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Every call expects a response. When you call somebody, you naturally expect the person to respond to you in a certain way. Don’t you? In a similar way, when God calls people to something, he too expects people to respond in a certain way in regards to his call. The good news of the gospel is the call of God and it expects all those who hear to respond to it. In this article, assuming that you all know what the gospel is, I want to show how the gospel demands people to repent of their sins and put their trust in Jesus as a response to it.
When we read the Gospels in the Bible, we observe that Jesus began his ministry with these words: repent and believe. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1:15). Jesus went about warning people and calling people to repent of their sins. When he sent out his disciples to proclaim the good news, “they went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (Mk. 6:12). At the end of the gospel of Luke, the last words that Jesus spoke to the disciples before his ascension into heaven were, “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Lk. 24:47). Paul when speaking to the Ephesian elders summed up his ministry in saying that he was, “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Also, throughout the New Testament, we see that the authors emphasized the importance of repentance and faith in order to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
The doctrines of repentance and faith are no small doctrines in the Bible. It was J.C. Ryle who said, “May repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ be the two great pillars before the temple of our religion, the corner-stones in our system of Christianity!”1 Indeed, repenting of sins and trusting in Christ are two strong pillars on which Christianity stands or falls. They are not optional, but are essential components and the Gospel demands these responses from people. So, what actually is repentance and what is its connection to faith in Christ?
Eaton’s Bible Dictionary defines true repentance as, “a change of mind and purpose and life, to which remission of sin is promised.”2 J.I Packer in one of his videos compares this action with that of a soldier who when given a command to halt, take an about turn and march forward in the opposite direction to which he was marching before, does it.3 It is the same with repentance, previously one marched with his or her back turned against God. But, once they repent, they take an about turn, forsaking the old path, and walk towards God. True repentance involves a radical shift of one’s mind and heart. It is a radical turn from sin to God.
So, what actually happens in the process of repentance? Thomas Watson in his book The Doctrine of Repentance likens it to medicine and says, “Repentance is a spiritual medicine made up of six special ingredients: 1. Sight of sin 2. Sorrow for sin 3. Confession of sin 4. Shame for sin 5. Hatred for sin 6. Turning from sin. If any one is left out it loses its virtue”4. According to this list, we can clearly see that repentance is more than just feeling sorrow for our sin or confessing our sins to God or to others. It is much bigger and deeper than that.
A person should first come to an understanding of what sin is in the light of the holiness of God. Only then can a person see the gravity and seriousness of sin. Without that, sin won’t appear as grievous as it ought to appear. This sight of sin should bring the person to feel the weight of sorrow and shame it produces, thus leading him to confession before the Almighty. While important, that is just the beginning. A person who truly repents will start to hate that sin which he once loved and will turn away from it seeking refuge in God from it. Sin no longer appears pleasant to the one who truly repents of it. In his first epistle, the Apostle John writes, “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” (I Jn. 5:18). So, a Christian who truly repented will take sin seriously and by the grace of God will try, though imperfectly, to overcome it and avoid it by all means.
This act of repentance, however, is neither an end in itself nor a basis for forgiveness. J.C. Ryle puts it in this way, “The tears of repentance wash away no sins. It is bad theology to say that they do. That is the office, that the work of the blood of Christ alone”5. This is where faith in the work of Christ comes into play. Just repenting of the evil that one does will not save them. Judas, who betrayed Christ, repented of his sin, but that was of no use because he did not turn to Christ and believe in him. Peter denied Christ thrice, but was later accepted again because he not only felt sorrow for his sins and turned away from them, but he turned to Christ and put his faith in the atoning work of Christ on the cross.
True repentance is never alone, but is always accompanied by an active faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, says J.C. Ryle6. Repentance of sins and faith in Christ always go together and without one the other would be ineffective. True biblical repentance always leads to faith in Christ and faith in Christ will always produce repentance towards sins. Anything short of it is not biblical and it is not useful in any way to save anybody.
Finally, who should do it and when should they do it? The Bible says, "God commands all people everywhere to repent." (Acts 17:30.). This is a gospel call to everyone in the world. God is clearly calling everyone, everywhere, to repent of their sins and to put their trust in Christ Jesus who died on the cross for the sins of his people. And this is not just a one-time activity, but something to be done daily. Exhorting Christians in his article, J.C. Ryle says, “Keep up your repentance! Keep up your repentance. Let it be a habit of mind you watch over to the last day of your life.”7 Christians ought to be in a continual state of repentance in their lives till they meet their Saviour face to face. Then there will be no need of repentance because they will become like their Saviour who is sinless and perfect. But until then, it should be the daily business for Christians to confess and forsake sins and look to Jesus in faith.
1 J.C Ryle, Repentance. Source: https://www.monergism.com/repentance.
2 Easton, M. G. Easton’s Bible dictionary 1893: n. page. Print.
3 J.I. Packer. What is Repentance? Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gExLXpPJDd8, Jan 2016.
4 Watson, Thomas. The Doctrine of Repentance. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987. Print, 18.
5 J.C Ryle, Repentance. Source: https://www.monergism.com/repentance.