What is "repentance" and do I have to do it to be saved?
Christians don't talk about "repentance" much anymore. When is the last time you had a good discussion about it? When is the last time you read a good article in a Christian newspaper or magazine about it? In fact, many of you may think of repentance as the message of the street corner preacher who is yelling that everybody is going to hell (which is actually true for those who don't get saved). Yet, the call to repentance is not missing from the Bible. The Gospel of Mark introduces the ministry of Jesus with these words, "Repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15). The question that comes up is "Do I have to repent in order to be saved? Aren't we saved only by believing in Jesus? Let's first understand what repentance is in the Bible, and then we will answer if God says it is part of our salvation.
The word in our English Bibles for "repentance" simply means a change of mind. A good example is found in a story Jesus tells in Mathew 21:28-32. He tells of two sons who were put to work by the father. The first one refused to work at first, "but afterward he repented, and went" (KJV). The son changed his mind about going to work for the father. That is repentance. Now the majority of the time in the Bible, repentance is a change of mind regarding personal sin, God's holiness and judgment, and the person and work of Jesus. In 2 Timothy 2:25-26, Paul tells Timothy how to minister to those who oppose the truth of the Gospel, "Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will". The goal in those 2 verses is to change the minds of those who oppose truth. That is the biblical picture of repentance: change of mind about sin and righteousness, truth and lies, Jesus and the devil.
So do I have to repent in order to be saved? Listen to some very convincing Bible verses:
1) Acts 17:30-In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
2) Romans 2:5-But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed.
3) Luke 13:3-But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
According to God, all people must repent in order to be saved from His wrath. What about faith? What about belief in Jesus? John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life." No sign of repentance there! Here is the solution, whenever we truly repent of our sin we also believe on Christ to save us. Whenever we truly believe on Christ to save us we also repent--change our mind--about our sin and who can save us. The apostle Paul described his preaching like this in Acts 20:21, "I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus." Repentance and faith/belief are two sides of the same coin that we must keep together. Whenever we invite people to respond to the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection, we must ask them to repent of sin and believe in Christ. Even Jesus did that, "Repent and believe the good news!"
The Lord is at work in and through His Church,