Faith and Repentance

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14).

- Luke 18:9–14

We have addressed some of the problems regarding the Roman Catholic view of faith and justification, but Roman Catholics are not the only ones who have flawed ideas about true faith. Many Protestants, in fact, have mistaken views of saving faith although they verbally affirm the necessity of faith alone.

These views fall into a few different categories. One error would be the idea of faith as a mere intellectual assent to propositional truth and not an assent to such truth alongside a personal entrusting of oneself into the arms of the Savior. Far more common, however, would be views of faith that downplay or even ignore God’s demand for repentance. It is not unusual, for example, to find people calling unbelievers to trust Jesus without giving a good definition of the problem in which humanity finds itself. Sometimes, Christ is presented as if He can be added to a life without fundamentally changing that life. In such cases, there is a neglect of the doctrine of hell, the gravity of sin, the terror of God’s wrath, and the necessity of repentance.

When it comes to the fiducia of saving faith, the entrusting of ourselves to Christ alone, there can be no real turn to Christ Jesus unless we turn away from sin. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other magisterial Reformers emphasized repeatedly that faith and repentance go hand in hand. Scripture clearly teaches as much. Jesus’ very first message was for us to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14–15, emphasis added). Acts 2:38 requires both faith and repentance for salvation.

Although we often distinguish faith and repentance for the sake of instruction, they are actually inseparable — two sides of the same coin, so to speak. Christ calls us to give up everything to follow Him, and that includes our sin and any attempt to earn favor from our good works. True repentance does not mean sinlessness in this life, but it does mean a full reorientation of one’s direction and love of self and sin, a marked turn from what opposes Christ to Christ Himself.

True faith is repentant faith, as today’s passage reveals (Luke 18:9–14). The tax collector had true sorrow for his sin and faith in God’s mercy. Therefore, he was justified. The Pharisee, however, showed no repentance, thereby invalidating his profession of faith and revealing he was not justified in the Lord’s eyes.

Coram Deo

Repentance is serious business, but it is required only when actual sin has been committed. Knowing the difference between true sin and what others falsely assume to be sin demands the faithful study of Scripture. So, we should read God’s Word, looking for Him to tell us what is righteous and what is not. Moreover, we should expect to find ourselves rebuked when we read the Bible, and we should repent as soon as we feel the Spirit’s conviction.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 7:12–13
Isaiah 1:27
Matthew 4:17
Luke 15:1–7

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