Repentance and Faith Must Always Be Joined
Jesus preached both repentance and faith. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin: Tails, we turn tail on the corrupt fruits of sin and unbelief; heads—we head straight for Jesus and trust His promises. Repentance is not optional anymore than faith is optional. Repentance and Faith are both commanded by Christ. The gospel is both an invitation and a command.
What is repentance? Repentance is a turning from sin and to God (Acts 3:19). In true repentance, one cannot turn to God without turning from sin and one cannot turn from sin without turning to God. Two Greek words are translated “repent” in the New Testament. First, metanoia means literally “a change of mind.” This word is used in Acts 17:30, “God . . . now commands all men everywhere to repent.” The other word is epistrophei which means “to turn to, to cause to return, to bring back.” It is used in 1 Thess 1:9, “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Both words are used in Acts 26:20, “repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.”
What is faith? Faith is unwavering trust in the promises of God. Saving faith is not mere mental assent, but an active response to God in trust and obedience. The Reformers identified three aspects of biblical faith: (1) I understand with my mind – notitia, (2) I accept with my emotions – assensus, (3) I trust with my will – fiducia. Peter put it this way, “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Pet 1:20-21).
We must not think that we can be saved by reforming our lives without trusting in the righteousness of Christ. We must us also not think we can be saved by trusting in Christ without having a change of life. Christ preached both repentance and faith and what Christ has joined together let no man separate!
We create hideous and monstrous distortions of the gospel when we separate repentance and faith. Imagine what you would have with repentance without faith:
- Repentance without faith leads a man to despair by not hearing or believing the promises of God in the gospel (God’s love, forgiveness, acceptance, security). He is left with bitter regret, no hope, no assurance.
- Repentance without faith leads a man to pride in thinking he can “pull himself up by his own bootstraps.” He doesn’t need a Savior. He’s a self-made man or woman.
- Repentance without faith makes God a liar: “he who does not believe God has made Him a liar” (1 John 5:10).
- It’s impossible to repent without faith: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb 11:6).
- Repentance without faith cannot save. Two examples in the Bible of those who had repentance without faith are Esau and Judas Iscariot. Neither is a positive role model!
Imagine what you would have with faith without repentance:
- Faith without repentance presumes on the grace of God.
- Faith without repentance is not real faith because it doesn’t actually believe God’s Word (ignores the command to repent).
- Faith without repentance is nothing more than the faith of demons: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (Jas 2:19).
- Faith without repentance cannot save: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21).
- Those who never repent of their sin will never inherit the kingdom of God: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).
- Those who refuse to repent will end up in hell: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev 21: 8).
What we need is to proclaim both and practice both. We need repentance that causes us to deny ourselves and follow Christ because He has redeemed us through faith in His shed blood. We need to be stripped of our pride and our sin in repentance, and clothed with grace and righteousness in faith.
Repentance ejects sin from the heart and faith enthrones Christ as Lord. Repentance purges the soul from dead works and faith fills the soul with living works. Repentance tears down the fortress of hostility to God and faith builds a temple for the habitation of the Spirit of God. Repentance is the time to weep and mourn over sin and faith is the time to rejoice in the grace and salvation of God.
The Problem of False Converts
The greatest hindrance to the purity of the church and the spread of the gospel is not the existence of unbelievers in the world. Rather, it’s the existence of unrepentant and unbelieving people in the church. Nominal Christianity is the greatest obstacle to real Christianity.
There are many who profess faith in our churches, but never manifest the fruit of repentance and faith—a heart that loves to obey God. You’d think I was nuts if I tried to explain to you a sun that never did shine or a fire that never did give heat. That would be no kind of sun or no kind of fire. If you saw a body lying still with no signs of life you’d say it was dead.
If you see a professing believer who does not love God, does not obey God, does not produce any evidence of being born again, then we must conclude we are dealing with someone who does not know God.
He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:4).
The Greatest Need We Have
What is the greatest goal of salvation? To escape the consequences of Sin? To go to heaven when you die? To make your grandmother happy?
No! The greatest goal of salvation is to have every obstacle that interferes with your enjoyment of God removed, namely, the eradication of your sinful nature in exchange for a new, Holy Spirit-wrought nature that is able to truly love God and delight in God. Your greatest need is not to escape judgment, or go to Heaven, or experience forgiveness for past sins. Your greatest need is for conversion, for transformation, for regeneration! Prior to conversion, your sin nature dominates your heart (emotions), mind, and will. You need to be liberated from the bondage of sin so you can: (1) Understand and believe the truth of God in your mind, (2) Obey God with your will, (3) Love God from the heart (affections).
As a Christian, you will continue to need to practice repentance and faith because not one of us does these perfectly (believe God, obey God, love God).
If you’ve never been converted, allow me to summarize the main issue for you. (1) Your sins are an offense to God and have separated you from God. (2) You are totally unable to remedy your situation. (3) Only Christ, as He is offered to you in the gospel, can save you. If you agree with and believe these three truths, seek God for salvation. Plead with Him for deliverance from the bondage to sin. Appeal to His grace to grant you repentance and faith. Ask Him for the gift of the Holy Spirit to give you a new heart and to bring you to a sound and thorough conversion.
Why must we keep faith and repentance joined?
- You cannot dirty your hands and expect to be clean.
- You cannot run from God and expect to be reconciled to Him.
- You cannot be ignoring Him and be believing Him.
- You cannot be saved by faith without repentance.