In this post, I will address the centrality of repentance in the gospel call in Acts and the Gospels. In posts to follow I will address repentance in the New Testament epistles and develop a brief theology of repentance. I hope to set forth the place of repentance in Salvation. I want to argue that “salvation” devoid of repentance is no salvation at all because the gospel call to salvation in Scripture is to repentance and faith.
Mark 1:14-15, serving as a summary statement concerning Jesus’ preaching, says, “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.” Therefore, for Jesus, the gospel message demands its adherents to both repent and believe—no member of the kingdom of God may choose one and not the other. In “God’s salvation, faith and repentance are inseparable.” Non-lordship proponents, however, object, claiming that “there are one hundred and fifteen passages at least wherein the word ‘believe’ is used alone and apart from every other condition as the one way to salvation.” Chafer also claims that of the one hundred and fifty portions of Scripture that address human responsibility in salvation, none of them “make any reference to repentance as a separate act.” The New Testament data, however, reveals that repentance is a foundational part of the gospel message to be preached to those who do not believe. While the Bible does, at times, speak of salvation by faith without mention of repentance, it should be noted that the Bible also gives commands to repent without making mention of faith (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; Rom. 2:4; 2 Cor. 7:10; 2 Tim. 2:25). Thus, the New Testament’s teaching on the gospel call does include the call to repent.
The call to repentance must be adequately addressed for the gospel to be rightly preached. In Christ’s final command to his disciples, he tells them “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Jesus’] name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). Thus, Ernest C. Reisinger rightly notes that Jesus “both began and closed His ministry on the subject of repentance,” signifying its essential place in the gospel. Luke 24:47 reveals that Jesus himself clearly tied remission of sins to repentance. John the Baptist’s message was one of repentance: “John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,'” and John continues by quoting Isaiah saying, “the voice of the one calling in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight” (Matt. 3:1-3). Therefore, “repentance makes the path straight between the Lord and the repenting person.” The preaching that served to prepare for the coming of the messiah was preaching centered on repentance. Furthermore, when Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, “they went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (Mark 6:12).
Peter’s sermon at Pentecost set forth the call to repentance, “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Paul’s preaching in Acts reflects a similar formula to that of Peter, in his famous sermon on Mars Hill, he boldly claims that “the times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Thus, Paul sees Christ as inaugurating a new age where all men (i.e. people from every nation) are commanded to repent.
Ernest C. Reisinger, Lord and Christ (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1994) 64.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Salvation (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1919) 49.
Chafer, Systematic, 376. Chafer’s argument here represents a dangerous hermeneutic where the majority of texts are placed over and against the minority. Chafer doesn’t address the fact that repentance continues to show up in summary statements of the gospel, nor does he address whether or not these texts rule out repentance.
Randall Gleason, “The Lordship Salvation Debate,” Evangelical Review of Theology 27.1(2003) 62.
Roberts, Repentance, 25. Roberts further discusses John the Baptist’s message of repentance in Mark 1:4, “John the Baptist appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Roberts claims that here, “one follows the other: repentance must precede forgiveness; forgiveness does follow repentance. There is something grossly unwise in supposing that a person can enjoy the forgiveness of sin while resisting or merely remaining ignorant of repentance.”
See also Acts 20:20-21 where Paul summarizes his past ministry to the Elders at Ephesus, saying, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa in Acts 26 clearly contains the call to repentance, “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance” (Acts 26:20).