Theological Tensions: Repentance

There are many tension points in theology. One of those tension points is: Repentance. I grew up hearing preachers preach strongly that you must repent in order to be saved. In recent years, I have heard other preachers preach strongly that repentance is not needed for salvation. Some say that all you have to do is simply believe and that there is no repentance involved whatsoever. I have also found that those who hold to the idea that God chooses us for salvation and that there is no human action required at all; preach the idea that you must repent. This causes much confusion. If there is no human action required at all, then why repent? Is repentance not an act of the human will? The most common view amongst most theological camps is that you must repent in order to be saved. However, what does it mean to repent?

Repentance is essentially a change of mind that leads to a change of behavior. The Bible is very clear that we are saved by grace and not by works. Therefore, if it is required to change your behavior in order to be saved, is that not works? However, the Bible also teaches that if you are in Christ, then you are a new creation. Those who are truly born again will live a life that is becoming more and more like Jesus. In other words, those who are truly born again will have a change in their behavior. With the idea of grace and works, we can say that repentance is not required to be saved, however, it is required if you are saved. There is a balance here between grace and works. Works will not save you, only the grace of God can save you. However, if you have been saved, then you will have a change in your behavior.

I have not heard any other preachers explain it this way. I am treading in uncharted waters here, therefore, I preface what I am about to say with: search the scriptures for yourself and compare scripture with scripture and see if I am right or wrong. I believe that there are two types of repentance. There is a repentance unto salvation and there is the repentance of the believer.

Jesus preached repentance to the Jews. Each time, He was calling them to change their mind concerning Himself and to turn to Him for salvation. They needed to turn from the law and turn to grace. The repentance unto salvation is not a call to change your behavior. It is a call to change your direction. Instead of trusting in yourself, you are to turn from yourself and turn to Jesus. If we say that you must turn from your sins to be saved, we are essentially telling people that they must stop sinning in order to be saved. This, we know, is impossible for we all have a sin nature. We have no power to stop sinning apart from Christ. Therefore, you do not have to stop sinning in order to be saved. Repentance unto salvation is an act of the human will at a point in one’s life when he or she realize their sinful state and their need for a Savior. It is the point of decision when one accepts God’s gift of grace, thus, changing their mind concerning Jesus and turning from themselves and turning to Jesus.

Believers in Christ, on the other hand, are called to repentance from sin. We are called to live holy lives. We are called to change our behavior. A lost person cannot change his behavior because he is dead in his sins. A saved person can change their behavior because of the power of God within them. Such a change in behavior is evidence that true repentance unto salvation has occurred.

Must you turn from sin in order to be saved? No. Must you turn to Jesus in order to be saved? Yes. Is someone who has never turned from sin truly saved? No. The proof of true salvation is a holy life. To be saved, we must repent and believe. We must turn toward Christ. We must change our minds concerning Jesus. We must change direction. Once someone is truly born again, they will then begin to change their behavior, thus, repenting from sin.

Repentance can be a tricky topic. However, with properly defining terms and staying true to scripture, you can come to a real understanding of repentance.

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