Following a recent entry on the necessity of faith and repentance for salvation, one reader argued that faith and repentance are not the same and should be divided asunder with a broad sword. “Faith is one thing,” he wrote. “Of course, faith is necessary. It’s fruit of the Spirit. It’s a gift of God. It’s part of the grace package if you will. Repentance, on the other hand, implies works, and salvation cannot be by works.”
Sadly, my friend’s understanding of the “grace package” leaves a portion of God’s gifts out of the basket—namely, repentance. While I believe faith and repentance are distinguishable in Scripture, they are also inseparable. For example, when the apostle Peter affirmed that the Gentiles believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, the church concluded God must have granted repentance that leads to life (Ac 11:18). They correctly assumed that faith and repentance are never far from one another. These terms are distinct, but practically and biblically speaking, they go together like ra ma la ma la ma ka dinga kading a dong.
I don’t blame anyone for approaching soteriology carefully. The last thing we want is to take credit for salvation, robbing God of his glory. Whatever is involved in faith or repentance flows from his sovereign grace, never the other way around. Even so, faith and repentance do flow. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, one whose heart turns from sin and trusts in Jesus for salvation (2Co 5:17). Like Paul, they will despise their wretchedness and delight in the law of God in their inner being (Ro 7:22).
That, my friend, is repentance. Our flesh may continue to serve the law of sin, but a repentant sinner will serve the law of God with his mind (Ro 7:25). His heart will be different. His struggle with sin remains while his affection for sin is crucified. This is true for every new creation in Christ (2Co 5:17). God grants repentance that leads to life (Ac 11:18).
Distinct but inseparable.