parts of the salvation experience.
In fact, for repentance to happen there must first be a sorrow concerning our sin.
Paul explained this concept in his letter to the church at Corinth: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation…” (1 Cor. 7:10. I will address this verse more fully in a later blog.)
Yet sorrow and confession alone are insufficient to bring one to a saving knowledge of Christ. The reason is that the focus of repentance, as well as the focus of redemption, is not our sin, but Christ.
The process of salvation does not end with repentance. Repentance is only part of a process that ultimately ends in worship of Christ as Lord, as Creator, as God, and obedience to His commands.
Repentance, to be effective in the salvation process, must be followed by or accompanied by belief and obedience. Here are several examples from Scripture where a form of the words repent and faith are used together.
Repent & Believe
Matt. 21:32 John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
Acts 19:4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.”
Mark 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Repent & Faith
Acts 20:21 I (Paul) have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
Heb. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God…
First, notice that there is no mention of sin in any of these verses.
Go back and read them again and try to read “repent” and “repentance” without subconsciously adding the words “of sin.” It is very difficult to do because the idea is so ingrained in our minds that repentance is tied only to our sin.
Here is a paraphrase of Mark 1:15 to help understand how one can read the word repentance without automatically linking it to the confession of sin:
Jesus said, “The plan of redemption that the Father set into place before the foundation of the world has come to fruition. In fact, His kingdom is right here, right now, in me, the Son of God. I call on you now to change your mind about the way you understand righteousness and reconciliation and to embrace the Father’s plan of redemption revealed in me, His Son, Jesus of Nazareth.”
Second, notice that in these five references, repentance always precedes believing or having faith. This does not mean that repentance is required for belief to take place or that repentance causes belief. The fact is that both repentance and believing are essential elements in the process of salvation.
In the plan of redemption, they are, in essence, simultaneous events. There cannot be a turning to unless there is first or simultaneously a turning from – a turning away from our path of unrighteousness (repentance) and a turning toward Christ (believing).
A person may be penitent without ever believing in Christ as Savior. An example from an earlier lesson is Judas Iscariot. Likewise, a person may say they believe in Christ without ever experiencing a change of mind concerning their sinful lives in light of the righteousness of Christ.
Listen to what James had to say about faith without obedience (and without repentance):
James 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. (NLT)
Third, notice the tense of the verbs in these references.
When Jesus preached His first sermon after His baptism in the Jordan River, He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
When Peter preached his first sermon after his baptism in the Holy Spirit, he said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
In response to the Philippian jailer’s question concerning salvation, Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:31)
All of these verses are salvation-related verses. All are calls to repentance and belief. Yet none of them are simply invitations to come to Jesus or call for an unbeliever to invite Jesus into their heart.
In each case, the verbs are imperatives – commands – obedience to which is a requirement of salvation. Note that I did not say “requirement for salvation.”
Repentance and belief are not actions required of a non-believer before he can know the grace of God in salvation. If there were any requirement before the appropriation of grace, then by definition, it wouldn’t be grace.
Instead, repentance and belief – both of which are acts of obedience – are integral elements in the process of salvation that can never happen apart from the grace of God and without which the grace of God would be ineffective, which it never is.
“Repent ye” is as much a command of God as “Thou shalt not steal.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” has as fully a divine authority as “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength.” Think not, O men, that the gospel is a thing left to your option to choose it or not!…
This is why the use of the word “invitation” is such an inadequate word to describe God’s call to the kingdom. The commands to repent and believe are not invitations, but imperatives.
It is the same as with Adam in the Garden. God did not invite Adam to choose between two trees. He commanded him not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God expected obedience.
God commands men to repent. The same God before whom Sinai was moved and was altogether on a smoke – that same God who proclaimed the law with sound of trumpet, with lightnings and with thunders, speaketh to us more gently, but still as divinely, through his only begotten Son, when he saith to us, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.”
So here are the things we know so far.
- Repentance is not simply about confessing and expressing sorrow for our sin, but about worshiping Christ.
- Repentance is not an invitation from God, but a command of God.
- Repentance that leads to salvation is always followed or accompanied by believing.
Next, we will see that both repentance and believing are gifts from God and that repentance that leads to salvation is always accompanied by obedience.