I've read the Gospel of John, and the clear plan of salvation is given repeatedly. It says, "...whosoever believeth in Him (Jesus) should not perish but have everlasting life," Consider the following verses on salvation from John's Gospel: John 1:12, 3:15-18, 3:36, 4:14, 5:24, 5:39,40; 6:27-29, 6:35, 40; 6:47, 6:51, 6:54, 8:12, 8:51, 10:27,28, 11:25,26; 14:6, 15:6, 17:2,3; 20:31)
Never once does the book of John say anything about "repenting" or "repentance." So, why do so many tracts demand that we "repent of our sins?"
Do we need to "repent of our sins" in order to be saved?
If this is a biblical term (the actual phrases "repent of sin" or "repentance of sin" aren't in the Bible, although there are some similar phrases that people often interpret to mean the same thing), and if it is consistent with the rest of Scripture, let's consider some things that "repentance of sin" cannot mean:
-"Repentance of sin" can't be a work of righteousness we perform for our salvation. The Bible is clear that our works cannot get us to Heaven (Titus 3:5, Eph 2:8,9, Isaiah 64:6).
-"Repentance of sin" can't be completely forsaking all our sins. If forsaking all our sins was necessary in order to be saved, when exactly would someone ever be able to be saved? Most unsaved people don't even know exactly what the Bible calls a "sin." Besides that, even saved people still sin (although they no longer seem to be called "sinners" by title, but rather "saints"). Our flesh sins daily, and if anyone will say that they never sin, the Bible calls them a liar (John 1:10).
-"Repentance of sin" can't be "confessing" and "asking forgiveness" for every sin we commit. If that were so, our salvation would be in jeopardy any time we sinned after our salvation. We would still have to confess and seek forgiveness every time we sin, which means we would, in essence, have to get saved over and over again. The Bible says nothing about being "born again, and again, and again..." (There is only one spiritual birth, just as there is only one physical birth. In fact, the Bible says that if you were able to lose your salvation, there would be no way for you to be restored again, because Christ can't come down and be crucified every time you sin (Hebrews 6:6, Hebrews 10:18) .
Consider the following verses concerning the spiritual birth:
- John 1:12,13 - "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
- John 3:3 - "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
- John 3:6 - "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
- 1 John 5:1 - "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him."
- 1 John 5:18 - "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not"
- 1 John 5:4 "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
Let me also add the following verses:
- 2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
- Galatians 6:15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.
Notice in these verses, 1) The spiritual birth comes by believing/receiving the Gospel of Christ, 2) the spirit-born "man" is separate from the flesh, and 3) this "new creature" cannot be corrupted or overcome by sin, death, or "the wicked one." Does "repenting of your sins" have anything to do with your spiritual birth? It doesn't appear that it does. So then, what exactly does the Bible say concerning this idea of "repentance" and what does it have to do with our salvation?
What Does "Repentance," Mean?
For starters, I checked the doctrinal statement of the college I attended, Heartland Baptist Bible College. I'm not trying to say they are the final authority in all things doctrine, but I did go to college there, and although I never signed anything saying I was in total agreement with every facet of their doctrinal statement, I haven't yet had reason to argue with any of the foundational truths that were taught there. So, I thought it would be a good place for me to start. In their doctrinal statement, which most pastors I know would probably agree with, it states:
"We believe that repentance and faith are solemn obligations, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the quickening Spirit of God; thereby, being deeply convicted of our guilt, danger, and helplessness, and of our need of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy and at the same time heartily receive the Lord Jesus Christ and openly confess Him as our only and all-sufficient Saviour."
The key phrase in this paragraph, I believe, is "turn to God." That is a definition that HBBC has giving here for the word "repentance." So, according to this, biblical repentance (as it applies to "saving faith") is this: "Turning to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy" (The rest of the quote has to do with how it is inseparable with "saving faith.")
If this statement is accurate, is repentance necessary for salvation? Yes, but only if one defines it correctly. According to this statement, the act of repentance is something that the "Spirit of God" gives us at the moment we receive Jesus. By this definition then, 1) repentance is not something we can do ourselves for our salvation, 2) it isn't "forsaking all sins," but seeking mercy for all of them as a whole, and 3) it's not confessing individual sins. Repentance is turning to Christ and confessing Him as our sufficient Savior from our sins--I'm in agreement with all that so far!
To verify the accuracy of this concept, we need to look at how the word "repentance" is used in the Bible, and see if there are any contradictions to this position. Unfortunately, there are too many uses of the word for us to look at them all, but we can eliminate the ones that don't apply: 1) Many of the uses of the word "repent" or "repentance" in the Old Testament are reference to God repenting (Ge 6:6, Ex 32:14). We can eliminate these because they don't apply to the topic of our repentance. 2) Also, many times, the word "repent" or "repentance" is addressed to people who are already saved (Re 2:5 ) Since we are mainly trying to see how repentance relates to salvation, we will not address any of those either, except to say that we believe the Bible is clear that repentance after salvation is not in order to keep one's salvation or to renew it, but a saved person who repents does so to renew their immediate fellowship and communion with God.
Surely, we are still left with many verses regarding repentance. Let's look at some of them:
- Acts 2:38. This is no doubt one of the verses from which people get the idea of "Repenting of your sins" in order to be saved. Peter clearly tells the unbelieving Jews to "Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins." (we don't want to get too distracted at this point in addressing the concept behind the word "baptized" as it is used here, and how it applies to this verse, except to say that we believe water baptism itself does not save. We do however practice the ordinance of baptizing as we believe it was instructed by Jesus for His church to administer to believers after they are saved. We believe this "water baptism" is only a picture or a symbol of what takes place at the "spiritual birth.")
If the guidelines we set above are accurate, "repent" here should have to do with "turning to God, and confessing Christ as one's only hope for salvation." That seems to fit the context of this passage. The Jews were claiming they were following the law as a means of their salvation, but Paul was warning them to turn from trusting their works and believe on Jesus. This is the first foundational doctrine mentioned in Hebrews 6:1, "Repentance from dead works." Consequently, the second foundation is "faith toward God."
- Romans 2:3,4. This verse speaks of the "goodness of God" leading people to "repentance," and in context speaks of avoiding judgment. Again, the text is about the Jews who were guilty of judging others who did not follow the law, when they themselves were also guilty of breaking the law. The whole context of Romans is that all have sinned and deserve death in hell, but God offers us the free gift of salvation. So, I think it is safe to say that "repentance" here is also speaking of turning from one's false belief that their works will save them, and turn to God, trusting in the work of Christ.
- Luke 13:5. This is one of the few accounts given of the occasion when Jesus said "except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." This is another common verse used by some to show that we need to repent of our sins, because in this passage Jesus is saying that all sinners will die for their sins if they don't "repent." Jesus told these men that the sins of certain wicked nations that had been destroyed were no less condemning than their own sins. Therefore, they too would be destroyed for their sins unless they "repented." However, applying the principle above, it seems more likely that the point being made is that all are guilty of sin and worthy of death. Turning to Christ and seeking the mercy of God is the only hope for our salvation.
Certainly, I have only scratched the surface on this topic, but so far, I am convinced that the term "repenting of your sins" for salvation is misleading. I am in no way saying we should continue in sin. As Christians, we should definitely be trying to walk in the spirit instead of the flesh. However, we daily fight a battle against the flesh, as did Paul. Thankfully, all those who have been spiritually born (by trusting in Christ alone, and His word) are in no peril of spiritual death, but have (present tense) "eternal life." In closing, consider these words from the apostle Paul:
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
The "flesh" and the "spirit" coexist, but they are entirely separate one from another. "The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus" and the "law of sin and death" coexist, but they are entirely separate on from another. The "inner man" of a saved person "delights in the law of God," but the "members" of a saved person continue to "war against" our mind.
Thanks for reading. I hope this is a blessing to someone!