I was astounded at church recently when an influential older man told me that he does not believe that repentance is a necessary condition to salvation. To confront the potential problem, I compiled well over a dozen historical and contemporary sources who agree with the Bible that both repentance and faith are necessary conditions to salvation. I have done this with special emphasis on that oft-misunderstood apostolic teaching of repentance. I think that every soul-winner will benefit by retaining a copy of this compilation for study, application and teaching purposes. May God the Holy Spirit bless the reading of the following.
Repentance Definitions and Implications
R.A. Torrey -The Greek word in the New Testament translated "repent" means "to change one's mind."… The thought of both sorrow and change of purpose is in the words… In the usage of the words the thought of regret, and the thought of change of purpose and action, are both found; but the emphasis is upon the change of purpose and action… –What the Bible Teaches, www.biblecentre.net/reference/wtbt/wtbt-Index.html
- God is doing everything in His power to bring you men and women to repentance. Of course, He cannot save you if you will not repent. You can have salvation if you want to be saved from sin, but sin and salvation can never go together. There are people who talk about a scheme of salvation whereby man can continue in sin and yet be saved. It is impossible. - Real Salvation and Whole-Hearted Service, 1905 , pg. 58.
- God stands ready in His love to pardon the sins of the vilest sinner. There are two things and only two which in His love He demands as a condition of that pardon. They are, first, that we forsake our sins; second, that we turn to Him in faith and surrender to His will. -The Gospel for Today, 1922 , pg. 37
A.W. Tozer -I have personally heard earnest men tell their hearers that they need never fear being sent to hell because of their sins; that the only thing that could possibly condemn them is their failure to "accept" Christ…Until the sinner has been brought before the bar of God and convicted of personal guilt, any notions he may have about Christ are bound to be academic, nothing more, and wholly unrelated to life…Because there is only a Son question and not a sin question at all, there is little or no repentance required as a preparation for saving faith…It’s lots easier to shift the whole thing over to the "Son question" and escape the pains of repentance. Lots easier, but extremely dangerous, and this latter is what we appear to have forgotten. –Whatever Happened to Repentance?
Jonathan Edwards - There is an evangelical repentance. The heart is broken for sin. That sacrifice is offered to God, which David offered rather than burnt offerings after his great fall. Psa. 51:16, 17, “For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”- Hope and Comfort Usually Follow Genuine Humiliation and Repentance 1737 (note how repentance and brokenness are same in Edwards’ view. This idea is prominent in Finney’s works as well as the core theme in Hession’s 'The Calvary Road') - DG
- If persons think they have faith, and therefore think they have come to Christ, they should inquire whether their faith was accompanied with repentance; whether they came to Christ in a broken-hearted manner, sensible of their own utter unworthiness and vileness by sin; or whether they did not come in a presumptuous, Pharisaical spirit, taking encouragement from their own supposed goodness. -All the Graces of Christianity Connected
Catherine Booth -You must repent, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." Well, if repentance be an indispensable condition of salvation, let us try to find out what repentance really is…Repentance is not merely conviction of sin…Neither is repentance mere sorrow for sin….What then is repentance? Repentance is simply renouncing sin, turning round from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God. This is giving up sin in your heart, in purpose, in desire; resolving that you will give up every evil thing, and that you will do it now…Then another difficulty comes in, and people say, "I have not the power to repent." There is a grand mistake. You have the power, or God would not command it. You can repent! -What is Repentance?
William Booth- If the children are ever saved, or kept saved, whether for a day only, or for ever, it will only be by the Power or God. At the same time we do wish it to be understood that Salvation is conditional. If the children repent and believe, they will be converted; that is, if they are old enough to understand what repentance and faith are, or to practise them, understood or not. -The Training of Children
-7. We believe that repentance toward God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit are necessary to salvation. (1878) –Salvation Army Articles of Faith
- I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell. –Unknown Salvation Army Source
George Whitefield - The outside of the platter may be washed while the inside remains filthy. A person may turn from profaneness to morality and therefore believe that he is converted, yet his heart is still unrenewed…Conviction will always precede spiritual conversion. You may be convicted without being converted, but you cannot be converted without being convicted …If it is asked why a person should repent and be converted, I answer, 'Because without conversion, there is no way to be happy after you die.' You must be converted or be damned. That is plain English, but not plainer than my Master used. I did not speak the word as strongly as He did when He said, 'He that believeth not shall be damned' (Mark 16:16). That is the language of our Lord. -Repentance and Conversion, Sermon
- St. Paul was an eminent instance of this; he speaks of himself as "the chief of sinners," and he declares how God showed mercy unto him. Christ loves to show mercy unto sinners, and if you repent, he will have mercy upon you. But as no word is more mistaken than that of repentance, I shall
I. Show you what the nature of repentance is.
II. Consider the several parts and causes of repentance.
III. I shall give you some reasons, why repentance is necessary to salvation.
-A Penitent Heart, the Best New Year's Gift, Sermon
Timothy Smith (church and revival historian) - Indeed, they (Wesley’s primary sermons on faith) shared these convictions with Quakers and Baptists, with the German Pietists, Mennonites, and Moravians, and with a growing majority of the heirs of the Puritans, whether Presbyterian, Anglican, or Congregationalist, in Great Britain and America. All such "evangelicals" affirmed the moral authority of the Bible, declaring that it called human beings to a righteousness that is not only imputed to them in Christ's name but actually imparted to them by His grace. All stressed the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing sinners to repentance and faith in Christ, assuring them of forgiveness. -George Whitefield and Wesleyan Perfectionism (online article)
John Wesley - It is generally supposed, that repentance and faith are only the gate of religion; that they are necessary only at the beginning of our Christian course, when we are setting out in the way to the kingdom.... And this is undoubtedly true, that there is a repentance and faith, which are, more especially, necessary at the beginning: a repentance, which is a conviction of our utter sinfulness, and guiltiness, and helplessness.... But, notwithstanding this, there is also a repentance and faith (taking the words in another sense, a sense not quite the same, nor yet entirely different) which are requisite after we have "believed the gospel;" yea, and in every subsequent stage of our Christian course, or we cannot "run the race which is set before us." And this repentance and faith are full as necessary, in order to our continuance and growth in grace, as the former faith and repentance were, in order to our entering into the kingdom of God. -On Repentance of Believers, Sermon
-In plain terms, we must repent before we can believe the gospel. We must be cut off from any dependence upon ourselves before we can truly depend upon Christ. We must cast away all confidence in our own supposed righteousness or we cannot have a true confidence in His….In the meantime, we are afraid that use of the phrase, “the righteousness of Christ” or “the righteousness of Christ is imputed to me,” will be used as a cover for unrighteousness. We have seen this done numerous times. Reprove a person for drunkenness, as an example. “Oh,” says he, “I pretend to no righteousness of my own; Christ is my righteousness.” Another has been told that the extortioner and the unjust shall not inherit the kingdom of God. He replies with all assurance, “I am unjust in myself, but I have a spotless righteousness in Christ.” This is the result. A person being far from the practice and the tempers of a Christian, neither with the mind which was in Christ nor walking as He walked, shields himself against conviction by what he calls the righteousness of Christ. -The Lord Our Righteousness, Sermon
C.S. Spurgeon –To repent is to change your mind about sin and Christ and all the great things of God. There is sorrow implied in this, but the main point is the turning of the heart from sin to Christ….It is clear from the text which we quoted earlier that repentance is linked with the forgiveness of sins. In Acts 5:31, we read that Jesus is exalted to give repentance and forgiveness of sins…Repentance and forgiveness are riveted together by the eternal purpose of God. What God hath (has) joined together let no man put asunder. Repentance must go with remission (pardon). You will understand this if you give it some thought. It cannot be that pardon of sin should be given to an impenitent sinner. This would only confirm him in his evil ways and teach him to think little of evil…Repentance has been well described as a heart broken for sin and from sin. It may equally well be spoken of as turning and returning. It is a change of mind of the most thorough and radical sort. –All of Grace (These nuggets from Spurgeon lay nestled within sermons where he also denied repentance was possible and where he also changed the order, saying faith and justification precede repentance. Billy Graham does the same thing, so we simply quote where they agreed with Finney and say Finney did not teach anything contrary to the gospel preached by these men. Finney only disagreed with these men when they did not preach the gospel according to the apostles of our Lord.) -DG
D.L. Moody- Repentance is one of the fundamental doctrines of the Bible. Yet I believe it is one of those truths that many people little understand at the present day. There are more people today in the mist and darkness about repentance, regeneration, the atonement, and such-like fundamental truths, than perhaps on any other doctrines. Yet from our earliest years we have heard about them. If I were to ask for a definition of repentance, a great many would give a very strange and false idea of it. A man is not prepared to believe or to receive the Gospel, unless he is ready to repent of his sins and turn from them…It was this preaching- Repent, and believe the gospel –that wrought such marvelous results then (Acts 2:38-47). And we find that, when Paul went to Athens, he uttered the same cry, “God now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30)…repentance is not feeling…it is not fasting and afflicting the body…Neither is it remorse…Repentance is not conviction of sin…In the Irish language the word “repentance” means even more than “right about face!” It implies that a man who has been walking in one direction has not only faced about, but is actually walking in an exactly contrary direction…A man may have little feeling or much feeling; but if he do not turn away from sin, God will not have mercy on him. Repentance has also been described as a “change of mind.”….Speaking on repentance, Dr. Brookes, of St. Louis, well remarks: “Repentance, strictly speaking, means a ‘change of mind or purpose’…Saving repentance and saving faith always go together.”…If there is true repentance it will bring forth fruit…Wherever God sees true repentance in the heart He meets that soul. –Repentance and Restitution, The Way to God, out of print.
Billy Graham –Therefore repentance and faith go hand in hand. You cannot have genuine repentance without saving faith, and you cannot have saving faith without genuine repentance…The first sermon Jesus ever preached was “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This was God speaking through His Son…He said repentance must come before He could pour out His love, grace, and mercy upon men…their doom is the same unless they have turned to God in repentance. Until this is done, faith is absolutely impossible. This does not limit the grace of God, but repentance makes way for the grace of God…We know that salvation is based entirely upon the grace of God…However, if the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is to be made effectual for any individual of any age, that individual must repent of sin and accept Christ by faith…Repentance is mentioned seventy times in the New Testament. Jesus said, “Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish” The sermon that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost was, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Paul preached it when he said that he “testified both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Bible says God commands repentance, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men every where to repent.”…If you look in the modern dictionary you will find that repent means “to feel sorry for, or to regret.” The Biblical word repent means “to change, or to turn.”…It is a word that signifies a complete revolution in the individual…it means that we should turn away from sin, that we should do an about-face and walk in the opposite direction from sin and all that it implies. –Peace with God
Roy Hession –Every sin we ever commit is the result of the hard unbroken self taking up some attitude of pride, and we shall not find peace through the Blood until we are willing to see the source of each sin and reverse the wrong attitude that caused it by a specific repentance, which will always be humbling. –The Calvary Road
A.B. Simpson -Salvation comes by repentance. There must be a turning from sin. This does not consist in mere emotional feeling, necessarily, but it does mean to have the whole will and purpose of heart turned from sin to God. Salvation comes by coming to Jesus. The soul must not only turn away from sin. That alone will not save it. Lot's wife turned away from Sodom-but she was not in Zoar. There must be a turning to Jesus as well as a turning from sin. Salvation comes by accepting Jesus as a Saviour. This does not mean merely crying out to Him to save, but claiming Him as the Saviour, embracing the promises He has given, and so believing that He is your personal Redeemer. –The Four-Fold Gospel, message Christian Missionary Alliance archives, online source.
Pastor David Martin ( Solid Rock Baptist Church –online source) – “Let me conclude by reiterating the fact that the Bible teaches that salvation is conditioned upon repentance and faith. Neither one of these is a work. Both are matters of the heart. Not baptism, church membership, tithing, nor any other good work can merit salvation or get your sins forgiven. Throughout the Bible we see that the forgiveness of sins is conditioned upon repentance and faith. All you need is a Bible and concordance to see this fact. The verse we began with said that the "gospel of the grace of God" was "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Have you done what the Bible says to do? Have you repented and believed the gospel? Remember what we said that John Wesley said? Repentance is the porch, and faith is the door, that leads to salvation.” (Pastor David Martin, a Baptist, although he insists that repentance and faith are conditions of salvation, teaches that both are ‘gifts’ in the sense that only those to whom God gives these abilities can exercise repentance and faith. This indicates his Calvinist perspective, although he is broadminded enough to quote Wesley who was against certain aspects of Calvinism.) -DG
Charles Grandison Finney –Look for a moment at the conditions of the gospel: repentance and faith. To repent is to hate and renounce your sin. This requirement is not arbitrary. It would not be just or beneficial to you for God to pardon you before you repent. Can a king forgive His subjects while they remain in rebellion? Can God forgive you while you persevere in sin? He would have to give up His law and confess himself wrong and you right. –How to Change Your Heart, Principles of Revival
- Metanoeo, “to take an after view;” or more strictly, to change one’s mind as a consequence of, and in conformity with, a second and more rational view of the subject. This word evidently expresses a change of choice, purpose, intention, in conformity with the dictates of the intelligence. This is no doubt the idea of evangelical repentance. It is a phenomenon of will, and consists in the turning or change of the ultimate intention from selfishness to benevolence. The term expresses the act of turning; the changing of the heart, or of the ruling preference of the soul. It might with propriety be rendered by the terms “changing the heart.”…Nothing less can constitute a virtuous repentance, and nothing more can be required. –Repentance and Impenitence, Finney’s Systematic Theology
- Repentance should always be distinguished from conviction for sin…Neither does repentance consist merely in sorrow…Again, repentance is not the same thing as remorse…Repentance is simply and precisely a change of mind. The original term denotes, a thinking again –a turning of the mind –as when one finds himself going wrong and turns about to pursue the opposite course. The term, when applied to evangelical repentance, means not merely a turning of the mind, but a change of the entire purposes of action, change in the entire attitude of the will. Repentance, therefore, is not remorse, is not sorrow, nor anything of this kind, but is the mind turning away from selfish attitudes to benevolent attitudes, from being selfish to being genuinely benevolent. –Repentance Before Prayer For Forgiveness, Principles of Devotion
As I said before, some church-goers really deny that repentance and faith are indispensable conditions of salvation. Some people deny only one of the two conditions. Now, faith without repentance makes Jesus a fire escape. Repentance without faith is dead works or legalism. There are two doctrinal reasons I can see why either or both conditions are denied. First, the teaching of ‘original sin’ leads people to defend themselves by denying that we can do what God commanded sinners and Christians to do. The flip side of defending themselves is for them to attack by asking if the preacher of the gospel ever sins or thinks he/she can attain or has attained ‘perfection’ (whatever is meant by that loaded term). Others deny either or both conditions of salvation on the grounds of their view of what constitutes the atonement.
The payment of the debt theory of the atonement teaches that on the basis of Christ’s death God regards the obedience of the sinner as being complete, or in other words, that the sinner’s obligation to obey God as well as the sinner’s failure in fulfilling that obligation has been ‘paid in full’. Or in other words still, that God accepts the obedience and death of Christ as a substitute for the sinner’s obedience and failure to obey. Those who teach this agree that where the debt has been paid, the obligation has been discharged. Consequently, justification becomes defined as a debt that has been paid in full.
However, critics of this view observe that a truly and fully paid debt means that there can be no conditions for the individual to fulfill on whose behalf the debt was paid. If the payment was fully made for any individual then the payment must have been made for even the sin of unbelief. The logical conclusion is that neither repentance nor faith can be required from the one on whose behalf the payment was made. Further, if the debt was fully paid for all sinners, then universalism must be the result. Universalism teaches the unconditional salvation of all mankind. Many Calvinists in the 1800s became Universalists because on the basis of the payment of the debt theory, all that Universalists needed to do was to show that Christ died for all mankind rather than just a select few. The critics of this view of the atonement also point out that the Bible never uses the terms ‘paid debt’ or ‘payment of a debt’ when referring to the Atonement of Christ’s blood. In fact, Matthew 18 shows that forgiveness cannot consist in a debt that has been paid in full. If the king ‘settled accounts’ or ‘paid the debt’ of the slave, the parable should stop dead in verse 27. Anyways, also known as the ‘commercial’ theory of the atonement, it even suggests that the death of Christ is Jesus’ attempt to bribe the Father to ignore justice. A final criticism of the 'payment of the debt' theory is that it is a reward to unrighteousness and it is worse than merely giving a license to sin. I think both Finney and William Booth had a great understanding of the atonement. Although they rejected the 'payment of the debt' theory, they insisted that the atonement was substitutionary and all sufficient to forgive sin. Their preaching of the atonement did not undermine either of the conditions of repentance and faith; also, the results of their preaching led to a practical social conscience among converts. - Doug Gibson
* Compiled and Comments by Mr. Doug Gibson, July 10, 2005