Is repentance required for salvation? Faith and repentance? The two aspects of man’s response to God’s offer of salvation? And if both are a part of salvation, why is it we seldom hear repentance in a Gospel message?



Dear A_____,

Thanks for this question as well. This is an important point. Is salvation one step or two?

On the one hand, Jesus told Nicodemus the way to be born again is by believing on Him (John 3:16), and Paul told the Philippian Jailor the way to be saved is by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). If repentance is something additional to believing on Jesus, then these men were not told the whole truth and apparently are in hell. On the other hand, Paul preached that God commands “all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

The key is in understanding that faith and repentance are two sides to one theological coin. Acts 19:4 states, “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” According to Paul, John the Baptist explained repentance as the choice to “believe on him…that is, Christ Jesus.” When Peter explained the events at the house of Cornelius to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, he said, “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; who was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:17-18). In this account “believed on the Lord Jesus Christ” corresponds to “repentance unto life.” Both examples reveal there is one condition for salvation, not two.

The Gospel of John uses only the term believe, not the word repent, yet it was written “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).  Therefore, repentance must be in vital oneness with faith. Also, when Paul explains justification by faith in Romans, he does not use the verb for repentance at all, and he uses the noun only once (Rom. 2:5). It is not that Paul doesn’t believe in repentance, for he uses the terminology in Acts. Rather, when Paul explains faith in Romans 1-5, he is explaining the concept of repentance—even though he is not using the word repent.

The point is that when believing on Jesus is properly explained, then the concept of repentance is also being properly explained, even though the word may not be used. Conversely, when repentance is properly explained, then the concept of believing on Jesus is being explained as well, even though the terminology may not be used. Scripturally, sometimes one term is used over the other and sometimes they are both used in an appositive sense, like “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

Believing on Jesus involves the entire soul: mind, affections, and will. In the mind you must understand sin is the problem, judgment is the consequence, and Christ is the answer. In the affections you must allow what you understand to affect you by agreeing with what you understand. In the will you must choose to depend on Jesus as your Savior from sin and judgment. This describes believing in Jesus for salvation. Yet this is also repentance. To repent means to “change your thinking.” Thinking corresponds to the mind (understanding), your corresponds to the affections (agreement), and change corresponds to the will (transfer of dependence). So repentance and faith are two sides to one theological coin. Sin is the problem, but not sinning is not the solution—Christ is. Therefore, repentance is turning to Christ for deliverance from sin and its consequences. Yet this is faith.

Repentance emphasizes more the moment of transfer and faith emphasizes more the dependence now on Christ. Yet both focus on Christ, the one you’re turning to for salvation.