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Repentance and Faith

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Once again we take up God’s answer to the first of the two most important questions we can ever ask: “What must I do to be saved?”

In this meditation, we will begin to focus our attention on the response that God demands from all who hear the good news of this “done” salvation freely offered to all without distinction in the gospel.

The response that God commands is nothing other, nothing more, and nothing less than a response of Spirit-created repentance and faith. Because the biblical witness to this fact is both consistent and overwhelming, many texts of Scripture could be cited. However, this truth is well exemplified in Acts 20:21. There, Paul summarizes the substance of his preaching at Ephesus over the course of three years, and he affirms that he testified “both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Before considering separately the distinctive objects and actions of repentance and faith, it is crucial to grasp the fact that they are inseparable in any saving response to the gospel of the grace of God. As John Murray so accurately stated it: “It is impossible to disentangle faith and repentance. Saving faith is permeated with repentance and repentance is permeated with faith.”

It is for this reason that there are some texts that only mention the necessity of faith (16:31), and others that mention only the necessity of repentance (17:30).

Because faith is the appropriating activity of the soul, the Scriptures repeatedly emphasize that we are “saved by faith.” They never affirm that we are “saved by repentance.” However, the Scriptures do repeatedly affirm that we are not saved apart from repentance. Luke 13:3 is one such text, where our Lord Jesus Himself says, “Unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish.”

It is for this reason that in the Great Commission as it is recorded by Luke, our Lord Jesus said “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations”(Luke 24:45).

In our next meditation, God willing, we will focus our attention upon the nature and fruits of that which God calls “repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). Meanwhile, I commend to the reader’s serious study and reflection the profoundly accurate definition of gospel repentance found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience” (Q&A 87). 

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.