Is Repentance Essential to Salvation?
“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30)
The Scriptures teach that repentance is essential to salvation. Paul preached that God commands all to repent (cf. Acts 17:30).
It’s crucial, however, to understand the biblical definition of repentance as it relates to salvation. The meaning behind the Greek word for repent in the New Testament is “to change one’s mind.” It is not an additional requirement for salvation over and above faith alone in Christ alone. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. In order to trust in Christ, people must realize their sinful condition that separates them from God and recognize their need for a Savior. They must “change their mind” about whatever is keeping them from trusting Christ or what they are currently trusting in and trust in Christ alone to save them. When they trust Christ, both repentance and faith have taken place.
This understanding of repentance explains why in some passages relating to salvation “repent” is used interchangeably with “believe.” Acts 11:18 testifies, “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.’”
Paul and Silas told the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).
If you use the word “repent,” explain what it means. When people hear the word “repent,” they may think that in order to be saved they have to clean up their lives to come to Christ. That is not what repentance in an evangelistic context means. Asking people to clean up their lives to come to Christ adds works to the gospel of grace. Furthermore, it would ask unbelievers to do something they have no power to do. We come to Christ through faith, then the Holy Spirit takes residence in us and cleans up our lives as we grow in Christ. Turning from specific sins is a fruit of salvation, not a condition of salvation.
We need to explain to people that they are sinners, Christ died for them and rose from the dead, and they need to trust Christ as Savior. When we do that, we have clearly explained what the Bible means by repentance and faith.
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