Repentance is often a missing element in evangelism today, but it is a prominent theme in the Bible. Following are the answers to some important questions about repentance. This study is from the One Year Discipleship Course, so if the students have already studied this, the section can be skimmed as a review.
Is repentance necessary for salvation?
Repentance is commanded by God. It is mentioned 60 times in the New Testament. It was preached by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-2), by Christ (Luke 13:3), by Peter (2 Peter 3:9), and by Paul (Acts 17:30). Since the apostle Paul preached both repentance and faith, it is obvious that both are required for salvation (Acts 20:21).
What are some false views of repentance?
Repentance is not reformation or changing one’s life. Salvation is not of human works; works follow salvation as the effect or fruit or product (Ephesians 2:8-10). Reformation deals with one’s fellow man and with things in this life, whereas repentance deals with God and with eternal things. We must be careful not to give people the impression that they must change their lives and give up their sin in order to be saved. The life-changing part of salvation is God’s part, not man’s.
Repentance is not doing penance. Many Catholic Bibles translate “repentance” as “do penance.” This involves confession to a priest, contrition, absolution (forgiveness pronounced by the priest), and satisfaction. Catholic penance is a works salvation which the Bible condemns.
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“Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, AND faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
“The crying need of our degenerate times is for a revival of true old-fashioned, Christ-centered Bible preaching that will call upon men everywhere to repent in view of that coming day when God will judge the world in righteousness by His Risen Son” (Harry Ironside).
Some men say that it is not necessary to preach repentance or to make an issue of it in soul winning since we don’t see it in John 3:16 and Acts 16:31. These basically define repentance as a synonym for faith.
I suggest that this is a strange way to use the Bible, since it is so obvious from other passages that repentance is necessary for salvation and since Paul preached both repentance and faith. Jesus said repentance is necessary (Luke 13:1-5); Paul said it is necessary (Acts 17:30, etc.); Peter said it is necessary (2 Pet. 3:9).
The reason why verses such as John 3:16 and Acts 16:31 don’t mention repentance is that proper biblical faith includes repentance and biblical repentance includes faith. Further, not every verse says everything about any one doctrine. We are to compare Scripture with Scripture.
The true meaning of faith must be explained and emphasized. The common way that “faith” or “belief” is defined by people today involves a mere mental consent to something, such as “I believe that George Washington was America’s first president” or “I believe that Jesus was the Son of God and came to die on the cross.” That is not what the Bible means by saving faith. Saving faith is a faith that issues from a heart that is convinced of its own fallen condition and has stopped making excuses and hiding in self-righteousness. Saving faith issues from a heart that is convinced that Christ is the only Lord and Saviour and that reaches out to Christ in personal trust. Saving faith issues from a surrendered heart, which is the very essence of repentance.