FAITH AND REPENTANCE OR REPENTANCE AND FAITH
Did you believe and then repent or did you repent and then believe? Or did someone tell you that you needed only to believe and did not need to repent? Please do not dismiss our present subject as mere “hair splitting.” It is not! The question is this: does faith precede repentance or does repentance come first? This question is of utmost importance because the kind of faith that precedes repentance (if it be called faith) is not saving faith. It is mere intellectual assent: mere agreement with the facts. It is not that “resting your whole weight upon” Christ and His finished work. Therefore, if the only faith that a person has is the kind of faith that precedes repentance, that person is not saved. That person has not been born again. That person has never had an experience of grace though he may believe the truth about sovereign grace, may teach it, may preach it – yea, may defend it vigorously. And that person may be you! Our subject demands that each of us examine himself as to his or her experience.
Let us be clear: there are many who believe and say that faith must come first and then repentance. That is the position of the “Campbellites” - those folk who like to call themselves “Church of Christ,” “Christian Churches,” and “Disciples of Christ,” in the main. There are also splinter groups of them called by other sometimes similar names such as “Christ's Church,” etc. They teach that faith precedes repentance. Is theirs only an intellectual faith apart from an experience of grace? Is theirs like so many others, the faith of devils? James wrote, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble,” (James 2:19). Baptists have historically stood on the ground that repentance precedes saving faith: who is right? Does it make a difference? We say it is the biggest of differences: the difference between saving faith and mere dead intellectual belief. The difference between being saved and being religious but lost!
First of all let us establish this truth: the Bible teaches that repentance precedes saving faith. We know this, first of all, because when the two are mentioned together they are always – I repeat – always mentioned in that order: repentance first, faith second. When summing up his ministry, Paul said that he had gone about, “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Acts 20:21). Repentance then faith is the message Paul preached to both Jews and Gentiles. The hyper-dispensationalists are in error saying that repentance was a message only for the Jews for Paul said he preached it to both groups. Considering that Paul spoke these words near the end of his recorded ministry would indicate that he had consistently preached these things. The Lord Jesus Himself preached, saying, “...The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel,” (Mark 1:15). Here repentance is enjoined first, then faith. A further point to consider is this: Jesus said to the Pharisees, “For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him,” (Matthew 21:32). Here it was necessary for them to repent first: in order as Christ said “...that ye might believe...” Again, in Hebrews 6:1 the Bible speaks of “...repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,” showing the Bible order of repentance preceding faith. Let us point out here that while repentance is turning to God from sin, some sin is respectable and even religious in nature. Such sin is “dead works.” Not all sin that demands repentance is drunkenness, adultery, murder or other detestable sins. You may need to repent of your good works for salvation. You may need to repent of religious exercises and experiences. You may need to repent of prophesying, of casting out demons and working miracles according to Matthew 7:21-23. In those verses Jesus said religious people who were not known by Him were workers of “iniquity.” Mark it down: religion – even “Christianity” - apart from Christ is iniquity!
Furthermore, in 1 Thessalonians 1:8-9 Paul told how the faith of the saints in Thessalonica was well known. He further stated how their faith was the evidence of their repentance: hence faith followed repentance. His words were these: “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Their turning was their repentance for that is the nature and essence of repentance. Their faith evidenced their turning. Faith follows repentance.
Oh how we fear for those whose whole experience is one of mere intellectual faith – the believing of Bible facts only and a turning not to God in faith, but a turning to baptism and other works. We fear they have had no experience of grace. Theirs is a religion of works. For it is in their works that they think to find salvation: in what they may call obedience to Christ or obedience to the gospel. There are a great many people today who are like the Israelites of Paul's day. They are devout, but devoted to the wrong thing. They are zealous, but not for God – they are zealous in going about to establish their own righteousness. Paul wrote of them, “What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone,” (Romans 9:30-32). Is the righteousness by which you think to be approved of God “the righteousness which is of faith” or is it “by the works of the law?” We would remind the reader that there are only two religions in the world. One is the religion that by works thinks to satisfy and please God – whether by baptism, bathing in the Ganges River, a pilgrimage to Mecca or joining a church. The only other religion is the religion of faith in Christ alone - “putting your whole weight” on Him and Him alone for salvation.
Are you stumbling at the stumbling stone? Have you not been enabled to see that righteousness before God is by faith? Saving faith – the faith that follows repentance - is called “the faith of God's elect” for it is “the gift of God” to them: see Titus 1:1 and Ephesians 2:8-9. Have you not read Romans chapter four where Abraham and his experience of faith is laid out as the experience to which all those whom God saves must and do come? Have you not read there of Abraham and how when promised the humanly impossible, “He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification,” (Romans 4:20-25). Are you one of the “us also, to whom it shall be imputed?” Are you one who believes “on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead?” Or do you just believe about him “that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead?” Perhaps, never seeing yourself as God sees you – a sinner – you see no need for imputed righteousness. Perhaps you see no need for repentance. You see no need of turning to God because you think you are pleasing God by your religion or good deeds or by just being what you think is a good person. So you continue in your self-reformation and attempt by your own will to please God and yet you do not, will not, shall not, indeed you cannot please God.
Why will you not believe that God imputes (credits) absolute righteousness by means of saving faith? Why will you not repent of your self-effort – your works – by which you think to please God? Will you repent of stumbling at the stumbling stone? You may have stumbled at Christ and His finished work. Will you repent of even this – turn to God – and trust (believe) with the faith of Abraham that you may have righteousness imputed to you? Have you not read that “...they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham”? (Galatians 3:7). God says, “...they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith,” (Galatians 3:10-14). Many today boast they are not under the Old Testament – the law – but have subjected themselves to a man made law of works for salvation just as horrendous as any Israelite ever was. This, too, requires repentance toward God!
Why will you continue in your dead works? Only the blood of Christ can free you from the slavery of false religion: the notion that works can save – whether baptism or your futile attempt at ceasing from sin. The Bible says, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14). Your conscience tells you that you must reform, you must obey, you must serve God, you must be a slave to the law, you must cease from sin – but your experience tells you that you cannot. Your conscience has been taught that works will save you. But they cannot! The blood of Christ alone can cleanse your conscience and give you liberty from dead works! What you need is the experience of God's grace wherein the Spirit of God moves in the new birth changing everything so that you turn to God (repentance) and in total utter dependence on Christ's finished work look go Him. That is saving faith. Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again,” (John 3:6-7).
Grace Bible Baptist Church
26080 Wax Road
Denham Springs, LA 70726