Moreover, true repentance never exists except in conjunction with faith, while on the other hand, wherever there is true faith, there is also real repentance. The two are but different aspects of the same turning-a turning away from sin in the direction of God. The two cannot be separated; they are simply complementary parts of the same process.
Can true repentance exist without faith? By no means. But although they cannot be separated, they ought to be distinguished.
And what is the prescribed response? Is it to walk down an aisle? Is it to fill out a card, or to lift up a hand? Is it to make an appointment with a preacher, or to decide to be baptized and join the church? While any of those things may be involved, none of them necessarily is. The response of the Good News – the message that Paul preached and other Christians preached throughout the New Testament – is to repent and believe. Once we’ve heard the truth about our own sin and God’s holiness, about His love in sending Christ, and about Christ’s death and resurrection for our justification, then, as instructed by the first words of Jesus recorded in Mark’s gospel, our response is to “Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15).
When a person is sick, the doctor may prescribe medicine. What heals the man? Is it the medicine, or his reaching out for the medicine? Christ is the only solution for your problem of sin and judgment. He is the medicine. Who else but Christ can rescue you and bring you into the forgiven family of God? He is the exclusive way to God. He is a narrow way, but a sufficient one. But how do you reach out to Christ? By repentance and faith.
If a man turns from sin without turning to God, he will find his sin has only changed its name and is hidden behind his pride.
We understand why in the Bible repentance precedes faith (Mk. 1:15; Ac. 20:21). Before people find their need-love met in God, they are looking to other things, often money, for satisfaction. So believing in God has to involve a 180-degree turn away (that is, repentance) from the love of money to find contentment and confidence for the future simply in knowing God and depending on His promises.
When the hand of faith opens to lay hold of Christ, it drops the sin it had grasped before. You must part with your sin – or Christ.
True faith is always accompanied by repentance from sin. Repentance is more than simply being sorry for sin. It is agreeing with God that you are sinful, confessing your sins to Him, and making a conscious choice to turn from sin and pursue holiness (Isaiah 55:7).
Repentance that is not joined to faith is a legalistic repentance. It terminates on yourself and on your sin. Likewise…professed faith that is not joined to repentance is a spurious faith, for true faith is faith in Christ to save me not in but from my sin. Repentance and faith are inseparable.
We must repent, and we must believe. Although it is necessary to discuss these as separate concepts, we must not think that repentance is ever divorced from faith or that faith is ever divorced from repentance. True faith is permeated with repentance, and true repentance is permeated with faith. They interpenetrate one another in such a way that, whenever there’s a true appropriation of the divine provision, you will find a believing penitent and a penitent believer.
Repentance and faith infallibly and inseparably flow from regeneration. True repentance takes place when God enables a heart to turn away from sin. This does not mean believers will not still struggle with sin, but rather they are aware of their sin and they feel sorrow and conviction before God. Faith is more than intellectual assent. It is a God-given, unmistakable holding on to Christ and a total surrender to God’s authority (Rom. 3:21-31). This change from rebellion to submission, from unbelief to intelligent trust, is the unambiguous fruit of regeneration.
Repentance is the hand releasing those filthy objects it had previously clung to so tenaciously. Faith is extending an empty hand to God to receive His gift of grace. Repentance is a godly sorrow for sin. Faith is receiving a sinner’s Saviour. Repentance is revulsion of the filth and pollution of sin. Faith is a seeking of cleansing therefrom. Repentance is the sinner covering his mouth and crying, “Unclean, unclean!” Faith is the leper coming to Christ and saying, “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.”
Conversion, then, is repentance (turning from sin and unbelief) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation). They are really two sides of the same coin. One side is tails – turn tail on the fruits of unbelief. The other side is heads – head straight for Jesus and trust His promises. You can’t have the one without the other any more than you can face two ways at once, or serve two masters.
Repentance is as much a mark of a Christian, as faith is. A very little sin, as the world calls it, is a very great sin to a true Christian.
Repentance is the inseparable companion of faith. All the while that we walk by faith and not by sight, the fear of repentance glitters in the eye of faith. That is not true repentance which does not come of faith in Jesus; and that is not true faith in Jesus which is not tinctured with repentance. Faith and repentance, like the Siamese twins, are vitally joined together. Faith and repentance are but two spokes in the same wheel, two handles of the same plow. Repentance has been well described as a heart broken for sin and from sin, and it may equally well be spoken of as turning and returning. It is a change of mind of the most thorough and radical sort, and it is attended with sorrow for the past and a resolve of amendment in the future. Repentance of sin and faith in divine pardon are the ways and woof of the fabric of real conversion.
Repentance and faith are not rites of initiation to Christianity. Repentance and faith are the way to relate to God. Repentance and faith are not acts performed one time to become a Christian. They are attitudes of heart toward myself and my sin. Faith is not just the way to get saved, it is the lifeline of Christian living.