The Doctrine of Repentance In Salvation*

C.H. Spurgeon once made the statement: "Brethren, we shall not adjust our Bible to the age, but the age to the Bible."

We are living in a day and age where man is taught to think good thoughts, high thoughts, wonderful thoughts about himself. Within the last 20 years or so there has been a covert invasion in Christianity in America without hardly a whimper of protest. This invasion can best be described as "Christian" psychology, which is nothing more than watered-down humanism. While there are millions of people searching for answers to their complicated problems created by their increasingly complex lives, psychology comes along and attempts to answer and solve man's sin problems and its consequences through the building up and restoration of man's self-esteem and self-image. We are told today to get in touch with our inner self and ask the question: "How do you feel about yourself?" The bottom line is, it doesn't amount to a hill of beans what we think or feel about ourselves, but what does the Bible say and teach.

This matrimony between psychology and Christianity has created an unholy alliance which is producing some strange children that are permitting, promoting, and preaching deceiving, dangerous, and damnable false doctrines. This diabolical psychobabble of self-love is sweeping through churches today among self-seeking men in a self-centered society whose greatest problem is a desire to worship at the altar of self. The apostle Paul warned us that one of the characteristics of the last days would be that "men shall be lovers of their own selves" (2 Tim. 3:2).

I'm afraid many so-called fundamental/evangelical churches and preachers have fallen into the trap of teaching this mushy self-worth propaganda that seeks to camouflage itself in robes of charity and tolerance. Churches and preachers alike are abandoning their God-called purpose of holding up the mirror of God's Word and graphically revealing to man what he really looks like in the sight of a holy God. The missing message in modern-day preaching is the Biblical doctrine of repentance, where a sinner is convinced and convicted of his exceeding sinfulness and lost condition.

Christ Preached Repentance

"Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:14-15).

When the very Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, appeared upon the scene in His public ministry, He came preaching the narrow and exclusive doctrines of repentance and faith. If Jesus felt compelled to preach such a message before a lost and dying world, so should we. Galatians 1:6-9 teaches that there is only one gospel, and if any gospel message leaves out the doctrine of repentance or faith or both, you can be assured it is a false gospel.

Meaning of Repentance

The words "repent," "repentance," and "repented" are mentioned over 100 times in the Bible. There has been a lot of misunderstanding and confusion over what the word repentance means. When the word "repent" is used in the Word of God in the context of Biblical salvation, it is referring to a truly God-given, Spirit-led change of heart and mind toward God about sin.

"Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out ..." (Acts 3:19).

The greatest need for any sinner is have his sins blotted out, but a man will never have the pardon of sin while he is in love with his sin. There must be a hatred of sin, a loathing of it, a turning from it. Repentance is a revolution in dealing with our attitude and view towards sin and righteousness. Repentance is not something one does with his hands, but it is an inward attitude of the soul. Sin must become, in the eyes of the sinner, exceedingly sinful.

All Sinners Are Condemned

Everyone knows they are not perfect, but for most sinners that is consolation, not condemnation. But the Bible declares all sinners are already condemned:

"For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:17-18).

The problem is "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom.3:23). Man, in his lost, sinful, condemned state, has failed to glorify God. Until a person becomes personally exceedingly sinful in his own eyes, he will never see his need for repentance. Eph.2:1 says man is spiritually dead; Rom.3:10 and Isa.64:6 tells us no one is righteous before a holy God; Rom.3:19 says all stand guilty and condemned before God; Eph.4:18 declares all sinners are separated from God whose hearts and minds are blinded so that they cannot understand God or the things of God.

Repentance basically involves two facts: the fact of sin and the fact of God's grace. If a person is not a sinner, he would not need to repent, and if God was not the God of all grace, it would do no good to repent. Repentance implies sin, sorrow for it, and a changed attitude towards God about it.

It should also be stressed that repentance itself is not a human act, but comes only from God (Rom.2:4) -- it is a divine gift of God (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25).

The Nature of Repentance

In true Biblical repentance, there will be three things to occur as God does a work of grace upon the sinner's heart:

1) Conviction -- where sin is admitted. Man must see himself as a lost, ruined, guilty, desperately wicked sinner without hope or help, in danger of hell. In repentance, a lost sinner not only sees himself as a sinner, but he recognizes the fact that he has sinned against a righteous and holy God. The message that Paul preached was: "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). In repentance, there will be confession of sin to God (Psa. 32:5; 51:1-4).

2) Contrition -- where sin is abhorred. When one sees himself as he appears before God, he is brought to a place where there is godly sorrow for his sin and hates it altogether.

"For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin." (Psa. 38:18); "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of ..." (2 Cor. 7:10).

To hate sin is to love God. In true repentance, there is not only the desire to escape the consequences of sin, but to be rid of sin itself as a thing displeasing to God.

3) Conversion -- where sin is abandoned. Repentance involves the forsaking of sin:

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:7); "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Prov. 28:13).

Repentance is not only a heart broken for sin, but also from sin. We must forsake what we would have God forgive.

It should be stressed that it is not enough just to turn away from sin; one must also turn to God for salvation:

"... to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins ... should repent and turn to God ..." (Acts 26:18,20).

In true repentance, there is conviction, contrition, and conversion as one turns from his sin to Christ for salvation. Salvation is deliverance of a person from his sin, not merely from a sinful environment. Jesus Christ is the Saviour from not only the penalty and punishment of sin, but also the power of sin.

Why Did Jesus Come?

"... I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matt. 9:13).

The reason Jesus came to this earth was to call sinners to repentance. Those who did not see themselves as sinners, deserving God's wrath, were not candidates for God's salvation. The sinner must reject his own righteousness, because Jesus did not come to call the righteous, not even the self-righteous. The only way a sinner will come to reject his own righteousness is by coming face to face with his own wickedness. You can take it from the lips of Jesus Himself as a settled issue that He will not call the righteous. Only those to whom it is revealed (by God's Spirit) that they are lost, depraved, ungodly sinners will respond to the calling of the Saviour in salvation.

All Sinners Commanded To Repent and Believe

Jesus soundly declared the message in His day: "repent ye, and believe the gospel." Repentance and faith are inseparable and occur simultaneously in a sinner's heart; you cannot have one without the other. The order as given in the Bible is repentance and faith (Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21; 26:20; 2 Tim. 2:25; Heb. 6:1).

Repentance is turning from sin; and faith is turning to Christ. Repentance comes about through the convicting power of the Spirit of God using the Word of God to cause a change of attitude, action, and affection.

Saving faith is trust in and reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ as one's personal Lord and Saviour. Saving faith is believing with your heart; it is coming to Christ, receiving Christ, looking to Christ, calling upon Christ to save your soul.

Yes, Jesus said you must repent and believe the gospel, because the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believes (Rom. 1:16). The gospel, the good news for every sinner, is that Christ died on the cross for our sins, as our Substitute, and shed His precious blood to wash away our sins, and arose from the dead on the third day in order that we might have the forgiveness of sins and have eternal life through Him. Salvation of one's soul is the most important thing in this whole world.

But repentance without faith is nothing more than remorse or regret. And faith without repentance makes Christ nothing more than a fire escape. There must be a work of repentance and faith upon the sinner's heart before salvation can become a reality. Repentance is caused by the working of the Holy Spirit who takes the Sword of the Spirit and slays the sinner's self-righteousness, self- goodness, self-decency, self-esteem, and causes him to cry out: "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13) and "what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30).

Serious Questions To Consider

Is the preaching of repentance important?

Jesus thought so enough that He preached it. John the Baptist preached it (Matt. 3:1-2). The apostles were commanded to preach it: "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47).

Who is commanded to repent?

"And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:" (Acts 17:30).

The good, the bad, the rich, the poor, the old, the young, the educated, the uneducated -- every man must repent because we are all sinners. Notice it is God's command that
is to be obeyed, now.

What happens if you don't repent?

"I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5).

The worst thing in the world for any person is to perish in their sins without Christ as their Saviour and spend an eternity in the lake of fire, to be tormented and suffer forever and ever.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:16-17).

Turn from yourself and sin and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ to save your soul -- that is the sinner's only hope.


* Excerpted and/or adapted from an article in the 4/98 Plains Baptist Challenger: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DOCTRINE OF REPENTANCE?, by Dean Robinson. The original of the article can be found at <http://www.llano.net/baptist/pbc-4-98.htm>.


Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 8/98

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