Jesus’ first recorded words in Mark’s gospel are: “The time is fulfilled…repent and believe in the gospel.” (1:15).
Jesus’ last words in Luke’s gospel include: “The Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem.” (24:46-47)
Notice that repentance is named alongside faith as the means to receive the gospel and be forgiven.
This teaching is carried on by his followers.
- In the beginning of Acts, when the crowd asks the apostles, “What shall we do?” Peter tells them, “Repent and be baptized…” (2:37-38).
- Near the end of Acts, Paul reminds the Ephesian church leaders: “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable…testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (20:30-31).
Further, in Hebrews 6:1-2, the writer names 6 foundational elements of Christianity. The first 2 are:
- Repentance from dead works
- Faith toward God
Again, repentance and faith are both prerequisite for following Christ.
Faith and Repentance Assume Each Other
Now, sometimes in the Bible you see only faith mentioned as the means of salvation:
- Jesus: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
- His followers: “Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’” (Acts 16:30-31)
But other times only repentance is mentioned as the means of salvation:
- Jesus: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5)
- His followers: “They were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you…’” (Acts 2:37-38)
The simple solution in light of the totality of Scripture is that when repentance is named alone, faith is assumed. And when faith is named alone, repentance is assumed. Neither are optional.
What is Repentance?
Repentance literally means, “to turn.” It can be seen very clearly in Luke 15 (the “Parable of the Prodigal Son”). After the younger son rejected his father and went his own way, he said to himself, “I will arise and go to my father,” (15:18), then, “he arose and came to his father,” (15:20). Notice the father’s response: “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (15:20).
Thus, repentance, according to this story, has 3 elements:
- A change of will – he decided, “I will arise and go to my father” (instead of following his own way)
- A corresponding first action – “he arose and came to his father” (he took a first step)
- The Father making up the remaining distance – “While he was still a long way off, his father…ran” (in other words, God isn’t waiting with arms crossed for us to make all these changes; He’s looking for a change in our will and He runs to meet us when that happens)
Along with this picture, consider:
- “Repentance from dead works” (Hebrews 6:1)
- “Repentance toward God” (Acts 20:21)
The negative side of repentance is a turning away from sin and living for ourselves. The positive side is turning to live for God.
Repentance is, at its essence, a change of will. Said in another way, it is a change of “Lords,” or “Bosses.” Before you come to Christ, you are your own Lord/Boss. Or maybe your friends are. Or your family. But when you come to Christ, He becomes your Lord. Your will is now to follow Him.
Of course, the rest of Scripture (and experience!) proves that you will never achieve this perfectly in this lifetime. But repentance simply means you now reorient your course to strive to follow Christ, even though there will be subsequent times of repentance throughout your Christian journey (sometimes even 7+ times of the same sin in 1 day – Luke 17:3-4).
Thus, we are saved through:
- Repentance toward Christ as Lord
- Believing/trusting that God came as Jesus to take all our punishment for sins dying on the cross, then resurrected 3 days later so that God has fully pardoned us.
Both are necessary.
For a fuller treatment on this, see Lesson 6: Repentance