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Is Repentance Necessary For Salvation?
As humans, we’ll never be sin-free. Does that mean we’re all facing an eternity of separation from God?
This is the last of a three-part series on repentance. In the first article, we looked at the definition of the word, pointing out that while feeling sad about sinning is good, it doesn’t reverse the sin pattern. Repentance is all about turning away from sin, once and for all. The second post continued on this topic, noting that true repentance is a transformation in thinking that leads to a change in action. As promised in the last post, today we’ll look at a tough question: Is repentance necessary for salvation?
Now, this is a difficult question for trained theologists to answer, so as a layman I don’t profess to have a definitive explanation. But a common answer seems to be that repentance can also be viewed as changing one’s mind about any trust in human works, good deeds, or religious tradition, and turning toward a trust in the finished work of Christ as the only way to salvation. In short, repentance would be turning from trust in oneself to trust in Christ.
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Remember that Greek word metanoia from the first post? The roots of that word mean to turn back, which in light of the New Testament alludes to turning back to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Belief in the birth, life, miracles, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the core of salvation. In the New Testament, belief and repentance are not defined as two requirements for salvation. Instead, repentance and belief are seen as synonymous.
We all know that we are sinners. We are not perfect, and will never be. While we can work hard to become more Christ-like, we will never achieve that goal. If repentance is necessary for salvation, then none of us are saved. If we see repentance as a part of faith, then all believing Christians are saved.
Here’s a quote from Roy B. Zuck that I found useful in understanding this:
Repentance is included in believing. Faith and repentance are like two sides of a coin. Genuine faith includes repentance, and genuine repentance includes faith. The Greek word for repentance (metanoia) means to change one’s mind. But to change one’s mind about what? About sin, about one’s adequacy to save himself, about Christ as the only way of salvation, the only One who can make a person righteous.
I’m sure that readers of Heaven On Wheels are true believers, but — and please don’t be offended by this — we never consistently obey the Lord. Does that mean we’re not saved? No! Think about Peter, who denied the Lord but was still saved. In the Old Testament, Abraham lied, Job demanded that God explain Himself, Moses disobeyed God’s direct orders on occasion, and David was both an adulterer and murderer. Yet all of these pillars of faith were saved.
How? They realized that they had sinned, they confessed that sin, and the joy of salvation was restored to them (Psalms 51:12). John pointed out the need for confession as well:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:9 NASB1995
The Apostle Paul, in his epistles to the Corinthian church, referred to the members of that church as brothers and believers. However, they were guilty of backsliding to the carnal ways of their neighbors — hence Paul’s need to set them straight. Were the church members unsaved? No! Paul confirmed their salvation, but told them to deal with their sin as believers.
We all fight a constant battle with temptation and sin. The Bible tells us not to yield, instead relying on God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and prayer to win that battle.
Salvation is a gift received by faith and trust in Christ, with no additional requirements. When we accept Christ as our Savior, we become children of God. The task we face for the remainder of our lives is to grow in Christ, to evolve as disciples, and make Christ our Master in all areas of our life.
The bottom line? Repentance, the “turning back” we’ve discussed in this series, is an integral part of faith. By accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are turning back from worldly ways, and in that way we repent. Our continuing task as Christians is to avoid falling prey to temptation, to abhor sin, and to confess our sin when we inevitably slip and fall.
Heaven On Wheels Daily Prayer:
Father in Heaven, I know that I will never be perfect and sinless. Thank You that through Jesus’ sacrifice, I can still be saved. Through study of Your Word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, I pray that my sins be few and minor, and that You see my confession as heartfelt and truthful. I pray this in the name of Your Son, my Savior, Jesus. AMEN.
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Zuck, Roy B. “Kindred Spirit,” a quarterly publication of Dallas Seminary, Summer 1989, p. 5.