There is only one condition for man to meet to obtain salvation.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.Acts 16:31
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies [declares righteous] the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.Romans 4:5
Over 160 times in the New Testament God gives the single condition of believing in Christ for obtaining salvation or eternal life. The few verses that appearto present other conditions for being saved do not really do so when they are considered in their respective contexts. It is safe and very biblical to declare that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
The above statement being true, repentance is not, nor can it be, another step or condition for obtaining salvation. It is, however, something that happens in every nonbeliever who becomes a believer in Christ. You might ask, “How can repentance be a necessity and yet not be a step one must take to obtain God’s salvation?” This question is best answered by observing the Bible’s definition of repentance in contrast to man’s view of it when speaking of salvation. The Greek word translated “repentance” is metanoia and always means a change of mind or attitude. For instance, the apostle Paul described the gospel message he preached as “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts20:21).
I believe it is safe to say that every nonbeliever has some misconception concerning God and how to be in right relationship with Him through Christ. It is impossible, therefore, for someone to move from a state of unbelief to faith in Christ without having a change of mind or attitude concerning God and His offer of salvation. That’s biblical repentance.
Biblical repentance is not a work
For salvation, a person must change his mind about any misconceptions regarding God’s way of salvation. And God’s way of salvation is always by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, without the addition of any human merit or works of any kind. Therefore, if a person must repent to be saved, repentance cannot be something unsaved people can point to as having merit by which to commend themselves to God.
The way a person thinks about God is the real issue, not what sins he may or may not have committed. This is demonstrated so beautifully in 2 Corinthians 4:3–6.
But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this world [Satan] has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them… For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.2 Corinthians 4:3–6
In contrast to God’s Word, many define repentance as turning from sin, being sorry for sin, or quitting certain more obvious sins or bad habits. By this definition, repentance, and therefore salvation, would be by someone’s works or efforts instead of by God’s matchless and undeserving grace. The issue is not turning from sin; it is changing one’s mind toward Christ and trusting in Him for salvation. Turning from sin would involve service, which is only demanded of one who is already saved. Salvation, on the other hand, is always a gift, never the result of what wedo concerning our sins. It is trusting in Christ and what Hehas already done about our sins.
The Unbeliever’s Dilemma
An unsaved person cannot really please God even if he does “good works.” Romans 8:8 is pretty clear on this point:
So then, those who are in the flesh [the natural person] cannot please God.Romans 8:8
And Isaiah 64:6 removes any hope of man relying on his goodness when it declares that “all our righteousnesses [the best we can do] are as filthy rags.”It is only after one has come to Christ by faith that he or she, as a member of God’s family, is commanded to change. Such changes undoubtedly involve turning from or leaving certain sinful habits. In fact, the Bible makes that very clear. For instance, consider Titus 2:11–12. You might want to also look up: Romans 12:1–2, 13:14; Ephesians 2:10, 4:27–32.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying [renouncing, rejecting] ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.Titus 2:11–12
An Urgent Reminder
If you are to be effective in making God’s saving gospel clear to the unsaved world, you must become convinced that any teaching demanding a change of conduct before God will give salvation is adding works or human effort to faith. This contradicts all clear Scriptures on salvation, and it is an accursed message that cannot save. See Galatians 1:8–9 and Deuteronomy 27:18.
Rediscovering the Correct Emphasis
The wrong emphasis on this matter of repentance is due largely to the fact that so many unsaved people think they can’t be saved until they give up their beer, cigarettes, cursing, or other so-called vices. The confusion comes from the Christian professionals who have been taught wrong at seminary or Bible school. But, thankfully, not all have followed the theological crowd. Here, for instance, are some of my favorite quotes from spiritual giants of the past.
The word metanoia is in every instance translated repentance. The word means a change of mind. The common practice of reading into this word the thought of sorrow and heart-anguish is responsible for much confusion in the field of Soteriology [the study of salvation].Systematic Theology by Lewis Sperry Chafer, ThD
But in order to clarify the subject, it may be well to observe carefully what repentance is not, and then to notice what it is.
First, then, repentance is not to be confounded with penitence… Penitence is simply sorrow for sin. Nowhere is man exhorted to feel a certain amount of sorrow for his sins in order to come to Christ.
Second, penance is not repentance. Penance is an effort in some way to atone for the wrong done. In the third place, let us remember that reformation is not repentance. Need I add that repentance then is not to be considered synonymous with joining a church, or taking up one’s religious duties, as people say? It is not doing anything.
The Greek word, metanoia, which is translated repentance in our English Bibles, literally means a change of mind.Except Ye Repent by Harry A. Ironside, Litt.D
What place has repentance in salvation? Should we tell people to repent of their sins to be saved? The Gospel of John is the Holy Spirit’s gospel tract, written that men might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God; and that believing they might have life through His name… And it does not mention the word “repentance.” But that is only because repentance is a necessary part of saving faith. Strictly speaking, the word repentance means a “change of mind.” It is by no means the same as sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10). Since it is not possible for an unbeliever to become a believer without changing his mind, it is therefore unnecessary to say anything about it. The only thing for a man to do in order to be saved is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; and to believe on Him is the same thing as receiving Him (John 1:11–13).Bible Questions Answered by William L. Pettingill, D.D.
A Personal Plea
This article is not an attempt to split some theological hair; it is a sincere effort to help God’s people who desire to reach the unbelieving world with the gospel to share that gospel in a clear, understandable and biblical way. – written by Dr. Richard A. Seymour.