Is repentance an aspect of faith, or is repentance a good work?

Burk Parsons & 2 others
2 Min Read

NICHOLS: There is a wonderful book by Thomas Watson (the author of The Body of Divinity) on repentance. The first line is: “If ever a soul is to get to heaven, the two wings that get him there are repentance and faith.”

We need to see that faith is the “trusting in” and repentance is the “turning from.” Prior to conversion, we are oriented away from God, seeking anything but Him. So, a conversion is a 180-degree turn. As we are turning towards God in faith, we are turning from ultimately the self and sin, which is what repentance is. If ever a soul is to get to heaven, the two wings of faith and repentance will get it there.

LAWSON: To merge those two ideas, all faith is a repentant faith and all repentance is a believing repentance. I agree that faith is the “turning to” and repentance is the “turning away from.” You cannot have one without the other; it is a package deal. If you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts, the emphasis is on repentance. If you read the gospel of John and the epistles, the emphasis is on faith, but it is not one without the other.

PARSONS: I struggled with this question twenty-five years ago, and it was a very significant issue in my life. This question is not as simple as our answers may suggest because there are a lot of complexities to it. I appreciate the question because you can tell that the questioner has thought about this issue.

We must distinguish between an act and works. “Work” or “works” is language that the Apostle Paul and other New Testament writers used in reference to things that we do to earn our salvation, things we do that begin with us. The language of “work” or “works” is different from something we do that does not begin with us. We do repent, we do believe, but we must understand why we believe and why we repent. In Romans 2:4, Paul says that it is the kindness of God that is meant to lead us to repentance. Do we repent? Yes. Is it something we do? Yes. Is it a work, technically? No, it is something that God, by His kindness, leads us to, just as He grants us the gift of faith according to Ephesians 2:8–10. The entirety of the believer’s conversion and coming to the Lord is all of grace.

LAWSON: Repentance is a sovereign gift that God gives as well. He gives both saving faith and repentance, which is why God is the author of our salvation—He provides everything. All we provide is the sin that we hold in our hands that was laid on Christ.

This is a transcript of Burk Parsons’, Stephen Nichols’, and Steven Lawson’s answers given during our A Continuing Reformation: Pittsburgh 2021 Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.