Biblical Repentance/The Connection of Repentance and Faith

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By L.R. Shelton Jr. About Repentance
Chapter 3 of the book Biblical Repentance

Repentance and faith are inseparably connected in the Word of God, and they must be preached together. The Word of God plainly teaches that God commands “all men every where to repent” (Act 17:30). Further-more, the Bible plainly teaches that repentance is as necessary as faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul told his hearers in Acts 20:20-21,

“I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Therefore, repentance and faith are commanded by God in the call of the gospel. Let us not put asunder what God has joined together (Mat 21:32; Mar 1:15; Act 2:38; 5:31; 20:21; 2Ti 2:25).

The Evidence of Scripture

Listen to these verses of Scripture where these great truths are set forth together in the Word of God!

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

“For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him” (Mat 21:32).

Paul gives this testimony of his ministry:

“Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Act 20:21).

The epistle to the Hebrews says,

“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God” (Heb 6:1).

Then, one of our Lord’s last commandments to His disciples before He returned to heaven is found in Luke 24:46-48:

“Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem; and ye are witnesses of these things.”

The Bible gives us illustrations of those who came to Christ in repentance and faith; these looked to Him to forgive them of their sins. The prodigal son repented and believed (Luke 15:11ff); the thief on the cross re-pented and believed (Luke 23:39ff); and so we call upon men today to repent and believe.

Repentance and Forgiveness of Sin Are to Be Preached Together

Throughout the ages there has been debate between the Lord’s children as to which comes first, repentance or faith. Both sides have their advocates among Bible-believing Christians. But regeneration is a miracle that cannot be examined under a microscope. While the miracle of the new birth will always manifest the life of God in man’s soul, we must be careful about putting too strict an order on the way God works out that miracle in a sinner’s life. Since both repentance and faith spring from regeneration, both will be clearly manifested in the Lord’s children. No sinner savingly believes on Christ unless he has changed his mind about sin, God, and Christ. Neither does any sinner truly repent unless he believes God’s Word about his lost condition and the saving power of Jesus Christ. To overemphasize faith or repentance can result in at least four errors: 1) overemphasizing repentance as something separate from faith can leave sinners under the impression that they must experience a certain grief or number of tears before they can believe on Christ. 2) Overemphasizing repentance as something separate from faith can leave sinners with the notion that they must stop all sinning before they can believe on Christ. 3) Overemphasizing faith without repentance can leave sinners with the impression that they can “believe on Jesus” without having to be concerned about a changed life. The Gospel calls sinners to come to Jesus as a Savior from sin. Jesus did not come to assure sinners that they will go to Heaven even though they remain in a sinful, selfish life; rather Jesus came to call “sinners to repentance” (Mat 9:13; Mar 2:17; Luk 5:32). Sinners will never flee to Jesus as a Savior from sin unless they see sin as an evil which offends God and rightly damns them before Him. His name is “JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Mat 1:21). 4) Overemphasis on either repentance or faith can lead to erroneous thinking about the proper ground of justification. The ground of justification is Jesus Christ and His substitutionary work upon the cross. Repentance looks away from sin and self as faith receives Jesus’ perfect righteousness. Neither repentance nor faith merit justification.

Our Lord told His disciples, and us as well, to follow His example in preaching repentance and remission of sins through faith in Christ because this truly shows His ministry while here upon earth. His first message as recorded in Mark 1:15 was “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” And His last words to His disciples and to us were that repentance and remission of sins through faith in Christ should be preached in His name among all nations beginning at Jerusalem (Luk 24:46-48). Yet it seems that many are afraid to preach repentance today. Our Lord was not afraid to call men to repentance, and He has commissioned us to do the same. So we desire to proclaim to all men that they should repent and believe on Christ’s name for the remission of their sins.

“Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). These are words full of meaning which need to be proclaimed today as well as then. There is true remission of sins through faith in Christ for those who see themselves to be sinners. Ungodly sinners—lost, without God, and without hope, full of sin, full of unrighteousness—should come to Christ, laying down their arms of rebellion and hoisting the white flag of surrender. Unto them God has provided remission of sins. He invites them to come, even as the prodigal came back home.

Repentance and remission are so joined together, that wherever we find one, we are sure to find the other. Where there is no repentance, rest assured there is no faith in Christ. But where there is true repentance, rest assured there is faith to trust Christ for full and free forgiveness of all sins. Our Lord Jesus Christ declared with authority that “all manner of sin... shall be forgiven unto men” (Mat 12:31). It is written in The Acts of the Apostles:

“Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Act 5:31).

“Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins. And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Act 13:38-39).

“And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Act 20:20-21).

The Apostles declared it, and we declare this same truth today.

Repentance Is a Gift of Grace

Now I want to declare upon the authority of God’s Word that repentance is to be preached in the name of the Lord Jesus as a grace given from above. It is given by God. Yes, repentance has therefore been granted unto the Gentiles, as well as unto the Jews, because it is a gift of grace (Act 11:18). It does not come to us by the works of the law, but it comes wholly and completely out of the gracious heart of God. It should not be preached in Moses’ name as a legal duty, but it is to be preached as a grace coming down from God. It is not to be preached as Jonah preached it, without any hope—for he proclaimed that Nineveh would be destroyed in only 40 days—but it is to be preached in Jesus’ name as the grace of God.

Repentance is a gift given by the grace of God, even as faith is given by the grace of God. Our gracious God and Heavenly Father has highly exalted His Son and given Him a name which is above every name, hav-ing set Him at His own right hand to be “a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Act 5:31). So it is the grace of God, the goodness of God that leads to repentance (Rom 2:4).

Wherever there is real sorrow for sin; wherever there is an honest determination by God’s grace to cease from sin; wherever there is a radical change of mind with regard to sin, you can know that this has been pro-duced by the Spirit of God. It is as much a gift of the covenant of grace as the pardon that comes with it. And remember, God gives this grace only to poor sinners. He makes them realize their need of it. The song writer expressed it this way:

Come ye needy, come and welcome,
Come, God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh;
Without money, come to Jesus Christ and buy.

By His grace, God uses the Law to show you what you are and then brings you to Christ. His Spirit graciously uses the Law to give you the knowledge of sin (Rom 3:19-20; 7:7-25). Therefore, never throw off the Law of God! Yes, it brings you under the wrath of God and condemns you to Hell. But praise God, by the Law of God you see, acknowledge, and understand your sinfulness, your great distance from God, and your great need for a Savior Galatians 3:24 says that the Law is the schoolmaster that leads you to Christ as your only hope. So it is the grace of God that produces repentance in your heart and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit will teach you how terribly Christ suffered for your sin, and this truth will be a means of leading you to hate sin. You will realize how the Holy Spirit, by enlightening your understanding and influenc-ing your affections, produces repentance in you—even in that heart that seemed so unbroken and sterile that nothing could be produced in it! Your heart will be broken and made fertile by the gentle dew of the rain of grace as it falls in upon your soul. Then by God’s Spirit working in you, you will see a beauty and a glory in the Lord Jesus Christ that will cause you to desire Him, (2Co 4:4, 6; Job 23:3; Song 2:3). You will not only hate sin and sorrow over it (2Co 7:10-11), you will willingly turn from it by faith in Christ as you see what it has done to Him.

So God gives repentance to sinners; it is one of the free gifts of His grace. And whoever has it may rest as-sured that the hand of the Lord has been upon him for good.

But let us go further. Wherever there is real repentance, it is evidence of faith in Christ operating in your heart! This is evidence that you are alive in Christ! If your heart be turned away from sin, if you prostrate your-self in the dust before God because of your sins, if you look with true penitence to Christ upon the cross crying, “Lord, remember me! Lord, save me! God, be merciful to me, and deliver me from going down to the pit,” then repentance and faith are in your heart. You cannot separate them: where you find one, you will find the other.

We have this so beautifully illustrated in the case of the publican [a despised tax collector] recorded in Luke: “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” And the Lord said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (18:13,14). You see, the Psalmist’s words are still true: “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psa 34:18). It was for sinners such as these that our Lord Jesus suffered upon the cross.

So let the message ring out from every land under heaven: wherever a soul repents and turns to Jesus Christ in faith, then God’s grace is already at work and pardon is granted to that soul.

Repentance upon the Authority of Jesus Christ

Let’s go further. Our Lord taught us that repentance preached in the name of Jesus is preached upon the authority of Jesus as Lord. Listen!

“All power [all authority] is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach [disciple] all my name” (Mat 28:18-19).

This is what He is saying: in the Name of Jesus sinners bow down in repentance and every walled fortress of the sinner’s heart falls before God. In the Name of Jesus the legion of demons were cast out of the man in the tombs of Gadara. In the Name and authority of King Jesus, the sinner is set free through faith in His blood. Every sin is pardoned, its power broken, its penalty met, and its dominion gone. In the authority of His Name you must come to that Throne of grace, which has been set up for poor sinners by God Himself (Heb 4:16).

God’s Full Pardon Is Promised to Repentant Sinners

The Gospel promises to repenting sinners a full pardon from every sin they have ever committed, whether a sin of thought, word, or deed; whether a sin of omission or commission. This pardon is as great as it is full. It is a pardon from the most horrible and oft-repeated offenses: uncleanness, theft, blasphemy, rape, drunken-ness, yea, whoremongering, adultery, and even murder. It is a pardon for crimes of the deepest dye, a pardon bought with the precious blood of Christ. When we turn to God in true repentance and look to Jesus Christ by faith to cleanse us, we shall be saved!

This is the Gospel, the hope that God tells us to hold out to sinners. This is not as Jonah, who said, “Forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed!”—he said nothing about repentance. But I tell you with one breath that the wrath of God is coming. Yet with another, if you will repent and turn to God with a broken heart and a con-trite spirit, believing the truth of the Gospel, then there is full forgiveness and remission in the blood of the Savior. You see, “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin (1Jo 1:7). For all who repent and believe in Him, this blood cleanses from every sin that banishes men from the presence of the thrice-holy God. Yes, I proclaim pardon in the Name of Jesus for sins such as these. They are not too terrible to be for-given by God. They are not too deeply ingrained to be washed out by the precious blood of our Lord Jesus!

Is God’s Forgiveness for You?

But I hear someone saying, “I do not doubt that repentance and remission of sins are to be preached in Christ’s name, and that this is the teaching of Christ. My difficulty is, are they for me?” Well, that is a point that you must settle under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But let me ask you a few questions: do you repent of your sin? Do you sorrow over sin as the plague of your heart and the curse of your life? Do you hate sin? Do you turn from sin and seek to live as the Holy God would have you to?

Then I say unto you: if this repentance is yours, then this remission is yours also. Christ put them together: “Repentance and remission of sins” (Luk 24:47). And remember, Christ has commanded you to repent and be-lieve (Mar 1:15). What He has commanded, you can by His grace perform.

But if indeed you have not experienced what repentance is, then will you breathe this prayer? “Oh Lord, show me the guilt of my sin, and let me see Thy dear Son bearing its penalty on my behalf. Teach me to mourn over my sins and to loathe them, and assure me by Thy Spirit’s gracious instruction from Thy Word that they are all forgiven for Jesus’ sake. May I go on my way rejoicing as a sinner saved by Thy sovereign grace.” Will you do it?

Study Questions The Connection of Repentance and Faith

The evidence of Scripture

1. Write the reference and key message for each of the four passages of Scripture, which demonstrate that repentance and faith are inseparably joined together.

Repentance and forgiveness of sin are to be preached together

2. “To overemphasize faith or repentance can result in at least four errors.” Which of the four mentioned do you think is the greatest problem? Why?

3. List several Scriptural examples where repentance was at the heart of our Lord’s preaching the good news of forgiveness for sin.

4. Which comes first, repentance or faith? Choose one answer and briefly explain why you chose it.

– repentance
– faith
– both occur together and cannot be separated without creating some misunderstanding.
Repentance is a gift of grace

5. Why is repentance a gift of grace from above, and not a work which men can simply choose to do?

6. What does God use the law to teach us about ourselves?

7. What will be some of the results when the Holy Spirit works repentance in you?

8. Read Luke 18:9-14. What key words of the publican indicate his heart of true saving faith as compared to the Pharisee?

God’s full pardon is promised to repentant sinners

9. How far-reaching is the pardon for sin that God gives to repentant sinners?

Is God’s forgiveness for you?

10. Making It Personal The last section offers several important questions about your own personal experi-ence with repentance. Answer these questions with honesty. What is your personal response to the prayer offered at the end of the text?

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