Last time, we established that conversion is our willing response to the gospel. In conversion, we sincerely repent of our sin and place our trust in Christ for salvation. Today, we'll look at repentance and faith in a little more detail.
Throughout the New Testament, sinners are urged to respond to the gospel- they are urged to repent and to believe. Some passages only give one of the commands, but it is clear from the whole of scripture that one can never be separated from the other. In other words, there is no saving faith that does not include repentance – and there is no true turning from sin apart from faith in Christ. The two go hand in hand. As Greg Gilbert writes in his book What Is The Gospel?, faith and repentance are two sides of a single coin.
Repentance is turning away from sin. One way to understand or observe repentance is to see a person begin to love what God loves, and hate what God hates. Another description is to be given a new heart - new desires - a new “wanter,” in which a person's desires begin to conform into the desires of God.
The words "belief" and "faith" are sometimes used interchangeably. But faith that can save a person is best understood as trust. What you are trusting is what you are relying on. Some evangelistic tools use an illustration of a person considering sitting down in a chair: A person can believe the chair will hold him or her up from across the room. To truly trust the chair, that person will have to sit on it.
Here’s a brief survey of some of the commands to repent and believe:
When Jesus began his ministry, he went out into Galilee, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mar 1:15)
To the Philippian Jailer, they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Act 16:31)
When Paul addressed the Ephesian Elders, he reminded them of how he taught them in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Act 20:20-21)
As Paul presented his gospel to the Romans, he wrote to them: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
So conversion is the response to the call of the Gospel. It is the coin. And the two, inseparable sides of the coin are faith and repentance.
It is important to note that in every one of these passages, the hearers are simply charged with the necessity of responding to the call. "Repent!" "Believe!" Of course God has to give the hearer the ability to respond- but the person must engage in the response. No one gets to say, “I’d really love to respond to the gospel, but I’m waiting for God to allow me to believe.” And Paul doesn’t say, “One day God might grant you repentance, and then you’ll be able to be right with Him.” The biblical water isn’t muddy. The burden is left squarely on the hearer. Command imperative: You must repent; You must believe.
That can be such a practical help in evangelism. Urging sinners to repent is thoroughly biblical. Just this week, I got a message from someone who is always seems to be in trouble. He is always away from church, never interested in the things of God. As a believer, I have the responsibility of meeting a person in their point of need. But it is also my responsibility to boldly say, "You know what you really need to do? You need to repent of your sin, and come hear the gospel, and follow hard after Christ- or none of this is ever going to change." I know God has to do a work in him to bring that change about- but the necessity of response is still the same: Repent. Believe. Come. Follow.
We've seen the biblical mandate for responding to the Gospel. We've also defined that response as conversion, which consists of faith and repentance. But is it possible to know whether a person has truly responded to to the gospel in this way? Next time, we will look at the evidence of conversion.
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