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Way of Life Bible College
Why Doesn’t John 3:16 and Acts 16:31 Mention Repentance?
August 19, 2008
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
For more on the following subject see Repentance and Soul Winning, which is available from Way of Life Literature.

Some men say that it is not necessary to preach repentance since we don’t see it in John 3:16 and Acts 16:31.

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?

The reason 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. 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).

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