The question is often asked: Is repentance necessary for salvation?
For surely we all know that it is by faith that we are saved, and not by anything that we have done.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” Ephesians 2:8
It is here that Paul confirms that we are saved by faith, and that this faith is given to us as a gift from the Lord.
And to the Romans he portrays the same idea.
“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace;” Romans 4:16
And John also:
“this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” I John 5:4
By these passages we can surely conclude that it is by faith that we are saved; but then what?
Then it is by faith that we must walk; or in other words to live.
So we can plainly see by these passages that it is faith alone that saves us.
Why then, is there so much confusion over repentance?
Let’s take a look and see if we can find the answer that question.
We know that there are many texts in the Bible that tell us that we must repent, but if it is faith alone that saves, then where does repentance come in?
Before we go any further, we will make sure that we are not mistaken, and confirm that repentance is absolutely necessary for salvation.
Notice the following: this is Jesus speaking. “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Luke 13:3
In this one verse, Jesus makes the requirement remarkably clear.
As does Paul here: “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:” Acts 17:30
And then Peter, for the Lord is “long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
So now that we are absolutely sure that repentance is essential for salvation, we shall investigate the matter further in an attempt to discover what repentance is, and how it is related to faith, for we know that it is by faith alone that we are saved.
From what we have learned from the above Scriptures, we can make an assumption that both faith and repentance are inseparable.
We can conclude that no impenitent sinner can believe with his heart unto righteousness; as it is for this reason that Paul presents repentance as a godly sorrow for sin, that “worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Many are confused as to what constitutes the first steps in the work of salvation, they think that repentance is a work that they must do for themselves before Christ will accept them.
They think that they must somehow make themselves fit, in order to obtain the blessing of God’s grace.
Although it is true that repentance must precede forgiveness, for it is only the broken and contrite heart that is acceptable to God, the sinner cannot bring themselves to repentance, or prepare themselves to come to Christ. The very first step to Christ is taken through the drawing of the Holy Spirit; and as people respond to the call, they begin to advance toward Christ, in order that repentance may come.
“not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” Romans 2:4
Peter clearly presented the fact that repentance is the gift of God while he was before the high priests and Sadducee’s. Speaking of Christ he said, “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Acts 5:31
By this text we can see that repentance is no less the gift of God, than are atonement and justification, and it cannot be experienced except as it is given to us by Christ.
If we are drawn to Christ, it is only by His power and virtue; the grace of contrition comes through Him; and from Him comes justification.
When our Lord came to save that which was lost, He said: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Mark 2:17, also Matthew 9:13
And of the Comforter He said, “When He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” John 16:8. “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick.” Mark 2:17
A person must first feel that they have a need for help, before they will accept it; they must know that they have a disease, before they will seek the remedy.
Without the knowledge that we are sinners, we would never know of our need for Christ, and the call to sinners would never be heard, and the promise of righteousness would go unheeded.
It is for this reason that the first part of the comforting work of the Holy Spirit, is to convince people of sin.
So “the Scripture hath concluded [that is to shut up] all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” For “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” Rom. 3:20.
He who knows that he is a sinner, is well on the road to acknowledge it; and “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9.
Thus, the law in the hands of the Holy Spirit, is an active agent in inducing people to accept the fullness of the promise.
No one can despise anyone who has saved their lives by showing them the danger ahead; on the contrary, such a person is regarded as a friend, and is always remembered with gratitude.
It is in this manner that the Law is to be understood; and it must be regarded in this light by anyone who has been prompted by its warning to flee from the wrath to come.
They will forever agree with the psalmist, “I hate vain thoughts, but Thy law do I love.” Psalm 119:113
The exhortation is to us, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:19
“long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9.
The fact that all the world is to be brought into judgment is positively stated in the Bible.
Paul, in his sermon on Mars Hill, said that God: “now commandeth all men every where to repent; because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” Acts 17:30, 31.
Which is why he preached repentance, here he is speaking to king Agrippa: “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” Acts 26:19-20
And also to the elders of the Church in Ephesus: “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.” Acts 20:20-21
We can see here from these examples that the essentials to salvation are of course the atonement; as well as repentance and faith, both of which are inseparable.
It is in this fashion that we can understand the connection that James brings, and why he asks the following question.
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” James 2:14
James is here speaking of the inseparable nature of faith and works.
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” James 2:26.
Faith, which is unaccompanied by works is no faith at all, for “faith without works is dead.”
And that which is dead has no existence.
“Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works; show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” James 2:18
Paul say’s of Abraham that his faith was imputed to him for righteousness. But James takes up the same subject and says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” James 2:21.
At first, this would seem to be a contradiction of Paul’s statement of Romans 3:28.
“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” Romans 3:28
But there is no contradiction here as James immediately adds: “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.” Verses 22, 23.
By this we can see that Abraham’s faith could not have been imputed to him for righteousness, but for his disposition to work. And since justification has reference to the law of God, it is evident that the works that makes faith perfect, and secures justification, must also be works that the law requires.
And it was the same with Rahab.
James continues, “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way.” James 2:25.
And Paul says, “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.” Heb. 11:31.
Once again there would seem to be a contradiction between the words of Paul and those of James, but both of these texts are strictly correct. Rahab was justified by faith; but she would not have been justified by faith, if her faith had been merely a simple assent to the fact that God was leading the Israelites.
Such a belief as that, would not have been real faith.
Her faith was so strong in that which she had heard of God leading the Israelites into the land of Canaan, that she did the works required of her, and in this secondary sense she was justified by works, since it was her works that testified to the existence of her faith.
In this way we can see that Abraham and Rahab’s faith could not have been imputed to them for righteousness, but for their disposition to work.
These scriptures show how inseparable faith and works are. So closely united are they that the possession of one, presupposes the possession of the other. Yet it must not be forgotten that faith is first. There can be no works where there is no faith.
Now since “faith without works is dead,” it follows as a necessary conclusion, that if a person’s faith is genuine (and if it were not, they could not have been pardoned), it will now be proved by works of obedience.
And therefore the characteristic of the justified person, is that they will be obedient to the Word of God, which includes obedience to the whole Law, for we know that Jesus came not to change it, but to fulfill it, that is to ratify, establish and teach it. Matthew 5:17.
Which is exactly what He did.
Some people may argue that the words of Paul and Silas to the keeper of the prison can be taken to nullify these clear teachings of the Scriptures, but no Scripture can be rightfully interpreted in contradiction to any other.
We read: “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith,” and, “the just shall live by faith.”
Now this is literally true, and it is also true as Paul confirms, that “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Rom. 10:9. As also when the jailer asked, “What shall I do to be saved?” Paul answered him truly, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Acts 16:31.
As this may be said to comprise all that is necessary for salvation, because works are included in faith; they follow it as surely as night follows day. If any person has the faith of Abraham, they will do the works of Abraham; and if anyone truly believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, they will bring forth works “meet for repentance.”
The purpose of the judgment is to reveal to the universe if repentance, confession, faith and baptism were genuine or not.
And the proof of true conversion is a sanctified life that produces works that flow from repentance. God saves us by grace through faith, but He will judge us by our works because works reveals whether our faith is genuine or not.
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent.” Revelation 2:5
“The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven, the second is our fitness for heaven.”
The righteousness of Christ by which we are justified is imputed, or credited to our account, it is granted freely without our having to earn it. It is our title to heaven, it is the only merit which we can claim, it justifies us by faith, and we are made righteous in the eyes of God.
The righteousness by which we are sanctified, is imparted in a gradual process of Christian growth. This is the fruit that the good tree bears, this fruit, is worthy of repentance.
The born again Christian is sanctified, and transformed into the character of Christ by the Holy Spirit, in a process which will continue till we pass from this earth.
Repentance is absolutely necessary to receive an invitation to the Kingdom, but repentance is the result of salvation, it does not give us salvation.
It is the evidence that faith exists in the heart, and this is a work of love which is performed in us by Christ, as He molds our characters into an image of the Fathers, by this process we are made new creatures in Christ; a “good tree, which bears good fruit.”