Repentance :: by Grant Phillips

“And they went out, and preached that men should repent.” (Mark 6:12) Jesus had just sent out His twelve disciples, two by two, preaching that men should repent.

What does it mean to “repent?” Really, what is “repentance?”

·        Some say it is a mental decision and has nothing to do with the heart; i.e. belief without repentance or no-lordship theology.

·        Others say repentance is not a “head” decision but must be a change of the heart; i.e. feelings are primary.

·        Still others contend that both the mind and the heart must be included in repentance; i.e. a decision made based on a need to be rescued.

So who is right? The attitude of the Publican in Luke 18:13 should give us the answer,

“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”

Many years ago, when I was a much younger man, I used to preach that it is not necessary to feel sorry for ones sins, but simply to believe on Jesus and follow Him. As I look back, I understand that I was overly concerned with mixing works with salvation, which of course, would be anathema to God’s grace per Ephesians 2:8-9,

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

As I’ve continued to age physically and grow spiritually, I now see that there is no conflict. True repentance is not works and therefore does not negate God’s grace. The order of spiritual birth would be: the sinner calling out to God in repentance and faith simultaneously to be saved (forgiven, rescued, delivered) from sin, judgment and hell. Repentance and faith work together totally separate from works, but in compliance with God’s grace. I don’t remember where I read it, but someone else said that in conversion, repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. In repentance we turn from sin to Christ, and in faith we embrace Him as our only hope of salvation and righteousness.

Some people confuse repentance with feelings. Now there is nothing wrong with feelings, but feelings, on their own, do not save anyone. Repentance may involve feelings. I’m sure the Publican had feelings about his wretchedness before a holy God, but his feelings were a result of his seeing himself as God sees him. He did not like what he saw, and therefore repented before God for mercy. The ultimate outcome of true repentance would be a change in our behavior, but to merely attempt a change in our behavior on our own will not work. We will soon be right back where we were. God provides the behavior change by helping us to grow in Him as a new believer. He saves us by His grace. He helps us change by His grace.

Neither is repentance just a change of mind. Judas changed his mind. For that matter, he was sorry for what he had done. He changed his mind. He was sorry. He did not repent. He could have repented and asked Jesus for mercy for the horrible thing he had done, and it would have been provided, but he did not do so. On the other hand, Peter did repent, and went on to become one of the greatest Apostles for Jesus. Both men had a change of mind. Both had a change of heart and was sorry, but only one repented.

True repentance calls for both a change of mind and a turning away from the love of sin in our life. A beautiful Old Testament example of the call to conversion is found in Isaiah 55. Notice verses one through three and verse six;

“1Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. 3Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. 6Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:”

These verses are emphasizing our need for faith in Him to be saved. Then verse seven is telling us that along with that faith, we must repent; i.e.

“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

So is true Biblical repentance a requirement for salvation? Yes, I would say so, but it is not to be understood as an act of works. That is made very clear in the Scriptures. Works do become a major part of the Christian life after we are saved, but never as a prerequisite of being born again in Christ. Also, in the Christian life, our works are evaluated by Jesus Christ for rewards, but never ever to “keep” what Jesus has given us; i.e. eternal life in Him.

Is it to say we lose our salvation if we have repented in faith and been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ and then sin again? The answer is an emphatic and resounding “NO!” I cover this in some depth in an article I wrote called “Secure In The Arms Of God” which can be found at the websites mentioned at the end of this article. As a Christian, I still repent quite often for my Lord to forgive me and continue to help me to live for Him while restoring my fellowship with Him. I thank Him that as His child, I can repent while secure in His arms.

Have you repented of your sins and asked Jesus to save you? You may do so now, and He will save you.

Have you, as a Christian, repented and asked Him to restore your fellowship with Him? You too may do so now, and He will continue to help you live as He wants you to.


Grant Phillips