Is repentance necessary for salvation? This is an easy
question to answer, for the scripture clearly teaches that
repentance is necessary for salvation. Acts 3:19
states, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your
sins may be blotted out." The problem with this
question is that it is the wrong question? The real
question to ask is, what is repentance? The definition
to this word has changed throughout the past two millennium.
In fact, this definition started changing with the early
church fathers. For many of them contradicted what the
scripture clearly teaches.
Early church fathers taught a doctrine of penance for the
forgiveness of sins. That is, "an act of
self-abasement, mortification, or devotion performed to show
sorrow or repentance for sin" (Merriam Webster). In
fact, when translating the Greek word metanoia into
Latin they falsely used the words
and poenitenitam agite
which means to do acts of penance. This was done to
reflect their Theological bias and is not a fair
representation of metanoia.
Metanoia literally means to
change ones mind, or to "think differently or afterwards" (Strong's Lexicon).
This mistranslation unfortunately
made it into the Latin Vulgate translation, and as a result,
spread throughout the church. Hence, our
modern definition of repent is "to
turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's
life" (Merriam Websters). If this is the meaning of
metanoia then it sure sounds like works salvation.
However, a good exegetical study of the usage of metanoia
would draw a different conclusion.
Of all the verses that use the word repent in the context of
turning from sins, none of them are referring to salvation.
An example of this is Acts 8:22 where a new
believer named Simon offered to buy the gifts of the Holy
Spirit from the Apostle Peter. Peter's response was
"Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if
perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee."
Here Peter calls a believer to repent of a specific sin.
It is important to note that Simon was already a believer
(Acts 8:13). This repentance was not to gain
salvation, for salvation was already had. The context
of this verse is entirely different than the context of
salvation. There seems to be a repentance to
salvation; and another repentance of ones sins after
salvation. The difference is important.
The repentance of ones sins after salvation is a process
called sanctification. Sanctification literally means
to be set apart. In the believers life it is
threefold. First, we are set apart immediately upon
conversion. Second, we are being set apart throughout
our lives on earth. And third, we will be set apart
(glorified) when Christ returns. The repentance of
sins refers to this second part of sanctification. The
transformation of the believers life toward the intended
will of God here on earth (1 Peter 1:15). As believers
we are to seek this earnestly.
The question logically follows; what is the definition of
repentance that leads to salvation? In John 3:18 Jesus
states, "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he
that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not
believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
This passage makes it clear that we are condemned because of
our unbelief. We are not condemned because of our
belief. The only thing a believer has to repent of to
be saved is their unbelief. We have to metanoia
(change our minds/unbelief) about who the Messiah is and
what he did on the cross. We have to stop thinking
what we used to think about the Messiah and start believing that He is God
in the flesh who took upon Himself the punishment for our
sins. This is the only prerequisite to saving faith.
When this is done you have salvation. This is also
confirmed in John 3:36, "He that believeth not the Son shall
not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."
The sin that needs to be repented of is believing not.
This is not a repentance from sins, but a repentance from a
belief about who the Messiah is and what He did. This does not negate the
responsibility of every believer to be sanctified before the
Lord more and more as their life moves on. It just
clarifies that the sanctification is not a prerequisite to
The Messiah adds more clarity to this whole concept
of belief in the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 1:15,
the Messiah said, "repent ye, and believe the
gospel." We know from 1 Cor. 15:1-4 that the
gospel refers to the death, burial, and resurrection
of the Messiah for the forgiveness of sins, but what
does the Messiah mean by repent?
If we understood repentance
like the modern definition, this statement would
mean, "turn from
your sins ye, and believe the gospel." This is
very unfortunate because it sure sounds like you
have to earn salvation by turning from your sins.
This can't be true 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" (Eph. 2:8-9). Rather, the Messiah is
saying, "change your mind" (repent),
"and believe the
gospel" (death, burial, resurrection 1 Cor. 15:1-4),
or in other words, "stop believing whatever you used
to believe, and start believing that the Messiah
died, was buried, and rose again to pay for your
sins." Salvation is that simple. We have
to "change our mind" (repent) and believe the gospel
(death, burial, resurrection for forgiveness).
three parts to our salvation, Justification, Sanctification,
We first need to repent (change our minds) about who
the Messiah is and what He did to pay for our sins
(Justification - Rom. 4:25). Then we need to
repent (change our minds) about the sin in our lives
(Sanctification - 1 Thess. 4:3). Finally, when
we are done with this life and we receive our new
body from heaven we will be free from sin forever
(Glorification - Rom. 8:30). Justification
always comes before Sanctification, but
Sanctification is the proof of our Justification
(James 2:17, 22). We must first repent and
believe that the Messiah died to pay for our sins,
then we repent about our sins and work with God to
remove sin from our lives (Phil. 2:12-13).
The turning from sins always
comes after faith is placed in the Messiah for
forgiveness. For more on these topics please
see my articles on