Today’s Bible Doctrine
The Relationship of Repentance to Salvation
Repentance is not a separate act in salvation [the new birth, spiritual regeneration] but rather a means to believing the Gospel. Repentance is intimately connected with belief, which is intimately connected with salvation. The English word “repentance” is rendered from the Greek word “metanoia,” which simply means “to change one’s mind.” Repentance requires supplemental information, because we do not know what to change our mind about. The verb form of metanoia is “metanoeo,” which means “to think differently.” Jesus says in Mark 1:15b, “REPENT [change your mind], and BELIEVE THE GOSPEL.” Hence, repentance is a change of mind about the Gospel itself, that is, a change of mind about the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is what the change of mind is about.
Repentance is a change of mind, not a work. Biblical repentance is not confession of sins or an act of penance. Repentance is a change of mind, not a change of behavior. Biblical repentance is not turning away from sinful behavior or forsaking sin. Repentance is a change of mind, not an emotional response. Biblical repentance is not feeling “sorry” for sin or having an act of remorse or fear of God. Biblical repentance is a change of mind about what we want to do to get saved to what God says that we must do to get saved. It is a change of mind from our ideas of salvation to an acceptance of God’s only way of salvation. Repent, as Christ meant it to be in terms of salvation, means to change your mind from trusting in what you can do for God to trusting only in what He can do for you. Biblical repentance is a change of mind toward God that compels a person to place his trust [belief] in the Gospel [Christ’s death on the cross for sin, Christ’s burial and resurrection] (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Biblical repentance is simply a change of mind that causes a person to believe the Gospel. It entails recognizing and acknowledging that you are a sinner in the eyes of holy God, that your works cannot save you, and that you need the Savior, and so you believe the Gospel and are saved. It includes a positive response to the Holy Spirit's conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11). Like faith, there is nothing meritorious in repentance. It is simply the recognition and acknowledgment of the true state of affairs—that you are a sinner by nature [in Adam] and by choice and fall short of God's glory [God's holiness made manifest] (Romans 3:23) and that all your relative righteousnesses and righteous acts are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). The moment you come to holy God owning your guilt and judging yourself as utterly lost and unworthy, you have taken the ground of repentance. In other words, Biblical repentance is a change of mind that causes you to turn to Jesus by faith, having realized you are incapable of saving yourself, and so you rest totally in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for salvation. To Biblically repent is to change your mind about whatever [a sin, a work, a mental attitude, etc.] was previously hindering you from completely resting in Jesus Christ for salvation.
Repentance and faith always happen together in producing the new birth [salvation]. If you believed on Jesus, it is because you have also repented. Repentance without faith is mere declaration of sinnership or self-reformation [turning over a new leaf] and does not produce the new birth [salvation]. Such was the case of Judas Iscariot who repented [a different Greek word meaning to feel remorse afterwards] in Matthew 27:3 but still went to Hell in his sin because he had no faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Repentance alone will not produce the new birth [salvation] unless it is accompanied by faith in the Gospel. Likewise, faith without repentance is mere optimism or religious humanism or devotion and also does not produce the new birth [salvation]. Such was the case of a sincere group of religious people in Matthew 7:21-23 who had faith in Christ but who had never repented of their dead works. They are the religious people who had “done many wonderful works” in Christ’s name but who had never Biblically repented [had a change of mind about their dead works with the result that they completely turn [move away] from trusting in their own works to completely turning [moving] toward trusting in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ for salvation]. Faith alone in Christ alone will not produce the new birth [salvation] unless it is accompanied by Biblical repentance [a change of mind about whatever was previously hindering you from completely resting in Jesus Christ for salvation]. The only thing that you need to repent of to be saved is whatever it is that's been keeping you from coming to Christ to be saved.
A person cannot truly have saving faith without repentance, nor can a person truly have saving repentance without faith. Repentance and faith are inseparable and happen at the same time to produce the new birth [salvation]. The person who repents unto salvation has believed [has come to faith in Christ], and the person who believes [comes to faith in Christ] unto salvation has repented. Repentance cannot be adequately defined apart from the inclusion of faith, and vice versa. Repentance and faith are like the two sides of one coin, that is, you cannot turn one without also turning the other. You believed the Gospel because you had a change of mind [repented]. You change your mind [repent] to believe the Gospel. Repentance and faith are not two steps to salvation but rather are two parts of one step that happen at the same time. Repentance and faith are inseparable and happen together as one act. Repentance is not a separate act unto itself; but rather, it is a change of mind that accompanies our turning to Christ by faith to be saved. We don’t repent AND believe; but rather, we repent TO believe. If we didn't repent, then we wouldn't come to Christ to be saved. In other words, the object of repenting [i.e. changing our mind] is to believe the Gospel.
Repentance is necessary for salvation and involves the work wrought in a person’s soul by God’s LAW, which ultimately brings us to Christ to be saved by GRACE (Galatians 3:24-26). Repentance is the change of mind we experience as we go from the schoolmaster of LAW to God’s saving GRACE (Ephesians 2:8-9). Repent [change your mind], believe the Gospel and be saved!