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Faith or Repentance
General James Green
I WAS READING AN ARTICLE in a Christian publication the other day and in the Question and Answer section a reader asked the question about why “repentance” was missing from John 3:16 (my favorite verse too!). The reader was asking the editor, “Is assurance based on “behavior” or on the “objective promises” of God's Word?” It made one think a bit. I never really had a problem with John 3:16 not mentioning repenting of one’s sins. Did Jesus care? After all He made that statement: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. Now a word about “repentance”. Neither is a word said in any of the following verses, 17-21.
I’ve preached many lessons on Jn. 3:16 but it never bothered me that Jesus never mentioned “repentance”. Why? Because it is stated elsewhere in the N.T. This is why one MUST STUDY their Bible.
Although Jn. 3:16 is the very heart and purpose of God, we DO KNOW that God requires “repentance” of sins in order to receive pardon. No “repentance”, no Eternal Life—Eternal Life is the gift God bestows on us when we are born again. Eternal Life is not only endless but Divine, a life that frees us from the power and dominion of Sin, Self, and Satan.
The editor and author of the said publication states, “Faith is the only condition of salvation: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved’. To be saved, one must only believe the Gospel….” You may now ask, how do we get our sins forgiven? Sadly, too many Churches make salvation easy—not having to repent before, or after being saved. This is called “easy believism”. I don’t believe the editor makes this claim—he goes on to explain in fuller detail his position.
“Believing” (by faith) on the Lord Jesus is certainly Biblical. I would like to call our attention to Acts 10:43 where Peter states, “All the prophets testify about Him (Jesus) that EVERYONE who BELIEVES in Him receives FORGIVENESS of SINS through His name.”—NIV The KJV says “….whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.”
Peter's speech in Acts 2:38 claims that the Messianic promises are fulfilled by the gift of the Spirit and the “forgiveness” of sins. Paul’s speech is a climax to which everything leads up to the “forgiveness” of sins (see 13:38; 26:18).
In fact, the word “repentance” is not found in Paul’s definition of the Gospel (see 1 Cor. 15:1-4), but Paul the apostle did preach “repentance”. In Acts 20:21 he states, “Testifying both to the Jews, and also the Greeks, REPENTANCE towards God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” He, Paul, puts “repentance” before “faith”. Bible scholars claim that verse 21 is a “chiamus” (what grammarians call it). Paul had called the Greeks to “repentance” and the Jews to “faith” in Jesus as Messiah.
Paul preached whatever he believed was useful or needful for the salvation of his hearers. Paul did preach and teach “faith” and “repentance”, something that did not make him popular. Too many ministers are just too cowardly to tell the Truth these days, therefore they leave out “repentance” of one’s sins.
Back to Jesus, He did preach “repentance”, for He said, “Except ye REPENT, ye shall all likewise perish”—Luke 13:3. Some feel that to over emphasize “repentance” could lead the sinner (unsaved) to imagine that he or she some how must reform his or her life before they are acceptable to God and can be saved. I disagree with this if “repentance” is taught in the right context. If a person is seeking to have his or her sins pardoned, for God's sake tell them how—by CONFESSING them and REPENTING of them. I see more harm done if one does not mention “repentance”, for this could lead to a loose life in Christ whereby SINS don’t matter. And, my dear friends, Churches are full of such ones today!
It is up to the Holy Ghost to bring conviction upon a seeker of salvation. Under Holy Spirit conviction one will want to “repent” of their committed sins. “But doesn’t Jesus forgive us without repenting?” The author of said article states:
“In believing the Gospel and thereby accepting Christ as Savior and His sacrifice for sins, one is admitting to being a sinner worthy of God's judgment, to being sorry for his sin and desiring deliverance from its penalty.” That is one way to see it, if the seeker fully understands the Gospel.
The author continues, “In that very act of faith in Christ for dying in one’s place, there is repentance and turning from sin to the Savior.”
Can we conclude that “repentance” and “faith” are the same? Take the verse John 5:24, “I tell you the Truth, whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” NO word of “repentance” here—just faith. Here we have Jesus telling that one must BELIEVE IN God (the Father who sent the Son) to receive eternal life. Here Jesus describes those who have eternal life and will not be condemned as “whoever HEARS…and BELIEVES”. The verbs “hears” (Greek akouon, from akouo) and “believes” (Gk. pisteuon, from pisteuo) are present participles, emphasizing ongoing action (i.e., “whoever is hearing and believing”). Thus, the “hearing” and “believing” are not acts of a single moment, but actions that must CONTINUE! Throw away your “once saved, always saved”, “once in grace, always in grace” theory. Christ affirms that our present possession of eternal life is CONDITIONAL on a PRESENT LIVING FAITH rather than on a momentary decision of faith sometime in the past.
John 6:47 states, “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting live.” Also in Acts 16:31 the Scripture says, “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved….” BELIEVING on the LORD by FAITH saves you. This is clear. Did the jailer, who was in charge of the keeping of Paul and Silas, hear the Gospel in order to believe in Jesus? Verse 25 only states that they prayed and sang songs unto God, and the prisoners heard them. I assume the jailer did also. But maybe he didn't, for verse 27 tells us that he awoke out of his sleep when the earthquake hit the prison. Who really knows, but he did inquire of Paul how to be saved in verse 30.
When we say we “believe” in a man, we imply not only that we “believe” what he says to be true but also that we trust him. And even though we do not know in detail exactly how he would behave under every conceivable circumstance, never-theless we know enough about him to be willing to risk our lives in his hands. The same holds true for Jesus. Maybe we’ve never heard the full Gospel preached, but we’ve heard about Him enough that we want to give our lives to His care. Doing this, we can later take the specific and necessary steps toward the translation of their commitment, “repentance” being one step. It will eventually be made known unto the seeker or convert that Jesus IS the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. The very principle of Atonement and Redemption will be understood. The words pardon and forgiveness tells us that we must have had sins in order to receive a pardon or forgiveness. Repentance literally means to change one’s ways.
Acts 17:30 states, “And the times of their ignorance God winked at: but now commandeth ALL men everywhere to REPENT.” TO REPENT! This is clear. In times past, before full knowledge of God come thru Jesus Christ, God overlooked much of human sin and ignorance of Himself. Romans 3:25 speaks of the “divine forbearance” in which He “passed over former sins”. In Acts 14:16 it tells us that God, “In the past, He let all nations go their own way.” Now that His full and perfect revelation has come with Christ’s appearing, ALL are commanded, not just to “believe” (by faith), but to “repent”. There are NO EXCEPTIONS my dear readers, NOT ONE!! God will NOT overlook anyone’s sins. ALL must TURN (180 degrees) from sin or be condemned. Repentance, in other words, is essential for salvation.
John the Baptist was raised up to preach repentance (Matt. 3:1-12). Preaching to the Jews about “repentance” (Gk. metanaoe) meant “to turn around”. But repentance is not just for the Jews, it is for EVERY soul upon the earth, no exception, none. It is a “turning from evil ways and a turning to Christ, and thru Him to God (see Jn. 14:16; Acts 8:22; 22:18; 1 Pet. 2:25).
I firmly believe in telling the seeker or the rebellious, that they must repent. Too much is being said these days about just believe in Jesus and you can be healthy, wealthy, even wise. Jesus can make you happy and you can have LOTS of FUN. We wonder why the Christians (?) are so puny and phony—because they have never confessed their sins nor have they felt sorry for them. The BIG picture is to be happy, have lots of self-esteem, have lots of friends and plenty of money etc. You see why it is that sins ABOUND in the churches today—no guilt, no repentance, no sorrow, just lots of food, fun, and fellowship, all accompanied with your favorite Rock and Roll music!
The decision to turn from sin (all are sinners) and to salvation in Christ involves accepting Christ not only as Savior from the penalty of sin, but also as Lord (Master) of one’s life. Sadly this is also being left out today. Thus, repentance involves a CHANGE of lords—from the lordship of SELF and Satan (Eph. 2:2) to the Lordship of Christ and His Word (Acts 26:18).
Repentance is a free decision on the part of sinners. Don’t you, for a minute, ever believe that men and women, boys and girls are just too depraved to repent, therefore God has to save you just so that you can get saved. This is silly Calvinism. Nor do you need to believe that God “elects” some for HELL and some for HEAVEN—Calvinism again. But each soul is responsible to use their own power of choice (since they use it all the time) to decide for a change of Lords. The Holy Spirit enables us to make that decision as we hear and believe the Gospel (see Acts 11:21).
Now the definition of “saving faith” is “faith” in Christ as Savior accompanied with repentance. To define “saving faith” in a way that does not necessarily involve a radical break with sin is false. This is to distort the Biblical view of redemption. No wonder churches are full of religious (not righteous) professors of faith who are, in reality, no more saved than a devil! Repentance of sins causes the blood of Jesus to wash those sins away forever. NO REPENTANCE, NO SALVATION. Faith that includes repentance is always a condition for salvation (see Mark 1:15; Luke 13, 3, 5; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:21).
You see, “repentance” was a basic message of the O.T. prophets (Jer. 18:8; Ezek. 18:21; Mal. 3:7), John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2), Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:17; 18:3; Lk. 5:32) and N.T. Christians (Acts 2:38; 8:22; 11:18; 2 Pet. 3:9). The preaching of “repentance” must always accompany the Gospel message—the MESSAGE for this sinful MESS-AGE.
True “saving faith” and conversion (being born again) must become evident thru lives that forsake sin and bear godly fruit (see Jn. 15:16). Tell me you Church goers, how much godly fruit is in your Church? Those who say they “believe” in Christ and are God's Children, and yet do not live lives that produce good fruit, are like trees that will be cut down and thrown into the fire (see Jn. 15:8-10, 12). How FRUITLESS is the Church today? You tell me! The Bible says that we’ll know the tree by its fruit…good or bad fruit—or NO fruit. I think it is past time for this “stinking thing” called the Church to, “Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith…” (2 Cor. 13:5).
Good works will not save you, repentance of sins and faith in Christ will. Good works do bring rewards AFTER we are saved, not before. Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” is saved. Churches are full of such babbling fools. It is not what we say (although we need to say “Lord, Lord” and mean it!), but what we believe and do that is in accordance with God's Word. I do not believe a practicing homosexual or lesbian is Biblically saved even though they may say “Lord” or “Jesus”, or “I love God” etc. all the day long. Yet we find this type of fool in just about every denomination across the land—ALL claiming to be ACCEPTED by God.
How many “Christians” do you know that get saved and later witness the “saving faith” does not now touch their heart? This person needs to REPENT again and get back their first love. Revelation 2:4, 5 tells us, “Yet I hold this against you: (Church at Ephesus) you have FORSAKEN your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen (FALLEN, my dear “can’t fall!” Christians)! REPENT and do the things you did at first (what things? Repentance and Believing!). If you DO NOT REPENT, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place.”
From the above account I discern several things: a) this warning teaches us that knowing correct doctrine, good deeds, hard work and perseverance in Church, intolerance towards wicked men and false apostles, enduring hardships and not growing weary (vv 2-3), is not enough, (see Matt. 5:17); b) The Church must have above ALL a heartfelt LOVE for Jesus Christ and ALL His Word, (see 2 Cor. 11:3; Deut 10:12); c) Sincere love for Christ results in a single-hearted devotion to Him, (you cannot serve two masters, two lords) purity of life and love of the Truth, (2 Cor. 11:3; Matt. 22:37, 39; Jn. 21:15). When we FALL it is because we have lost our love and trust in Him. Nothing can separate us from the love of God except when we lose our first love by careless living, not guarding our faith.
If Christ threatens to remove His lamp stand from a Church that has lost its first love (v 5), He certainly will do it in an individual. Some scholars claim this to mean that Christ will disown them, either now or at His 2nd Coming.
It would take a volume to write about “faith”, “believe” and “repent, repentance”. I feel there isn’t enough being said or heard on the subject of repentance. Too much is said about “believe it and receive it!” Looking into the words “repent” and “repentance”, we could study out the verbs, metanoeo and metamelomai; adjective, ametameletos; noun, metanoia. This noun, in the N.T., the subject chiefly has reference to “repentance” from sin, and this change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God — i.e., FROM, TO! The parable of the prodigal son is a good illustration of this. Jesus began His ministry with the call to repentance (Matt. 4:17), but the call is addressed, not as in the O.T. to the nation, but to the individual.
Turning “from” sin “to” God by the exercise of “believing faith” is what saves us. Amen.