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Repent and Believe

by David A. DePra

     When the Bible introduces the ministry of John the Baptist, it says,

"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness

of Judea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at

hand. (Matt. 3:2) Later, it introduces the ministry of Jesus by

saying, "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent,

for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt. 4:17) And then when

it records what the disciples of Jesus preached, when Jesus sent

them out, it says, "And they went out, and preached that men should

repent." (Mark 6:12) And finally, after Peter gave the first sermon

on the day of Pentecost, those who heard him asked, "Men and

brethren, what shall we do?" Peter answered:

Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus

Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the

Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and

to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save

yourselves from this untoward generation. (Acts 2:38-40)

     There is a clear pattern here, indicating what it was that stood at

the forefront of the preaching of the gospel. Again and again we

read: Repent. Or, repent and believe. Repentance is clearly at

the forefront of the Truth of the gospel. It is paramount to salvation.

Why? And what does it mean to repent? And more importantly,

what are we supposed to repent OF?

     We start to see some answers if we simply look at the Greek

word which is commonly translated "repentance," or "repent" in the

NT. The word is "metanoeo." It means "to perceive afterwards."

"Meta" means "after," implying "change," Noeo means "to

perceive." The word "nous" refers to "the mind, the seat of moral


     If we put all of this together, we see that "repentance" is a change

of mind -- yes -- but really, a change of the MORAL outlook and

motivation. Thus, repentance is not a change which occurs merely

on the intellectual level. Certainly not on the emotional level. Above

all, repentance occurs on the MORAL level.

     Of course, we are moral in nature. God created us in His moral

image. And the fact that we are moral beings also points to the

reality that we are forever bound to God. We are accountable to

Him for all that we do and all that we are. Nothing can change

this -- not even our rebellion. We WILL be judged by Him.


Repentance IS Change


     So what IS repentance? Repentance is change. It is moral

change. But note an important distinction here. It is vital to for us to

see:  Repentance doesn't merely LEAD to change. Repentance IS

change. That is what the word means. Thus, it is not possible to

repent without changing. Repentance without change is just as

impossible as water without the wet. If I have repented, I have


     But what changes about me if I repent?  Well, fundamentally, what

changes is I no longer live in unbelief.  I no longer stand aloof from

Christ.  I no longer reject Christ. Instead, by faith I embrace His

finished work.  I embrace His grace and His forgiveness.

If this sounds like salvation, it is.  At salvation, I recognize that

Jesus Christ has already taken away all my sin.  Therefore, I stop

believing my sin comes between myself and God -- stop walking in

unbelief -- and receive the free gift of God's grace.

     Now, if you read that, you may have picked up an insight as to

what it is that we must repent of.  Did you see it?  Sin?  Well, yes,

but a certain sin.  We must repent of the sin of UNBELIEF.

     You see, Jesus Christ has already taken away all sin. We

therefore need not, nor can we, "repent" sin away. No. It is already

taken away in Christ. Thus, the only thing which has kept us from

Christ is -- not our sin -- but our refusal to believe. Thus, it is our

unbelief -- our refusal to come to Christ -- that we must repent of.

     Nothing could change me more. To stop walking in unbelief,

and to begin walking in the grace of God, spells big time change

as to the moral fabric of my being. Repent of unbelief and you will

not only embrace the full forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ, but

you will come to walk in newness of life. You will be changed.

     Now, we have to get this straight. It is simple and clear. If I have

not changed, I have not repented! Period. There is no such thing

as repentance without change. There can't be. Repentance IS

change. It is the change which comes from embracing Jesus Christ.




     We must repent of SIN.  We must "change our mind" about it.  For

a Christian, this means that he no longer wants to sin.  Despite his

continual failures and weaknesses, his intention towards sin is to

forsake it. That is a tremendous change from what he was before

he repented.

     But don't misunderstand.  It is not that we sort of repent of one sin

at a time, and sort of change our mind about each.  No.  That would

not only be impossible, but would create a terrible bondage.  Again,

what we really repent of when we receive Christ is unbelief.  We

repent of not embracing the grace of God.  Thus, once we repent of

that sin, we see that in Christ all of our other sin is taken away and

forever forgiven.

     However, we do need to be clear about something else. It is

easy to fall into the trap of thinking that IF we repent, God THEN

gives us His grace and forgiveness. But this is not the way it works.

     Let's think about this for a moment.  Once I say, "IF I repent,

THEN God gives His grace," I am making grace conditional.  I am

basing God's grace on something I do:  Repent.  We usually

justify doing so by saying, "Well, God certainly cannot give us His

grace if we don't repent.  That would be license."  But we are

missing the point entirely.

    The point is this:  God's forgiveness and grace are finished for

me.  They are finished for everyone -- no matter whether they have

repented or not. That is because His finished work depends solely

upon Him.  There are no "IF's."  Grace is NOT based on anything I

do, or even based on whether I repent.  They are based solely on

what Christ has done.

     But does this mean that I can receive the grace of God without

repenting of sin?  No, it means that I WON'T receive the grace of

God without repenting.  Why?  Because the thing I must repent of

IS the refusal of God's grace.  THAT is the sin which I must repent

of.  Unbelief is THE sin.

     So rather than a "first repent, then receive grace" formula, it is

really that we must repent OF refusing the grace of God.  The grace

of God has always been there for us.  It never depended on us.  We

only needed to embrace it by faith.

     So we MUST repent.  But not in order to qualify for grace.  We

must repent of refusing grace.  And once we do, we having received

Jesus Christ, the solution for all sin.

     Now what we see in all of this is that, yes, repentance is a change

of mind and a change of moral direction.  Thus, when I repent of

unbelief, I am changing my entire direction in life.  I stop living for

myself and by faith hand myself over to God.  This, in turn, does

what?  It affects my conduct; my works.  Because I am now walking

in faith, and have forsaken unbelief, my life will begin to show it.


Once for All


     The death of Christ, was, of course, once for all.  Jesus doesn't

need to die over and over for our sin.  But so is our repentance once

for all. We do not have to receive Christ over and over again. We

do not have to repent of unbelief over and over again -- in the sense

embracing Jesus as Saviour. Once we repent of unbelief, and

embrace Christ, we ARE born again.

     Salvation is not progressive.  We are either saved or not saved.

We are either born again, or not born again.  You cannot be half

born.  And we have either repented of unbelief, and embraced the

grace of God in Jesus Christ, or we have not.  It is all or nothing, and

once for all.

     But here we must again point to some need for clarification. The

fact that salvation is a once for all event, as is repentance, does not

mean we are finished with it once we are saved. No. We have just

begun. We have begun a journey.

     Just begun?  Just begun what?  Being saved?  No.  Repenting?

No. We are saved and have repented. We are changed. But now

we must do -- what?  We must live in these realities.

     Salvation is, after all, a new birth. The new birth is finished. It is

not half done -- any more than a physical birth is partly or half done.

But even though the new birth is finished, we still have to grow. We

have to move forward and experience Jesus Christ.

     We repent once for all by embracing Christ. We enter into Christ.

We CHANGE.  We change our minds and have a new life.  But then

we have to move forward and experience what our salvation; what

our repentance holds.  We have to live and grow.

     This need for growth is why Christians say, "God convicted me

of a certain sin, and I had to repent of it."  We don't mean we were

saved all over again, or that we have to spend life repenting of one

sin after another. No. What we mean is that we have repented of

the sin of unbelief once for all. We have embraced Christ. But now,

as we walk with Him, God often shows us our sins and faults, so

that we can forsake committing sin and obey Him.

     Notice something here: This has nothing to do with the fact of our

salvation. It doesn't change this one bit.  Neither does it mean that

we must repent all over again.  No. It simply means that because

we HAVE repented and believed, that we must now learn how to

walk in our faith in Christ.  We will have to see where we have

sinned, and then correct course.




     Repentance first occurs within a person's heart -- or as the word

suggests -- a person's moral perspective.  But as mentioned, if that

change really happens, then it is going to be reflected in our works

and conduct.   It will bear fruit.   We will come to experience it.

     John the Baptist said that to the Pharisees. He said:


O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to

come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance. (Matt. 3:7-8)

     The fact is, what you ARE results in FRUIT. Jesus said, "A good

tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth

good fruit." (Matt. 7:18) That is cut and dry. No gray area. If you

have repented; have become a new creation, you WILL bring forth

good fruit. You WILL. The change which has occurred within you

will eventually be manifested by outward fruit -- good works.

     James also taught this. It is a familiar verse: "Faith without works

is dead." REAL faith produces good works. Every time.

     But we do need to elaborate on this, lest we misunderstand. We

need to see exactly what James means. James is NOT saying

that if I have a dead faith that I can bring it alive by doing good

works. NO. Works cannot change the true condition of faith,

anymore than fruit can change the true condition of a tree. Rather,

it is the condition of my faith that determines my works, and the

condition of the tree which determines the fruit -- not the other way


     Notice that the fruit I produce is not the result of me keeping

rules and laws. No. It is the result of what I am in Christ LIVING out

what I am in Christ. How could there not be good works? Christianity

is not, and never will be, a list of laws and rules to follow. Rather, it

is a new birth and a new relationship with God which produces the

only thing it can produce: Faith working through love -- which IS

the fulfilling of every law God ever gave.

     Trees produce fruit. The kind of tree determines the kind of fruit.

But trees take time to produce fruit. There is a process involved.

Thus, once we repent, we can expect a process to begin -- a

process which will produce fruit which reflects our repentance.


Fake Repentance


     Christianity is filled with people who say they have repented, but

who have NOT changed. But this is not because we are wrong to

insist that repentance ALWAYS means change. No. True

repentance ALWAYS means change.

     There are two reasons why someone who claims to have

repented has evidenced no change. The first has to do with the

growth process we have just discussed. Often, once I repent, God

must tear down before He can build up. He must deplete and

reduce our strength and confidence in ourselves. This often makes

us look as if we are falling apart, rather than growing. Such a thing

can be discouraging. It may lead us to suggest that our repentance

was not real.

     If we were able to dissect such an individual, we would find that

that HAS been real change. The change is WITHIN. They have a

new moral perspective; a new mind. They have placed their faith in

Christ and have changed directions. But they are simply in a stage

where things are being sorted out. Who among us is without sin?

     Repentance does not lead to perfect conduct. We are still in a

body of flesh which is subject to the fallen creation. But repentance

does carry with it a new motive and intent. It carries with it a

surrender by faith to God. And THAT is change.

     The second reason why someone who claims to have repented

does not evidence change is that they have not repented. Their

repentance was a fake repentance. Perhaps even THEY are

deceived into thinking it is real. But it is not.

     "Being sorry for sin" can often be mistaken for repentance. But it

is not repentance. The apostle Paul cleared up this confusion:


For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be

repented of: but the sorrow of the world works death." (II Cor. 7:10)

     Here we see a contrast between Godly sorrow and worldly

sorrow. Worldly sorrow is the result of getting caught! I am sorry

because the consequences for what I have done have come upon

me. But for no other reason. Godly sorrow, however, is sorrow

because I have sinned against God by refusing Him.

     Worldly sorrow would be possible if there were no God. There

is no moral change necessary. But Godly sorrow is not possible

except it be the outcome of accountability to God. I see, in the light

of Jesus Christ, how I have violated my Creator. And I see how God

nevertheless loves me.

     Lots of people, including Christians, express worldly sorrow. It

has little to do with SIN ITSELF, and less to do with accountability

to God. Instead, it has to do with an injured pride -- a subtle

disappointment that I did not do better. It has to do with looking bad.

It has to do with sorrow for reaping what I sow. And often it does not

last any longer than the consequences which are reaped.

     Godly sorrow unto repentance is so real, and so final, that Paul

says that it is "not to be repented of." Moral things -- unto God -- are

like that. Emotional and intellectual things waver and bounce back

and forth. But moral choices, before God Almighty of heaven, are

sealed. This has to do with how we are made.


Darkness or Light


     The most well-known passage in the Bible is John 3:16. But often

we do not read far enough in the passage. If we would, it would

enlighten us as to our responsibility to embrace the Person who is



For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that

whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting

life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world,

but that the world through him might be saved. He that believes 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. And this is the condemnation, that light is

into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because

their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light,

neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But

he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made

manifest, that they are wrought in God. (Jn. 3:16-21)


     Here we see what it is that brings condemnation, or judgment,

upon us: That Light has come into the world, but that we have

rejected Him and embraced darkness. That we are unwilling to

stand in the Light and have our deeds and works exposed. That

we have been given the way out of sin and have refused Him.

     This passage from John shows us that God does not blame us

for being born in darkness.  No.  God sent His Son, not to condemn

us for that, but to save us FROM it.  But once the Light has come,

and we see the way OUT of darkness, we are accountable.  If we

choose the darkness we shall lose everything. We will be eternally


     Now notice:  What is it, in this passage, that is said to bring

condemnation?  Refusing the Light.  In gospel terms, that means to

refuse the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  And we have already

seen what this sin is called: Unbelief.

     Thus, again we see that UNBELIEF is the one sin which can

condemn us, for it is the refusal of God's grace and forgiveness.

It is therefore the one sin which we need to repent of.   If we will

repent of unbelief, we will see that in Christ God has taken away all

other sin.

     Do you see this?  Unbelief is the refusal of grace.  Therefore, we

must repent of unbelief to RECEIVE grace.  Repenting of unbelief,

and embracing the grace of God IS the change of direction that God

is after.  In time, it will bring us on into a life of obedience.


God Grants Repentance


     The Bible teaches that God must GRANT repentance. This

means He must bring us to that point. But the Bible also teaches

the God desires for all men to repent and come to a knowledge of

the Truth.


In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God

will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And

that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who

are taken captive by him at his will. (II Tim. 2:25-26)


The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count

slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should

perish, but that all should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9)


     Isn't it a bit strange that God, on the one hand, would command us

to repent, but on the other tell us that we cannot repent unless He

grants it? Not when you realize that He is granting repentance to all

of us. THIS is the day when the gospel of salvation is being

preached. God is both granting, and then commanding all men to


     Jesus said, "No one can come to me except the Father who sent

me draw Him." (Jn. 6:44) We cannot initiate repentance. We have

nothing to work with. God must do this. He must "grant" us

repentance -- do whatever it takes to bring us to that choice. But

once He does bring us, then WE must do it! God works in us, both

to will and to do. But He won't WILL for us, or DO for us those things

which we can and must do. God does the convicting. We do the



God's Kindness


     Now, most of that might not be news. But there is one thing which

IS news to most people. It is the method God uses to bring us to

repentance. We read of this in Romans 2:


Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and

longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to

repentance? (Romans 2:4)


     Here we read that the GOODNESS, or KINDNESS, of God is

what leads us to repentance. I grew up believing that it was the

WRATH of God that leads us -- indeed, DRIVES us -- to repent.

     This is not Biblical. The gospel is not a threat of punishment, but

an offer of life. God does not have to threaten us with the death

penalty if we will not repent. We are ALREADY dead. Instead, He

offers us life in Jesus Christ.

     We saw this in John 16. We are already in darkness. But Light

has come into the world. But the Light did not come into the world

to condemn the world. No. The world is ALREADY in death and

darkness. The Light has come to bring life. It is only when we reject

Him that God has no other option but to give us our choice for death.

     We have to get it straight once and for all. Jesus Christ is Light

and Life. We are dead. By repenting, we renounce sin and death,

and embrace Christ. We cannot do it any other way. There IS no

other way.




     How serious is this matter of repentance? Just this serious: If you

have not repented, you are not even a Christian. You are not

saved. Period.

     What? If we have not repented, we are not a Christian? How can

this be so? It IS so for one reason: The way that we become a

Christian is BY repenting.

     Get that. The way I become a Christian is by embracing Jesus

Christ. And I will not do that unless I repent of unbelief, and bring all

of my other sin to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Unless I have done

this, I am not a Christian.

     Repentance is a change of moral mind. It is a change of

direction. I turn around from my will, and seek God's will. I turn

around from sin and seek the righteousness of Jesus Christ. I turn

around from unbelief to faith. Repentance IS that turning around.

Therefore, if I have NOT turned around -- have not repented -- I

am still walking in my will, living in sin, living in unbelief. I can no

more face in two directions at once spiritually than I can physically.

It is impossible.

     Thus, we see that there is no middle ground here. If I have

repented, I am a Christian. If I have not repented, then I'm not a

Christian. It is either one or the other.

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