Repentance and Faith

According to the teaching of the Roman Church, one of its seven sacraments is penance. This is said to include the confession of sin, the priest’s pronouncement of absolution, and an assignment of certain good works to be done as partial remittance for the sin. The hope is that the offender may, by these good deeds, be restored to a state of grace.

The reformers responded by declaring that salvation is sola fide, by faith alone. Luther, and the other reformers, discovered that Jesus and the apostles did not say, “Do penance for your sins.” Rather, the New Testament says to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). “Repentance” is not the same thing as “penance.”

What does it mean to repent? The verb “repent” and the noun “repentance” are used several dozen times in the New Testament. They mean to change one’s mind. Repentance is not a meritorious good work whereby one earns favor with God. It is not the same thing as regret or remorse. It does not imply making restitution or retribution which somehow makes God willing to forgive sins.

Repentance is a change of mind or attitude toward God, toward oneself, toward sin, and toward Jesus Christ. Faith is the only condition for salvation. Repentance prepares the way for saving faith by recognizing one’s need for faith in Christ. Repentance alone cannot save if it does not lead to faith in Christ.

Repentance means to change one’s mind about whatever is keeping one from trusting Jesus Christ. Some people may have to change their minds about their concept of God. Some may have to change their attitude toward Jesus and confess that he is indeed the Son of God. Others may have to finally admit that their works or their religion cannot make them right with God. All of us must come face to face with our sinfulness and admit that we have broken God’s holy law.

Who should repent? The New Testament says that repentance should be preached in all nations (Luke 24:46-47). All people everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30). Both Jews and Gentiles are called to repent (Acts 20:21). The call to repent leads to a call to believe. “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks,” Paul said, “that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21).

It has been pointed out that the theme of repentance is not found in the gospel of John. It’s theme is faith in Jesus. The fourth gospel is an evangelistic tract designed to convince people to trust in Jesus to receive the gift of eternal life. This leads to the conclusion that salvation is sola fide, by faith alone.

Interestingly, another book by the apostle John, The Book of the Revelation, has twelve references to repentance. Several of these are commands to the churches to repent. It was the believers who needed repent of their sins in order to restore their fellowship with the Lord and be revived spiritually.

Repentance is important. For Christian believers, it is necessary for maintaining our fellowship with God. It is also for unbelievers, to change their minds about sin, about God, about Jesus as preparation for saving faith.

There is no human effort or merit in repentance. It is a work of God’s grace in the life of an individual (Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25). It is a precursor to saving faith and salvation is by faith alone (Romans 3:21-26).

Pastor Randy Faulkner