Although well-intentioned, confusing terminologies regarding salvation need to be honed to keep the gospel message crystal clear. To add something to the definition of repent, making repentance more than a turning to Christ (believing in Jesus) for salvation from sin and hell, is to confuse the gospel. If repentance means more than a turning to Christ for salvation from sin and judgment, salvation would be by works. But salvation is not by works (Eph. 2:8–9; Gal. 3:10–11; Titus 3:5). Therefore, repent must mean a turning to Christ for salvation from sin and judgment. Sin is the problem, but not sinning is not the solution—Jesus is.
Therefore, as noted in the last article, repentance is turning to Christ for deliverance from sin and its consequences. This keeps Christ alone in sharp focus. It’s this critical focus that is obscured when using the terminology “turn from sins” which we noted conveys the idea of “stop sinning” (works). That flawed phrase, however, is not the lone misrepresentation that threatens the clarity of the gospel. We need to consider another example of similarly confusing terminology.
To say one must “turn and trust” to be saved, can mislead and confuse because it conveys not a single step, but instead, a two-step condition for salvation. This implication differs greatly from what Jesus said when He declared, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
We have seen that “repent” and “believe” are essentially the same, though different in emphasis. The two emphases are observable by this rare use of both words as the condition for salvation in Mark 1:15, but the sameness is seen through the fact that Jesus said repent and believe the gospel. The gospel is that Jesus is the payment for the problem and penalty of sin and is applied through faith (1 Cor. 15:1-11). The way Jesus used this phrase means “Change your thinking by transferring your dependence based on the gospel.” In other words, “Exchange your dependence.” This conclusion is also supported by the way the terms are used in multiple contexts as we have demonstrated in the last few articles.
The common usage of “turn and trust” implies two conditional steps. The word turn (something we will look at more closely in the next article) is the descriptive word for repent. Without the proper emphasis of “turning to Christ” (i.e., believing), the word turn can be misunderstood as works. If trust is one’s moment of salvation (John 6:47), then what is turn? The key is clarifying that the turn is the volitional trust in Christ for salvation from sin and hell. One’s abandonment to Christ as Savior is the moment of repenting and believing the gospel. The turn to Christ is not reformation but rather the turn of trust for deliverance from the problem and penalty of sin. Repentance is entirely an internal issue. In this sense there is a turn, but it is a turn of trust, not works. This must be kept clear when articulating the gospel.
The choice to turn to Christ as Savior is belief. The choice to not turn to Christ is unbelief. Practically speaking, the only sin that keeps a person out of heaven is unbelief, not depending on Christ. In John 16:9, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit convicts the world “of sin, because they believe not on me.” Certainly, sins reveal the root issue of the sin of unbelief. Yet the real issue is one’s object of dependence, whether that is of the religious type or the irreligious. Every sin can be forgiven through faith in Jesus except the sin of not depending on Jesus as one’s Savior.
The focus must always be on Christ, who is the sole object of dependence, whether the terminology employed is faith or repentance. In Acts 20:21, Paul described his ministry as “testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” His focus regarding the twin terminologies of repentance and faith was on the object of dependence. The focus of repentance as well as the focus of faith is on Christ as the answer to man’s sin problem. Repentance properly understood is Christ-centered.
In the next article we will demonstrate that the scriptural usage of the word turn is the turn of trust in Christ alone. The evidence is overwhelming.
John Van Gelderen