Repentance is Part of Salvation

Our ultimate authority on any matter of doctrine is the Bible. But let’s first illustrate the historic Baptist (Biblical) position with a few quotes:

The proper evidence (of the new birth) appears in the holy fruits of repentance and faith and newness of life . . . being deeply convicted of our guilt, danger, and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy; at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ and openly confessing Him as our only and all-sufficient Saviour. – J. Frank Norris

To repent literally means to have a change of mind or spirit toward God and toward sin. It means to turn from your sins, earnestly, with all your heart, and trust in Jesus Christ to save you . . . The jailer repented when he turned from sin to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. – John R. Rice

Recognizing his guilt, there is a turning from sin. There is a turning to God. The actual word ‘repentance’ means a turning completely around: a change of course; a change of mind . . . To think of repentance that does not cause the sinner to turn gladly from his sins is impossible. . . . I know that we have a shallow religious movement in our times that will allow men to profess faith in Christ and at the same time continue to live in the world. Such a shallow religious faith is not real. These are mere professors and have no part with God in salvation. – Harold Sightler

Repentance is a forsaking of sin. Real repentance is putting your trust in Jesus Christ so you will not live like that anymore. Repentance is permanent. It is a lifelong and an eternity-long experience. You will never love the Devil again once you repent. You will never flirt with the Devil as the habit of your life again once you get saved. . . . Repentance is something a lot bigger than a lot of people think. It is absolutely essential if you want to go to heaven. – Lester Roloff

Jesus defined repentance in Matthew 12:41 when He stated that the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah. Review Jonah chapter 3. In verses 8-10 we see the king pleading with his people to cry out to God, for everyone to turn from his evil way and his violence, and hope that God would repent from his coming judgment. Nineveh made no simple profession, followed by a return to rape and murder. That wicked nation turned completely around. If their profession had been empty, would God have repented from His judgment? Consider Titus 1:15-16 and James 2:14 in this context.

John the Baptist proclaimed the necessity of repentance and defined it in Luke 3. He refused to baptize the religious hypocrites, commanding them to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. He promised that those who refused to repent would be cut off and be cast into the fire – hell. He defined repentance when asked by the people, “What shall we do then?” Verses 11-14 covered specific sins and specific remedies that the sincere repent-er would demonstrate.

Acts 2:38 and 3:19 are explicit about repentance being tied to the forgiveness of sins necessary for salvation. Acts 20:20-21 summarizes Paul’s view of his own ministry – preaching repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. In that context John R. Rice once pointed out the distinction between repentance and faith, but that they are like two sides of the same coin. In preaching to pantheists on Mars Hill, Paul says that God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). By the way, the first recorded message that Jesus preached was “Repent” (Matthew 4:17).

The Gospel of John, which nowhere explicitly uses the word repentance, nevertheless does teach the concept clearly. John 3:14-21 emphasizes believing as the key to salvation. This ‘believing’ must be more than simple intellectual assent. Note that in verses 19-21, we see that the lost love darkness and hate light. The saved come to the light that their deeds may be made manifest. So faith produces a changed life, as also proclaimed in Eph 2:8-10, Titus 2:11-14, and Titus 3:5-8, plus 2 Cor 5:17 and many other passages. Note that John 12:42-43 shows a degree of ‘believing’ that falls short of salvation. Compare this passage with Matt 10:32-33. This concept is dramatically emphasized in John 8:31-47. There were ‘believers’ in the manner of intellectual assent, that nevertheless remained children of wrath. Matthew 13 is filled with this teaching in parable after parable.

In Mark 10:17-22 we see a young man seeking salvation. Consider how Jesus, the Master soulwinner, handles him. Jesus uses the law, but the man proclaims his own righteousness (see also Prov 20:6). So Jesus goes for the jugular, knowing the man’s god is his money. Jesus does not try to ‘get him saved’ before dealing with his sin. The young man walks away unrepentant and lost.

Practically speaking . . . In my experience, most every lost person you meet will understand the necessity of repentance for salvation. When you explain that they can’t expect a ticket to heaven unless they have a repentant heart, it makes sense to them.

Now, there is a lot of foolish phraseology used by Christians with the lost. In Scripture the lost are always commanded to repent and believe. (And if anyone really understands one side of the coin, the other side is obvious. If you believe you are in a burning building, you will flee – your will changes and your actions follow.) So don’t talk about “receiving Christ” or “making a decision for Christ” or “accepting Jesus into your heart.” There is Scriptural truth in these phrases, but that’s not how we see lost people taught in Scripture. If someone truly repents from sin / sins / self-rule, and truly believes / trusts in Jesus, God will save him. Also, don’t emphasize heaven – Bible prophets didn’t. If someone wants eternal life, it starts now – and the life changes start now, too!

How much repentance and faith? That’s a fair question. Answer: Enough so that one is born again of the Holy Spirit (John 3). What if someone doesn’t think they are repentant enough or believe enough? Tell him to seek God, asking Him for repentance and faith for salvation. Anyone that asks and seeks God will find God. The soulwinner can’t see into the heart, so don’t get in the way! It may take minutes or hours or days. You don’t know what battles may have to take place in the heart to forsake cherished sins.

If he wants you to, hang around. Answer questions. Teach him all you can about salvation (Matt 28:18-20) and the difference between the lost and the saved – both in destination and in day to day life. When someone is born again, let him profess it (Rom 10:9-10, Matt 10:32-33), and come for baptism (Acts 8:36-37). You will search through the Scriptures in vain to find a preacher manipulating someone to and through a so-called “sinner’s prayer.” If you are foolish enough to teach someone that at the end of some simple prayer that he is saved – guaranteed – you may prematurely terminate the confession and pleading that person needs to find repentance and faith unto salvation. Yes, he can know that he is saved (Romans 8:16, for example). But teach him to start living the Christian life so that he can “work out his salvation” (Phil 2:12), that others may see it and God may be glorified.

A final note: Some misapply Rom 10:13 to motivate a “sinner’s prayer.” The emphasis in v. 13 is not how to be saved (“call”), but rather who can be saved (“whosoever”). Proof: the context is given by vs. 11-12. The “call” for salvation, in the context of the rest of Scripture, must include repentance and faith to be effectual. Otherwise, how do you explain Matt 7:21-27?

– Dr. Dave

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