Is it possible to not have genuine repentance because of wrong motives (e.g. getting saved just to escape hell but not have a changed life, wanting to be saved because it is popular within your family, etc.)? And also, are there certain truths that must be submitted to prior to being able to get saved? If so, can it vary from person to person?
Good questions! Both are important to clearly understanding of the good news of salvation. Simply put, wrong motives could certainly hinder repentance, and yes, there are biblically stated truths that are demanded in the “submission” of faith for salvation. Let’s walk through some pertinent thoughts.
The “natural” or unsaved person cannot receive the things of God that must be spiritually discerned because that individual does not have the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14). So what hope do they have? Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit convicts the “world” (unsaved people) of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). Therefore, gospel witness must focus on these three designated categories that Holy Spirit convinces unsaved of so they can come to faith in Jesus.
Sin is the problem that disqualifies people from heaven. Judgment in hell is the consequence. But not sinning is not the solution, Jesus is. He is the Savior through whom one can receive forgiveness of sins, credited righteousness, and eternal life by believing in Him to save.
The condition for salvation is faith in Jesus, not only believing about Him but believing on Him, depending on Him to do all the saving. Sin is the problem. Therefore, the Holy Spirit convicts of sin for the purpose of leading people to trust in Jesus as the Savior from sin. The condition for salvation is not one’s commitment to live righteously, although sin is the problem. That would be self-dependence through works. Obviously, sin matters. It’s the problem which demands judgment because the standard for heaven is God—absolute perfection or true righteousness. That’s why the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and judgment, and therefore, the need for perfect righteousness through Christ alone—the credited righteousness of Christ through faith (Rom. 3:22; 4:5; 10:6). These are the truths one must submit to in order to be saved. This submission is faith in Jesus. If we add to that which the Holy Spirit convicts unsaved people of, we obscure the good news of faith in Jesus.
Regarding motives, they must be in line with the three truths the Holy Spirit convicts the unsaved. Motives like wanting to do what friends and family do are natural, but the motives that matter are the ones related to what the Holy Spirit addresses. Any motive that the Holy Spirit convicts the unsaved of is legitimate. Therefore, not wanting to go to hell is a God intended motive, because the Holy Spirit convicts of judgment. It’s the consequence for sin. Therefore, desiring to address the sin problem is also legitimate. But the freeing point is that Jesus does all the saving. Therefore, desiring to trust in Jesus is obviously the key part of the motivation.
Sick people cannot turn from their sickness. If they could, they would not need a doctor. But because they are sick, they can be motivated to turn to a doctor to deliver them from the problem of sickness. This is faith in a doctor to deal with their sickness. Similarly, sinners cannot turn from their sin. If they could, they would not need Jesus. But because they are sinful, they can be motivated to turn to Jesus to save them from their problem of sin. This is faith in Jesus to deal with their sin problem. The key is casting one’s faith on to “Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:23).
The way people come to repentance and faith is through conviction by the Holy Spirit that sin is the problem, judgment is the consequence, and Christ alone is the answer. To repent is to change one’s thinking. Not just to understand in the mind about these three truths, but to change one’s mind by depending on Jesus who is the righteousness one needs to save them from sin and its consequence. Therefore, repentance is changing what you believe. Sin has consequences. Jesus is the only solution. Therefore, repentance acknowledges the problem of sin by believing in Jesus to save from sin. Genuine repentance comes through the motivation the Holy Spirit brings through convicting of sin (the problem), judgment (the consequence), and the need for righteousness through faith in Jesus.
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