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For those who do this, there is little hope for change; but we praise the Lord that there are men among our fundamental Baptist brethren are not content to accept man-made doctrines and methodologies. They are not afraid to examine what their schools and leaders have taught and to reject things that are wrong even if they must reject things that are popular with “the brethren.”
When I first published the article “Pentecost vs. Hylescost” in August 1998, I received a huge volume of response from fundamental Baptist men. Most of the replies were extremely positive. Many of the replies came from graduates of Hyles Anderson College and other independent Baptist Bible schools that promote a “quick prayerism” program. These men thanked me for tackling a very unpopular subject and for exposing an error that has seriously weakened the fundamental Baptist movement and that has damaged many souls.
One observant pastor described the fruit of the “quick prayerism” program as “SOULS BETRAYED IN THE NAME OF SOUL-WINNING.”
Biblical repentance as preached by John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the apostles, is A CHANGE OF MIND TOWARD GOD AND SIN THAT RESULTS IN A CHANGE OF LIFE. IT IS A SPIRIT-WROUGHT CHANGE OF MIND THAT LEADS TO A CHANGE OF LIFE. It is not a change of life. That would be a works salvation. It is a radical, Spirit-wrought change of mind toward sin and God, such a dramatic change of mind that it changes one’s actions.
This is how I have always defined repentance. It is how I defined it as a young missionary in the 1970s, and it is how I defined it in the Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity when it was first published in 1994.
Note the following summary of Paul’s message: “But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that THEY SHOULD REPENT AND TURN TO GOD, AND DO WORKS MEET FOR REPENTANCE” (Acts 26:20). The gospel message preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost and by Paul after Pentecost required repentance and defined that as a mindset to turn to God from evil works. Paul summarized His gospel message as “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). The gospel requires that the sinner exercise repentance toward God and faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Biblical repentance is a change of mind toward God and sin that results in a change of life. To say that it has nothing to do with one’s attitude toward sin is to throw away the Bible and nineteen centuries of Bible-believing preaching.
REPENTANCE WAS PREACHED BY BIBLE PREACHERS
Those who do not preach repentance or who make light of it or who claim it is the same as faith or who redefine it so that it has nothing to do with sin are not following the Bible pattern for evangelism. They are following a manmade program. The bottom line is that Bible preachers proclaimed repentance. If faith is the same as repentance, this would make no sense. Those who follow the Bible will preach repentance and will require evidence thereof.
Repentance was preached by John the Baptist
“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 3:1-10).
Repentance was preached by Jesus Christ
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
“But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13).
“Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:20-21).
“And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-5).
“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. … Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:7, 10).
“And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48).
Christ’s goal in dealing with men was not merely to lead them in a sinner’s prayer, but to bring them to repentance and genuine salvation. He described salvation in terms of coming to repentance.
Repentance was preached by Christ’s Disciples
“And they went out, and preached that men should repent” (Mark 6:12).
Repentance was preached by Peter
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).
“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” (Acts 3:19).
“Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).
“Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:22-23).
Repentance was preached by Paul
“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30).
“And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:20-21).
“But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20).
The Bible says that God is “longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). There is no Bible example of people being saved who did not evidence a change in their lives. The Apostle Paul, reviewing his ministry before King Agrippa, noted that he went about preaching to Jews and Gentiles “that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20). This is exactly the message we are to preach today.
WHAT BIBLICAL REPENTANCE IS NOT
REPENTANCE IS NOT MERE HUMAN REFORMATION
Men have the ability to reform their own lives in some sense. It is not uncommon for men who have gotten into trouble to come to their senses and to change their ways. Drunkards have stopped drinking; wife beaters have ceased from their violence; thieves have become honest citizens; harlots have turned from a life of infamy. This in itself is not biblical repentance.
First of all, reformation is man-centered and this-world-centered; whereas repentance is God-centered and eternity-centered. The man who merely reforms has his eyes on the people he has offended and the consequences of his actions in his present life. The gospel, on the other hand, calls for “repentance toward God…” (Acts 20:21). The Prodigal Son’s repentance was demonstrated by his change of attitude toward God as well as toward his father. “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I HAVE SINNED AGAINST HEAVEN, and before thee” (Luke 15:18).
Furthermore, reformation is problem-centered, whereas repentance is sin-centered. The man who reforms his life looks upon his actions as problems and faults, but not as wicked sin against a holy God. Those who repent, on the other hand, confess that they have SINNED against God. They do not soft-peddle their sin. This is why it is crucial that people be taught plainly what sin is from the Bible. To tell people that they have sinned is not enough, because the sinner does not naturally think of himself as truly evil. He will admit that he has faults, problems, weaknesses, lack of self-esteem, etc., but this is not the same as admitting that he is a wicked and undone sinner before God.
REPENTANCE IS NOT PENANCE
Many Catholic Bibles translate “repentance” as “do penance,” according to Catholic theology that replaces biblical repentance with a sacramental duty. Penance is a Catholic sacrament whereby sins “done after baptism” are absolved by the priest upon the confession and good deeds of the penitent. The four parts of penance are confession, contrition, absolution, and satisfaction. The satisfaction refers to various duties prescribed by the priest, such as praying the Rosary. Satisfaction is defined by the authoritative Addis and Arnold Catholic Dictionary as “a payment of the temporal punishment due to sin through works which are good and penal and are imposed by the confessor.”
This is not biblical repentance. Sinners are not commanded to go to priests for forgiveness. They are not told to confess their sins to a priest or to do good works with the hope that their sins will thereby be forgiven. All of the elements of Catholic penance are unscriptural.
REPENTANCE IS NOT MERE REMORSE FOR WRONG ACTIONS
The Bible tells us that men can be remorseful about their actions without exercising genuine repentance unto salvation. This is described as the “sorrow of the world” in 2 Cor. 7:10. There are key examples of this in the Old and the New Testaments. King Saul is the prime Old Testament example. He was sorry that he got caught in various sinful acts, but he did not demonstrate repentance because his actions did not change (1 Sam. 15:24; 24:17; 26:21). Judas is the fearful New Testament example of a man who was remorseful but did not repent toward God (Matt. 27:3-4). Like reformation, remorse is man-centered rather than God-centered. Those who repent change their mind about their relationship with God and this results in a change in the way they live. Judas regretted his actions, but he did not turn to God.
REPENTANCE IS NOT MERE CONFESSION OF OR ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF SIN
Repentance is also not mere acknowledgement of sin. Pharaoh did this, but he did not repent toward God and his actions did not change (Exodus 9:27). While working in a county jail ministry for several years, I saw many men and women who acknowledged that they had sinned, but most of those did not exercise repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
REPENTANCE IS NOT MERELY CHANGING FROM UNBELIEF TO BELIEF
The late Pastor Jack Hyles, First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana, who was an influential independent Baptist preacher, defines repentance to mean turning from unbelief to belief. He stated this in his 1993 book, The Enemies of Soul Winning. One chapter is titled “Misunderstood Repentance: An Enemy of Soul Winning.” He builds his doctrine of repentance largely on human reasoning: since unbelief is the only sin that sends men to Hell (so he claimed), unbelief is the only sin that must be repented of. That sounds reasonable, but it is contrary to the clear example and teaching of the Word of God. Biblical repentance as preached by John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Apostles, involved a change of mind TOWARD GOD AND SIN. Note the following summary of Paul’s gospel message: “But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and DO WORKS MEET FOR REPENTANCE” (Acts 26:20). The gospel message preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost and by Paul after Pentecost required repentance and defined that as a turning to God from evil works. Biblical repentance is a change of mind toward God and sin that results in a change of life. To say that it has nothing to do with one’s attitude toward sin is to throw away 19 centuries of Christian preaching.
REPENTANCE IS NOT MERE CHANGING ONE’S MIND
Another man who has widely influenced the doctrine of repentance held by independent Baptists is the late Curtis Hutson, former editor of the Sword of the Lord. His 1986 booklet “Repentance: What Does the Bible Teach?” has been distributed widely. Hutson boldly denied that repentance means to turn from sin (p. 4). He denied that repentance is sorrow for sin (p. 8). He even denied that repentance means “a change of mind that leads to a change of action” (p. 16). He claimed that repentance simply is “to change one’s mind” and that it did not necessarily result in a change of life. In an attempt to build his doctrine of repentance, Curtis Hutson quoted Scripture that appears to support his position but he ignored the Scriptures that plainly denounce his position. He misquoted the writings of men like his predecessor John R. Rice. He also mixed in a heavy dose of human reasoning. For example, he stated that repentance couldn’t mean to turn from sin because man cannot turn from all sin. That is a smokescreen, because no one has defined repentance as turning from all sin. The historic definition of repentance, as it applies to salvation, is a change of mind toward God and sin that results in a change of life. Repentance is not turning from all sin in the sense of some sort of sinless perfection; it is a change of mind toward sin so that the sinner no longer intends to walk in rebellion against God. Dr. Hutson also reasoned that to say repentance involves turning from sin is a works salvation. That is nonsense. The Thessalonians turned from the sin of idolatry (1 Thess. 1:9). Obviously, that does not mean they thought that their works had a part in their salvation. The fact that God requires that we turn from sin does not mean that salvation is by works. We know that the works are the fruit of genuine salvation, not the cause of it. Repentance, defined as turning to God from sin, is not a works salvation, as Dr. Hutson falsely claimed. It is the sinner’s obedient response to the Holy Spirit’s conviction (John 16:8). Dr. Hutson’s entire line of reasoning about repentance was unscriptural.
Hutson even carried his false doctrine of repentance so far that he modified the 1989 edition of “Soul-Stirring Songs and Hymns,” which is the hymnal published by the Sword of the Lord. Under the direction of Pastor Tom Stastny the members of Beaver Valley Baptist Church of Montrose, British Columbia, went through the hymnal and documented many changes. In an open letter to Independent Baptists of Canada dated April 1, 2000, Pastor Stastny wrote: “Several of the changes center around the doctrine of repentance i.e. #245 (The Old Account Was Settled”), #288 (“I Am Resolved”), #318 (“Give Me Thy Heart”), #444 (“Almost Persuaded”). The 1989 version greatly weakens this doctrine in its overall message.” Following are the changes that were made to these four hymns:
“The Old Account Was Settled”
4th verse -- “O sinner seek the Lord, repent of all your sin, For thus He hath commanded if” CHANGED TO “O sinner, trust the Lord, be cleansed of all your sin, For thus He hath provided for.”
“I Am Resolved”
4th verse DELETED (“I am resolved to enter the Kingdom, leaving the paths of sin...”)
“Give Me Thy Heart”
2nd verse -- “turn now from sin and from evil depart” CHANGED TO “trust in me only, I’ll never depart.”
1st and 2nd verses DELETED -- “Almost I trusted in Jesus, Almost I turned from my sin; Almost I yielded completely to the sweet striving within.” “Almost I said, ‘Jesus, save me.’ Almost submitted my will; Almost persuaded to serve Him, but I rejected Him still.”
In a letter to Pastor Statsny dated March 31, 2000, Shelton Smith promised that the Sword would publish a new edition of the hymnal that would “use the original editions” of the hymns. As of 2007 this has not been done, and the changes themselves in the 1989 edition under Hutson’s administration speak for themselves.
REPENTANCE IS NOT MERELY THE SAME AS BELIEVING
Dr. Dwight Pentecost is among those who define repentance as merely believing in Christ. “Repentance is not a prerequisite to salvation; for if repentance is required, salvation is based, at least in part on works. … We would suggest to you from the Word of God that repentance is included in believing. It is not a separate act which conditions salvation, but rather it is included in the act of believing” (Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine, 1965, pp. 70, 71). This sounds correct to many people, but it is wrong. First, as to repentance being a works salvation, that is nonsense. To say that repentance results in works is not the same as saying that repentance is works. Saving faith also produces works, but this is not to say that saving faith is works. Repentance, in fact, is so far from a work that it is a gift of God’s grace. “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).
I will reply to the idea that repentance is the same as faith by asking the following questions:
(1) If repentance and faith are the same, why does the Bible make such a plain distinction between them? “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). In reality, repentance and faith are two different actions though they are intimately connected and cannot necessarily be separated in time. Repentance is acknowledging one’s sin and rebellion against God and changing one’s mind about sinning against God. Faith is trusting the finished work of Christ for forgiveness. Repentance and faith are the two aspects of man’s response to God’s offer of salvation.
(2) If repentance and faith are the same, why did all of the New Testament preachers proclaim repentance? Many arguments have been given to justify not preaching repentance, but the bottom line is that the Bible preachers proclaimed repentance. If repentance is totally wrapped up in believing, why did the Lord Jesus Christ preach “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3)? Why did Peter preach, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted” (Acts 3:19)? Why did Paul preach, “God ... now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30)? Or, “[men] should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20)?
(3) If repentance and faith are the same, why did the Lord Jesus Christ say that repentance is a part of the Great Commission? “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). The answer is that repentance is to be preached, and faith is to be preached. While these doctrines are intimately connected, they are not the same. Biblical salvation involves both: “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). That is what the Lord’s Apostles preached, and they are our only infallible guides. Those who claim that repentance does not have to be preached or that it is exactly the same as faith are denying the plain teaching of the Word of God.
A SURVEY OF THE BIBLE’S TEACHING ON REPENTANCE
In the following study, we examine most of the Bible passages dealing with repentance toward God. Our study is an expansion of one done by Bruce Lackey. He defined repentance as “a change of mind that results in a change of action.” That is a biblical definition. The Bible’s examples of repentance show a clear change in people’s behavior. The change itself does not save us from sin, but IT IS the fruit of Bible salvation.
Exodus 13:17. “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.” God led Israel through the wilderness rather than through the land of the Philistines ‘lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.’ God knew that their change of mind would result in a change of action. In this instance, a change of mind without the resulting change of action would have been meaningless. Repentance is defined in this verse as turning.
Judges 21:1,6,14. “And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day.” The men of Israel had sworn that they would not give any of their daughters as wives for the Benjamites, but they repented and gave them wives (vv. 6,14). Again, the change of mind without the resulting change of action would have been meaningless.
1 Kings 8:47-48. “Yet if they shall bethink themselves in the land whither they were carried captives, and REPENT, and make supplication unto thee in the land of them that carried them captives, SAYING, WE HAVE SINNED, AND HAVE DONE PERVERSELY, we have committed wickedness; And so RETURN UNTO THEE WITH ALL THEIR HEART, AND WITH ALL THEIR SOUL, in the land of their enemies, which led them away captive, and pray unto thee toward their land, which thou gavest unto their fathers, the city which thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name.” God promised that if captive Israel would repent He would hear them. He defined repentance as acknowledging their wickedness and turning to God with the whole heart.
Job 42:6. “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Here, again, we see that repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action. Obviously, the dust and ashes were a change of action.
Jeremiah 8:6. “I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle.” Repentance is defined as acknowledging and turning from sin.
Ezekiel 14:6. “Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” God defined repentance as turning from sin and idols. Surely, no one thinks that God would have been satisfied if they had merely changed their minds without changing their actions.
Ezekiel 18:30. “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.” Again, repentance is defined as turning from sin and idols.
Jonah 3:5-8. “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.” The word repentance is not used in the Jonah passage, but in Matthew 12:31 Jesus said they repented. The repentance of the people of Nineveh was witnessed in their actions. True repentance is always observable by a change in one’s manner of living.
Matthew 3:1,8. “And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. ... Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.” John the Baptist defined repentance as a change in life. He demanded ‘fruits meet for repentance,’ which obviously meant that he wanted to see some evidence that they had repented, before he would baptize them. The specific changes of action are listed in the parallel passage of Lk. 3:8-14. The various kinds of people had to show different changes of action, because their particular sins had been different.
Matthew 9:13. “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus defined repentance as a sinner changing his attitude to sin.
Matthew 11:20-21. “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Christ defined repentance as a dramatic change in one’s attitude toward God and His Word. He said this change of mind is evidenced by a change in action.
Matthew 12:41. “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” Jesus stated that the men of Nineveh ‘repented at the preaching of Jonas.’ Jonah 3 shows that they heard the Word of God, believed God, fasted, put on sackcloth, and turned from their sin. Christ considered their actions to be a result of their repentance. Would He have approved what they did if there had been no change of action? The answer is obvious.
Matthew 21:28-29. “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.” The son’s repentance was witnessed by his change of mind and his obedience. A mere change of mind without a change in action would not have satisfied the father’s command.
Luke 5:32. “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Christ’s objective was not merely to bring men to a mental belief in the Gospel but to bring them to repentance, which, as we have seen, means a turning from sin, a change of mind that results in a change of life.
Luke 13:3-5. “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Christ absolutely requires repentance for salvation.
Luke 15:7-10. “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” Again, we see that Christ requires repentance for salvation. God and Heaven do not rejoice merely because someone prays a prayer in the name of Christ (Mt. 7:21) or because someone makes a mental assent to the Gospel (James 2:19-20). God and Heaven rejoice when a sinner repents.
Luke 19:1-10. “And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Zacchaeus’s repentance was a change of mind that resulted in a dramatic change of life. The evidence of his repentance was that he gave half his goods to the poor and restored five-fold that which he had stolen through his tax collecting business.
Luke 24:47. “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Repentance is part of the Gospel message that is to be preached to the ends of the earth. Repentance is part of the Great Commission.
Acts 2:37-41. “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The Jews in Acts 2 who heard Peter’s sermon repented, and the evidence of this is that they gladly received his word, were baptized, and joined themselves with the hated Christians. Again we see that repentance is to turn one’s life from sin and rebellion to God and obedience; it is a change of mind toward God and sin that results in a change of life. The first church was built on the preaching of repentance!
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.” Repentance is God’s requirement for every sinner who will be saved. Repentance precedes and brings conversion and forgiveness of sin.
Acts 5:31. “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Repentance is required for and precedes forgiveness of sin. It is a work of Christ in the heart of the responsive sinner.
Acts 8:21-22. “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” Peter warned Simon to repent of his covetousness, which meant he was to turn from it, to reject it, to change his mind about it and to stop it.
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.” Note that the disciples described salvation as repentance. They thought of salvation commonly in these terms. Note, too, that repentance is a work of God in the heart of the responsive sinner.
Acts 17:30. “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” Paul preached repentance to the idolatrous people at Athens. He did not even mention faith in Christ, but he explained that God demands repentance. The preaching of God’s holiness and righteousness and man’s fallen condition and need of repentance precedes and prepares the way for the preaching of the Cross.
Acts 20:21. “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” This verse summarizes Paul’s preaching and the true Gospel message: repentance toward God and faith in Christ. The sinner must repent about his disobedience toward God and exercise faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for his sin.
Acts 26:20. “But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” Paul preached the same message as John the Baptist, so no one can limit this to the dispensation of the law. The words of this verse, ‘that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance,’ show that repentance is not a work! When we preach repentance for salvation, we are not preaching a works salvation, as some have charged. When we say that repentance produces a change of works, it would be ridiculous to say that the two are one. Food produces energy and strength; labor produces sweat; but they are different things, so repentance and works are two separate things. Repentance produces and results in good works, but repentance itself is not works salvation. The bottom line is this: Paul preached repentance and required that repentance produce a change in the life. We must do the same today. Those who accept a mere prayer as salvation and who baptize people who demonstrate no change in life are not following the Bible pattern of evangelism.
Romans 2:4. “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” God does many things with the objective of bringing men to repentance. This is another reminder that God desires that all men repent.
2 Corinthians 7:9-11. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” Lessons: (1) Repentance is the product of God’s Word (v. 8; Jonah 3:5; Acts 2:38-41). (2) Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of life. The Corinthians’ repentance produced a great change in their manner of living: ‘carefulness ... clearing of yourselves ... indignation ... fear ... vehement desire ... zeal ... revenge.’ (3) Repentance is not the same as reformation or other forms of “the sorrow of the world.” Repentance has to do with God and sin, whereas reformation has to do with other people and with conditions and things in this world. Many people, when they get into trouble, are sorry for the trouble and they determine to change certain things in their lives that produced that trouble. This is not repentance, because it does not deal with one’s wickedness against Almighty God and does not result in a change of attitude and action in relation to God. (4) True repentance is permanent (v. 10).
2 Corinthians 12:21. “And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.” Repentance is not about sin in general; it involves a change of mind and a change of action concerning specific sins.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. “For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” This passage gives a perfect definition of salvation repentance. It is turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God. Note that repentance is directed to God (compare Acts 20:21; 26:20). Repentance results in a change of life (turning from idols to serve God).
2 Timothy 2:25-26. “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” Repentance produces ‘acknowledging of the truth’ and recovery from the snare of the devil. Repentance is a work of God in the heart of a responsive sinner. God convicts of sin and calls the sinner to repentance and faith in Christ, and if the sinner responds, God grants salvation and fulfills His work of repentance in the sinner’s life.
Hebrews 6:1. “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.” The ‘repentance from dead works’ is obviously a change of mind that results in a change of action.
Hebrews 12:17. “For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” Esau ‘found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.’ Bruce Lackey says: “Since there is no record of Esau trying to change the sale of his birthright to Jacob (Ge. 25:29-34), this must refer to his effort to get Isaac to change the blessing from Jacob back to himself (Ge. 27:34). Some interpret this to mean that Esau could not repent; I think it means that he could not get Isaac to repent of having given the firstborn’s blessing to Jacob. In either case, the meaning of repentance would be the same. Esau found a place to change his mind, but he could not find a place to change the action. This is one of the strongest proofs in Scripture that a change of action must take place, or there is no repentance.”
2 Peter 3:9. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Again, we see that the Bible frequently describes salvation in terms of repentance. God requires repentance for salvation.
Revelation 2:5. “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” Repentance obviously involves turning from actions that are wrong to doing actions that are right. It means to change one’s mind about a wrong behavior so that one determines to change that behavior by God’s grace.
Revelation 2:16. “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” The Christians at Pergamos were instructed to repent of the sin and error that they were allowing in the church, which meant they were to turn from the things that Christ mentioned.
Revelation 2:21-22. “And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.” Christ required that the people ‘repent of their deeds.’ He surely would not have been satisfied with a change of mind without a change of action.
Revelation 3:3. “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” The repentance Christ required produced a complete change in attitude and action about specific sin and error.
Revelation 9:20-21. “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.” From these verses, we see that repentance that is acceptable before God is to reject and turn from sin, idolatry, and error.
Revelation 16:9,11. “And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory. And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.” These passages say that tribulation sinners will not repent ‘of their deeds.’ Their lack of repentance is connected with their refusal to turn from their evil doings. Repentance is a turning to God from sin, a change of mind about sin that results in a change of action.
REPENTANCE DEFINED BY BAPTISTS OF THE PAST
To define repentance merely as turning from unbelief to belief, or to claim that repentance has nothing to do with turning from sin, ignores not only the Bible, as seen above, but also nineteen centuries of Bible-believing Christian scholarship. This is not how Baptists have defined repentance in the past.
The following are only a few of the examples that could be given. Statements by men are not our authority, but it is not wise to ignore what Bible-believing men of old have believed. Though we would not agree with every detail of the following statements, we believe they reflect the true definition of biblical repentance in contrast to the shallow definition that is popular today.
“Unfeigned repentance is an inward and true sorrow of heart for sin, with sincere confession of the same to God, especially that we have offended so gracious a God and so loving a Father, together with a settled purpose of heart and a careful endeavor to leave all our sins, and to live a more holy and sanctified life according to all God’s commands” (The Orthodox Creed, Baptist, 1679).
“This saving repentance is an evangelical grace, whereby a person, being by the Holy Spirit made sensible of the manifold evils of his sin, doth, by faith in Christ, humble himself for it with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrency; praying for pardon and strength of grace, with a purpose and endeavor by supplies of the Spirit to walk before God unto all well-pleasing in all things” (Philadelphia Confession of Faith, Baptist, 1742).
“Repentance is an evangelical grace, wherein a person being, by the Holy Spirit, made sensible of the manifold evil of his sin, humbleth himself for it, with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrence, with a purpose and endeavor to walk before God so as to please Him in all things” (Abstract of Principles, Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, 1859).
“Just now some professedly Christian teachers are misleading many by saying that ‘repentance is only a change of mind.’ It is true that the original word does convey the idea of a change of mind; but the whole teaching of Scripture concerning the repentance which is not to be repented of is that it is a much more radical and complete change than is implied by our common phrase about changing one’s mind. The repentance that does not include sincere sorrow for sin is not the saving grace that is wrought by the Holy Spirit. God-given repentance makes men grieve in their inmost souls over the sin they have committed, and works in them a gracious hatred of evil in every shape and form. We cannot find a better definition of repentance than the one many of us learned at our mother’s knee: ‘Repentance is to leave the sin we loved before, and show that we in earnest grieve by doing so no more’” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Royal Saviour,” Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, England, Feb. 1, 1872).
“…repentance … is a turning from sin, a loathing of it; and if thou hast that, thou hast sure repentance; but not else. Repentance is also a sense of shame for having lived in it, and a longing to avoid it. It is a change of the mind with regard to sin--a turning of the man right round. That is what it is; and it is wrought in us by the grace of God. Let none therefore mistake what true repentance is” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Mistaken Notions about Repentance,” Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, England, April 20, 1879).
“Repentance is a change of mind or purpose. Until a man repents he commonly feels comfortable about himself and his ways; but when the Saviour, through the Spirit, gives him repentance, he changes his mind about himself, and seeing nothing good in his heart or in his works, his whole soul cries out, ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner’ (Lk. 18:13)” (William Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881).
“Repentance and the firstfruits of repentance [baptism and other steps of discipleship mentioned in Acts 2:38-42] were generally inseparable. The former could not be genuine without manifesting itself in the latter. And in the circumstances of that day a willingness to be baptized was no slight evidence of a new heart” (Horatio Hackett, Commentary on Acts, American Baptist Publication Society, 1882).
“To repent, then, as a religious term of the New Testament, is to change the mind, thought, purpose, as regards sin and the service of God--a change naturally accompanied by deep sorrow for past sin, and naturally leading to a change of the outward life” (John A. Broadus, An American Commentary on the New Testament, Matthew, 1886).
“The preacher who leaves out repentance commits as grave a sin as the one who leaves out faith. I mean he must preach repentance just as often, and with as much emphasis, and to as many people as he preaches faith. To omit repentance, to ignore it, to depreciate it, is rebellion and treason. Mark its relative importance: You may make a mistake about baptism and be saved, for baptism is not essential to salvation. You may be a Christian and not comprehend fully the high-priesthood of Jesus Christ (Heb. 5 :11), but ‘Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish.’ So said the Master Himself. Repentance is a preparatory work. For thus saith the Lord: ‘Break up your fallow ground and sow not among thorns.’ I submit before God, who will judge the quick and the dead, that to preach faith without repentance is to sow among thorns. No harvest can be gathered from an unplowed field. The fallow ground needs to be broken up. The most striking instance on record of repentance as a preparatory work was the ministry of John the Baptist. He was sent ‘to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ He did it by preaching repentance, and Mark says his preaching was ‘the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ Here is the true starting point. Whoever starts this side of repentance makes a false beginning which vitiates his whole Christian profession. When true repentance was preached and emphasized, there were not so many nominal professors of religion. TO LEAVE OUT OR MINIMIZE REPENTANCE, NO MATTER WHAT SORT OF A FAITH YOU PREACH, IS TO PREPARE A GENERATION OF PROFESSORS WHO ARE SUCH IN NAME ONLY. I give it as my deliberate conviction, founded on twenty-five years of ministerial observation, that the Christian profession of today owes its lack of vital godliness, its want of practical piety, its absence from the prayer meeting, its miserable semblance of missionary life, very largely to the fact that old-fashioned repentance is so little preached. You can’t put a big house on a little foundation. And no small part of such preaching comes from a class of modern evangelists who desiring more for their own glory to count a great number of converts than to lay deep foundations, reduce the conditions of salvation by one-half and make the other half but some intellectual trick of the mind rather than a radical spiritual change of the heart. Like Simon Magus, they believe indeed, but ‘their heart not being right in the sight of God, they have no part nor lot in this matter. They are yet in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.’ Such converts know but little and care less about a system of doctrine. They are prayerless, lifeless, and to all steady church work reprobate” (B.H. Carroll, Baptist, Repentance and Remission of Sins, 1889).
“Repentance being, as it is, an inward change of purpose resulting in an outward change of life, cannot be performed by one person for another. Repentance is a turning from a life of self and sin to a life of submission and obedience to God’s will. Repentance, as used in the New Testament, means a change of mind, but it is a word of moral significance and does not mean merely a change of opinion. Such a change often takes place without repentance in the New Testament sense. The will is necessarily and directly involved, as well as the emotions, but in scriptural repentance there is a change of mind with reference to sin, a sorrow for sin and a turning from sin. Repentance means sins perceived, sins abhorred and sins abandoned. This change is wrought by the power of God through the Holy Spirit, the word of truth being used as a means to convict the sinner of sin and lead him to forsake it and to resolve henceforth to walk before God in all truth and uprightness” (W.D. Nowlin, Baptist Fundamentals of the Faith, c. 1897).
“The New Testament emphasizes repentance and faith as fundamental conditions of salvation. Repentance is a change of mind toward sin and God, and a change of will in relation to sin and God. Repentance is not merely sorrow. It is rather godly sorrow which turns away from all wrong doing and enters upon a life of obedience. Faith is belief of God's Word concerning his Son, and trust in his Son for salvation” (E. Y. Mullins, DD., LL.D., Late President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, published by The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1920).
“We believe that repentance and faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God; whereby being deeply convinced of our guilt, danger, and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy; at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest and King and relying on him alone as the only and all-sufficient Saviour” (Baptist Faith and Message, Southern Baptist Convention, 1925).
“To repent literally means to have a change of mind or spirit toward God and toward sin. It means to turn from your sins, earnestly, with all your heart, and trust in Jesus Christ to save you. You can see, then, how the man who believes in Christ repents and the man who repents believes in Christ. The jailer repented when he turned from sin to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” (John R. Rice, What Must I Do to Be Saved?, 1940).
“We believe that Repentance and Faith are solemn obligations, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the quickening Spirit of God; thereby, being deeply convicted of our guilt, danger and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession and supplication for mercy at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ and openly confessing Him as our only and all-sufficient Saviour” (Baptist Bible Fellowship, Articles of Faith, 1950).
“Repentance is a godly sorrow for sin. Repentance is a forsaking of sin. Real repentance is putting your trust in Jesus Christ so you will not live like that anymore. Repentance is permanent. It is a lifelong and an eternity-long experience. You will never love the devil again once you repent. You will never flirt with the devil as the habit of your life again once you get saved. You will never be happy living in sin; it will never satisfy; and the husks of the world will never fill your longing and hungering in your soul. Repentance is something a lot bigger than a lot of people think. It is absolutely essential if you go to heaven” (Lester Roloff, Repent or Perish, 1950s).
“Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace. Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Savior” (Baptist Faith and Message, Southern Baptist Convention, 1963).
“What do I mean by repent? I mean to turn your heart from your sin. Turn from sin in your heart and start out to live for God. … A penitent heart that turns from your sin and turns to Jesus” (John R. Rice, “Repent or Perish,” Sword of the Lord, March 3, 1971).
“The Greek words [for repentance] mean ‘a change of mind which results in a change of action.’ When that refers to man, there is a sorrow for sin involved. This definition is substantiated both by the scholarship of Trench and Thayer, as well as by the New Testament usage” (Bruce Lackey, Repentance Is More Than a Change of Mind, 1989).
“Scriptural repentance is a change of mind which leads to a change of heart, a change of attitude and a change of conduct; a change of attitude toward self, toward sin, and toward the Lord Jesus Christ. It is an about-face of a soul that has been going away from God” (Roger Voegtlin, “God’s Command to Repent,” Fairhaven Baptist Church, Chesterton, Indiana, 1998).
“Repentance expresses the conscious turning from sin, a change of mind and of the whole inner attitude to life, without which true conversion is not possible” (Chris McNeilly, The Great Omission: Whatever Happened to Repentance, 1999).
ILLUSTRATIONS OF REPENTANCE
1. Repentance is the Prodigal Son coming to himself, confessing his sin against God and his father, and returning home. “And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Lk. 15:17-20).
2. Repentance is the Thessalonians turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God. “For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9).
3. Repentance is Zaccheus turning from corruption to uprightness. “And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham” (Lk. 19:8,9).
4. Repentance is Nebuchadnezzar humbling himself before God. “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase” (Dan. 4:37).
5. Repentance is the Philippian Jailer running from his sin to Jesus Christ and becoming a kind helper of Christians. “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (Acts 16:33-34).
6. Repentance is the Christ-rejecting Jews at Pentecost turning to Christ and His church. “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. … Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:38-42).
7. Repentance is a sinner raising the white flag of surrender to God. Repentance is a sinner who is at enmity with God laying down his arms, raising the white flag of surrender, and submitting to the One against whom he was before in rebellion.
8. Repentance is a U-Turn. Repentance is when a sinner is heading one direction, which is the way of sin and self-will, and he stops and turns around so that he is now going God’s way. This definition of repentance is seen in Exodus 13:17: “Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.” The repentance of the Jews would mean they turned around from following God to return to Egypt. This is the opposite of what a sinner does for salvation, but it gives the correct definition of the term repentance.
9. Repentance is an assassin laying down the knife. “The hand that clutches the assassin’s knife must open ‘ere it can grasp the gift its intended victim proffers; and opening that hand, though a single act, has a double aspect and purpose. Accepting the gift implies a turning from the crime the heart was bent on, and it was the gift itself that worked the change. Faith is the open hand, relatively to the gift; repentance is the same hand, relatively, not only to the gift but more especially to the dagger that is flung from it” (James Stewart, Evangelism, pp. 48,49).
10. Repentance is the thief returning the stolen property. “I believe we ought to make right what we can make right. What if I was staying with a group of preachers and one of them stole my wallet while I was sleeping? The next day he comes up to me and tells me he is terribly sorry and asks me to forgive him. I would be glad to hear that he is sorry for stealing my wallet, but I would certainly want and expect more than that from a repentant thief. I would want my wallet back! I don’t believe he has really repented unless he brings my billfold back. I DON'T BELIEVE YOU HAVE REPENTED UNTIL YOU GET RIGHT AND SAY, ‘LORD, I’M GOING TO LIVE DIFFERENT FROM NOW ON,’ AND BY THE GRACE OF GOD YOU WILL LIVE DIFFERENT” (Lester Roloff, Repent or Perish).
REPENTANCE AND FAITH
Some men point to John 3:16 and Acts 16:31, claiming that it is not necessary to preach repentance since we don’t see it in these passages.
It seems to me, though, that this is a strange way to use the Bible, since it is so obvious from other passages that repentance is necessary. Jesus said it is necessary (Luke 13:1-5); Paul said it is necessary (Acts 17:30, etc.); Peter said it is necessary (2 Pet. 3:9). If preaching repentance is not necessary and we only need to preach faith, why did Christ Himself preach repentance?
I would say to the issue of why verses such as John 3:16 and Acts 16:31 don’t mention repentance is that proper saving faith includes repentance and proper repentance includes faith. I say this because repentance and faith are sometimes spoken of in Scripture as both being necessary for salvation (i.e., Acts 20:21; Heb. 6:1), while at other times only one or the other is said to be necessary.
Salvation is referred to as coming to repentance with no mention of faith in Matthew 9:13; 11:20-21; 21:32; Mark 1:4; 2:17; 6:12; Luke 15:7; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 11:18; 26:20; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Timothy 2:25; and 2 Peter 3:9.
Then in other passages, such as John 3:16 and Acts 16:31, salvation is referred to as believing and repentance is not mentioned.
By comparing Scripture with Scripture (rather than isolating Scripture, which is the method used by false teachers), I conclude that saving faith includes repentance.
Preaching repentance depends on the soul winning context.
The Philippian jailer was obviously under deep conviction when he cried out, “What must I do to be saved.” Doubtless Paul and Barnabas had been witnessing to him. Now he was fully ready to do whatever God told him to do. There was no need to go into repentance. He was already repenting! I, too, have met men in jails that were ready to be saved. They had heard the gospel and God was working in their hearts; they knew that they were sinners and were deeply sorry for their past lives and were ready to bow before God. All that was needed was to explain to them how to put their faith in Christ in a saving manner (e.g., Romans 10:8-13).
On the other hand, when Paul preached to the idolaters at Athens who were looking on the matter of Christ and the resurrection as merely another philosophical debate, he told them that God “now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30).
Pastor Dave Sorenson says:
“Saving faith includes repentance. Repentance is not doing anything. It is not a deed, act, work, or rite. Rather, it is a change of the direction of one’s heart. It basically means an attitude of the heart in turning from sin and self and turning to God. That’s what Paul was referring to in Acts 20:21 when he referred to ‘repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Saving faith is the human heart turning to God and then trusting in Jesus Christ. ... Even as there is the part of trusting Christ, there is also the part of turning to Him. That may seem inconsequential, but I believe that here is a spiritual reason they some go through the motions of believing in Christ but are not really born again. They seemingly want the fire escape but there is no interest in turning to God. There is no interest in repentance. They have the attitude, ‘God, gimme salvation, but I’m gonna keep on doing my own thing.’ ... However, if there is no real turning to God from the heart, they have missed the prerequisite for actually trusting Christ” (Sorenson, Training Your Children to Turn out Right, 1995).
Repentance and faith are two separate things that come together for salvation, but they act together as one thing.
“Repentance is included in believing. Howbeit, repentance is not faith, nor faith repentance. ‘He that believeth,’ implies repentance. ‘Repent and be converted,’ involves faith. ‘The hand that clutches the assassin’s knife must open ‘ere it can grasp the gift its intended victim proffers; and opening that hand, though a single act, has a double aspect and purpose. Accepting the gift implies a turning from the crime the heart was bent on, and it was the gift itself that worked the change. Faith is the open hand, relatively to the gift; repentance is the same hand, relatively, not only to the gift but more especially to the dagger that is flung from it.’ ... Repentance is one threefold action: in the understanding--knowledge of sin; in the feelings--pain and grief; in the will--a change of mind and a turning around” (James Stewart, Evangelism, pp. 48, 49).
“While it is true that upwards of one hundred and fifteen N.T. passages condition salvation on believing, and fully thirty passages condition salvation on faith ... nevertheless, repentance is an essential condition in God’s glorious Gospel. It is also true that in the last analysis repentance and faith are one and the same act. ‘Ye turned to God from idols’ (1 Th. 1:9). Repentance is included in believing. ‘Howbeit, repentance is not faith, nor faith repentance. ‘He that believeth,’ implies repentance. ‘Repent and be converted,’ involves faith. ... Repentance and faith can never be separated. ‘Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Ac. 20:21). ‘Ye repented NOT ... that ye might believe Him’ (Mt. 21:32). ... Repentance is denying (negative), faith is affirming (positive). Repentance looks within, faith looks above. Repentance sees our misery, faith our Deliverer. Repentance is hunger, faith is the open mouth, and Christ is the living food” (James Stewart, Evangelism, p. 49).
“Repentance never saved a soul by its merits; it lays the needful foundation for the temple of faith in the heart. But all the penitential sorrows of Adam’s family would not remove one faint stain of sin. If a man borrowed five thousand dollars, for which he gave security, and squandered it most foolishly, and afterwards, filled with true repentance, he solicited and expected the forgiveness of the debt because he was sorry for it, the spendthrift would only meet with contempt in his application; his sureties would have to pay the money. Faith alone in the Crucified cleanses from all sin, and repentance is God’s instrumentality for leading the sinner to the Lamb of God, the Great Remover of sin” (William Cathcart).
TO PREACH REPENTANCE MEANS TO DEAL PLAINLY WITH SIN
The sinner who would be saved must repent, which repentance will always result in a changed life. This means that we cannot have the attitude that we will only deal with specific sin after the person receives Christ. That is the philosophy of many. If the sinner brings up his love for liquor, or his love for immoral relationships, or his love for gambling, some think it best to delay dealing with such things until after that one has come to Christ. And sometimes this is the best policy, but only if the sinner is clearly under the conviction of the Holy Spirit about his sin and is clearly ready to turn to Christ. On the other hand, if the sinner obviously still wants to hold onto his sin, the personal worker must deal with the fact that he must turn from it.
When my wife and I first began our work in South Asia in 1979, our landlord began coming to our house to have Bible studies. He was a wealthy middle-aged Hindu and had a concubine that he spent most of his time with, though he was married and had grown children. After we went through the gospel a few times, he told me he was interested in receiving Christ, but he needed to know what he would have to do about two specific things in his life—his shady business practices, and the illicit relationship with his concubine. I could have said, “Don’t worry about those things. Just pray to receive Christ and those things will work out later.” I don’t believe that is proper biblical counsel. I don’t believe he could receive Christ and be saved unless he was WILLING to repent of his immorality and his dishonesty. I told him that the Christian life is not a life that I live in my own power, that Christ lives the life in me. It is not just a new religion to practice. It is Christ living in me. I told him that if he received Christ the Holy Spirit would come into his life and he would be a changed man and he would be able to do things he never thought possible. But I also told him that he was going to have to repent of his sin and BE WILLING for God to take control. I believe that this willingness, this surrender of the will, is the essence of repentance. He argued that it was not possible to be honest in his country and to be rich, and he never returned for another Bible study.
During the 17 years we have spent in South Asia, we could have gotten large numbers of people to pray a prayer if that had been our objective. If we had simply asked if they wanted to go to Heaven when they died and if they believed that Jesus died for their sins and if so would they pray a sinner’s prayer, a large percentage of them would have muttered a prayer. They are accustomed to mantras and chants and would have seen the sinner’s prayer in the same light. If we had urged them only to “believe” without dealing with them about repentance, we would have had a multitude of unrepentant, “believing” Hindus on our hands--but believing in what? They eagerly believe that Jesus was a god, that he was good, that he loved them. It is very common, though, that instead of turning to Christ exclusively as God and turning FROM their idols, they merely want to add Jesus to their other gods.
Without repentance, there is no salvation. “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:5). It is imperative to deal with people about their sin and about repentance.
Someone might say, “Yes, but that is in Asia where people have never heard the gospel; things are different here in America.” It is true that things are different in America, but the average person in North America today is almost as gospel ignorant as someone in South Asia. The average person we meet in many parts of North America has no knowledge of the Bible’s teaching, not even of its stories and basic content. His mind is filled with the evolutionary, new age myths. Someone who has been educated in the North American public school system and who has had no sound Bible training is actually more prejudiced against believing that the Bible is the infallible Word of God than a Hindu in darkest Asia. The same is true for England and Europe and Australia.
The Bible principles of dealing with people are the same no matter where those people are found, and the Bible requires repentance.
A church in Maine had a soul winning campaign a few years ago and the people were instructed to go house to house and ask the following question of those who opened the door: “If I could tell you that you can go to heaven when you die and you won’t have to change anything, would you be interested?” I believe that type of methodology is heresy and deception. It is a lie to tell a sinner that he can go to heaven when he dies without changing anything. There must be a turning, a yielding, a surrender of the will to Almighty God. There must be a change of direction, a change of mind that leads to a change of life. We must tell people the same thing that the apostle Paul told them, that “they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20). Anything less is an unscriptural program of evangelism.
Thomas Smith, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in St. Clair, Missouri, had a conversation once with another pastor who was committed to “Quick Prayerism.” Pastor Smith said, “What if you were dealing with someone like Dennis Rodman [the professional basketball star who openly lives the most reprobate life] and you told him that he needs to receive Christ as his Saviour and he replied, ‘That is all well and good but I have no interest in changing my life,’ would you try to lead him in a sinners prayer anyway?” The other pastor replied, “Yes.”
This is definitely not what we see in Scripture.
When the Lord Jesus dealt with the rich young ruler who inquired about salvation, He did not tell him just to pray a prayer. He dealt with him plainly about his covetousness and pride and self-righteousness. The young man had to repent of such things before he could be saved. The Bible says that he went away sad because of his great riches.
Consider also Christ’s dealings with the woman at the well. He faced her squarely with the immorality that had controlled her life.
This is the way God always deals with people, and it is the way we must deal with them, too, if we want to follow the Bible in our gospel work. To preach repentance means to deal with sins that people are holding onto and to tell them plainly that they must repent of sinning against God; they must yield their lives to Him; they must change directions; they must surrender. God will do a new work in their lives but they must be ready for that to happen. They must have a change of mind about God and sin that will result in a change of life.
This is not “lordship salvation.” This is not Calvinism. This is not some kind of puritan methodology. It is simple Bible evangelism.
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