Is Repentance Necessary for Salvation?

The way the Bible speaks of repentance is more of a turning. Although, it does speak of it as contrition as well, but for the same reason. Psalm 51 says, “a broken and contrite heart, God will not despise”. 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” So what is it saying here, is that, Godly sorrow when it works in us in the right way, will cause us to turn to God.

To say you can still have your hope, your affections and your trust set on the the things of this world, while confessing Christ is completely antithetical to the word of God. That is just worldly sorrow, and it leads to death. Because whatever Christ you are trusting in, it is not the Christ of the Bible. It is just some Christ, you have formed in your own imagination, to help satisfy your conscience, while you keep your worldly desires.

True repentance and faith come from an awakened, born again, quickened heart, that is being sorrowed by sin, and captured by Christ beauty, so that there is a turning from and a turning to.

In regeneration our heart begins to be dulled towards the things of the world, and awakened towards the things of God, and in repentance that actually outworking takes place. God works in us, to will and to do. That is the Holy Spirit works. There is no salvation apart from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in us to will and to do. And we do. In a sense, the Holy Spirit creates the root. John 3 says that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit. Well, we don’t need something born of the flesh, we need something born of the Spirit. So the new heart, the awakened, made alive, quickened, heart of flesh is the root and repentance is the fruit. It is just the natural outworking of that which is working in us.

“We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (1 Corinthians 2:12)

How can you trust Christ in a saving way, if you are not even turned towards him? You can’t turn to Christ, without turning from sin. It doesn’t make sense to say you can. Repentance is not a dirty word, its a beautiful word. It’s an agreeing with what God in his word has said about you, that you are a sinner in need of a savior. Whatever a person is trusting, apart from repentance is not Christ. We must do an ‘about face’ to come to the Lord, not because it is somehow a type a work but because we have to be coming to the Lord. A person doesn’t come to the Lord with their back towards him. We are literally born with our backs towards God. Loving our own way, following the course of this world, not seeking him, headed to hell, and in repentance when we hear the gospel preached, and respond to it rightly, we change directions.

In fact, in the Bible faith and repentance are almost used interchangeably, because you actually cannot have one without the other. John Frame says, “They are two sides of a coin. You cannot turn from sin without turning to Christ, or vice versa. Turning from sin points you in the direction of Christ. You don’t need to turn twice, only once. So faith and repentance are the same thing, viewed positively and negatively. Neither exists before the other, and neither exists without the other. The two are simultaneous and perspectival.”

Does this mean that repentance, as well as faith, is necessary for salvation? In a word, yes. But it’s not as though there were two different things that are necessary. Faith and repentance are two names for the same heart-attitude. The gospel of the NT includes a demand for repentance, as many texts indicate. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; cf. Mark 1:15; Luke 24:46–47; Acts 2:37–38; 3:19; 5:31; 17:30; 20:21; 2 Cor. 7:10; Heb. 6:1)

To believe the gospel is to repent. The Westminster Confession of Faith also teaches that repentance is necessary for salvation:

“Although repentance is not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ; yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it.” (15.3)

This is the same thing the confession says about faith. Repentance is not the ground or cause of salvation. It does not make satisfaction for our sins; only Jesus does. It does not cause us to receive pardon; only God’s grace does. But it is necessary for us, so much so that we will not receive pardon without it. Scripture cannot imagine anyone believing in Christ who wants at the same time to cling to his sin.

The author of Hebrews includes as the first two elements in a list of elementary doctrines “repentance from dead works” and “faith toward God” (Heb. 6:1).

Of course sometimes faith alone is named as the thing necessary for coming to Christ for salvation (see John 3: 16; Acts 16: 31; Rom. 10: 9; Eph. 2: 8–9, et al.).

These are familiar passages and we emphasize them often when explaining the gospel to others. But what we often forget do not often realize is the fact that there are many other passages where only repentance is named, for it is simply assumed that true repentance will also involve faith in Christ for forgiveness of sins.

Therefore, just before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24: 46 – 47). Saving faith is implied in the phrase “forgiveness of sins,” but it is not explicitly named.

The preaching recorded in the book of Acts shows the same pattern. After Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, the crowd asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2: 37 – 38). 6 In his second sermon Peter spoke to his hearers in a similar way, saying, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3: 19).

Later, when the apostles were on trial before the Sanhedrin, Peter spoke of Christ, saying, “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5: 31). And when Paul was preaching on the Areopagus in Athens to an assembly of Greek philosophers, he said, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17: 30).

We also see that when Jesus encounters people personally he requires them to turn from their sin before they come to follow him. Whether it be speaking to the rich young ruler and asking that he give up his possessions (Luke 18: 18–30), coming to the house of Zacchaeus and declaring that salvation had come to him that day because he had given half his goods to the poor and had repaid fourfold anything that he had stolen (Luke 19: 1–10), speaking to the woman at the well and asking her to call her husband (John 4: 16), or speaking to Nicodemus and rebuking his rabbinic unbelief and pride in his own knowledge (John 3: 1–21), Jesus consistently puts his finger on the area of sin most influential in that person’s life. In fact, we may ask whether anyone in the gospels ever came to sincere faith in Christ without repenting of his or her sins.

When we realize that genuine saving faith must be accompanied by genuine repentance for sin, it helps us to understand why some preaching of the gospel has such inadequate results today. If there is no mention of the need for repentance, sometimes the gospel message becomes only, “Believe in Jesus Christ and be saved” without any mention of repentance at all.

It is true that Paul tells the Philippian jailer in Acts 16: 31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” However, even that sentence includes an acknowledgment that Jesus is “Lord,” and, moreover, the next sentence makes it clear that Paul said much more to the man than this brief sentence, for we read, “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house” (Acts 16: 32).

Preaching the need for faith without repentance is preaching only half of the gospel. For who knows what you will be asking people to put their faith in. It has been said that, "God fashioned man, and formed him in his own image, and we have been doing the same thing with God ever since" Don't let that be the case. Preach the whole gospel, to yourself (yes, the gospel is how you grow in the faith as well, but thats another story) and to others. Preach who God is, in all his holiness, preach what sin is, in all it's awfulness, and preach the grace, and the mercy, and the forgiveness found in the cross of Christ. Without the whole gospel, not only does it not makes sense, but there is no gospel without the whole thing. Preaching the Savior without preaching the awful estate of sin, and the sinners need to turn and and flee to Christ, is like telling a sick person they need to go to the doctor without telling them why.

Oh, sometimes, it is best to just speak of Christ, and proclaim his excellencies. To lift him up, and do your best to show forth his beauty, and proclaim him. The Holy Spirit can and does work powerfully through that. Seeing ourselves compared to the majesty of Christ alone can work in us repentance. And our hearts go from being indifferent to him or hating him, to being captured by him and trusting in him. It’s how true salvation works. There really is no other way. Faith without repentance is like repentance without Faith. You can't turn from sin, without turning to Christ. There is no other savior. And you can't turn to Christ, without turning from sin. Because either you actually did not turn, or you still love your sin more than you love him. Jesus demands allegiance. Which is a good word to get to know when considering the gospel call. For the gospel call is not a suggestion, it really is a command. Jesus demands of you, he commands you, "about face", "turn ye, turn ye, for why would you die". You must turn. "Call upon the name of the Lord, and you shall be saved" (Romans 10:13) Before I end, notice the word Lord here. So when Jesus says, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand". Do you see, not only is it impossible to trust Jesus without doing that, but it is also impossible to say, 'No', and still call him Lord. The Bible never separates repentance and faith, so neither should we. We come to the Lord through repentance and faith, yes, empowered by the Holy Spirit, but nevertheless, we come, or better we receive Christ through faith, because we have turned towards to him. And then we live our Christian life through faith and repentance. We continue growing in our faith, by continually turning from those things in our life, that would keep us from following Christ and receiving from him, and then the more we behold him, and gaze upon him, the more we are transformed by him. (2 Corinthians 3:18) The way we enter into the Christian life, is the way we live the Christian life. So yes, repentance is necessary for salvation. Without it, not only would there be no Christian life, but the Christian life would not makes sense. Repentance is one of the most beautiful words found within Christian lingo. It is saying, yes, you are messed up, yes, you are broken, yes, sin is sinful and awful. But you don't have to stay in it, you can be saved from it. Come to Christ! Receive Christ!