Repentance is a response demanded by the gospel which many, in our day, brush aside as of no great and pivotal importance. They would press the absolute necessity of faith, if anyone is to partake of the saving benefits which the gospel offers, but not repentance. And anyone who insist on it they would consider as legalistic and pharisaical. Repentance, according to this view, can follow later after one is already “saved”.
And there are others who would teach the necessity of repentance because they see that the bible does in many places (Lk 13:3; Acts 2:38; et al). But their idea of repentance is grossly inadequate that, if brought to the searchlight of the Scriptures, it would soon be evident that what is being taught is not repentance after all. Repentance, according to this view, is just to acknowledge that one is a sinner, and perhaps, feel sorry for being so, period. But the essential element of genuine repentance, namely: the hatred of sin which issues from the heart – the purpose to turn away from a life of sin, from any and known sin or habit of sin because it displeases God, to a life of universal obedience – is not being taught and insisted.
We might wonder why is it that many err in this particular teaching. Why is it that many succumb to these damning errors? It would seem that the answer lies in an adequate view of salvation, which is very popular in our day. And I say, inadequate view of salvation because salvation is conceived of as that which frees or delivers a person from the consequence of sin and not from sin itself.
But what does the bible teach? In the announcement of the angel to Joseph concerning the child in Mary’s womb, the angel said, “. . . and you shall call His name ‘Jesus’, for it is He who will saved His people from their sins (not just from the consequences of their sins)(Matt. 1:21b). Thus also, it is said that “without holiness, no one shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14b NIV). Make no mistake about this. No one can escape the flames of God’s judgment, and enter the gates of glory, who still remain an unrepentant rebel and lover of sin. How we should view the prophetic words of Jesus Christ with dread: “many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and in Your Name perform many miracles’. And then, I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’.” (Like those who persist in refusing to be subject to the Law of God) (Matt. 7:22-23).
The gospel of grace is the gospel of both faith and repentance. These two are interdependent, and one always implies the other. They are like the two sides of a coin, distinguishable yet inseparable. saving faith is permeated with repentance, and true repentance is permeated with faith. Professor Murray perceptively says, “The interdependence of faith and repentance can be readily seen where we remember that faith is faith in Christ for salvation from sin. But if faith is directed to salvation from sin, there must be hatred of sin and the desire to be saved from it. Such hatred of sin, involves repentance which essentially consists in turning from sin unto God; the turning to God implies faith in the mercy of God as revealed in Christ.”
We are saved, not only by the gospel of grace through faith, but also through repentance. Jesus, after His resurrection, said to His disciples, “thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:46-47). And Scriptures make it clear that His disciples followed this instruction carefully (cf. Acts 2:37,38; Acts 20:21). Also Peter interpreted the exaltation of Jesus in these words, “He (Jesus) is the One whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and for forgiveness of sins”. (Acts 5:31) Dispensing repentance for the forgiveness of sins is declared to be a part of the heavenly ministry of Christ our Savior. The book of Hebrews makes it clear that repentance is one of the fundamental apostolic doctrines (Heb. 6:1).
We see, therefore, that the emphasis of Scriptures is that repentance is as necessary as faith, if one is to partake of the saving benefits of the gospel. Again, Professor Murray perceptively says, “The various exercises or responses of our spirits have their own peculiar function. repentance is that which describes the response of turning from sin unto God. This is its specific character, just as the specific character of faith is to receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation.”
To offer the saving benefits of the gospel in a way that allow persons to retain their habits of sin is a gross prostitution of the gospel. And we must remember that repentance and faith are abiding graces. Jesus is always the resting place for salvation, and repentance will continue in contrition and aversion to sin. [Jfm]