Repent and Believe the Gospel

by David A. DePra

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"Repent and believe the gospel." These were the first recorded words of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But what do they mean?

To, “repent” – according to the original Greek word – means to undergo, “a change of mind.” And the Greek word for, “mind,” means more than brains, and more than feelings. It speaks of the will and moral intent. So, “repentance,” means a change of moral mind – a change of moral will and intent. But our context is relationship with God. Thus, true repentance is a change of moral will and intent towards God Himself.

You will note the word CHANGE. There would be no need for CHANGE – no need for repentance – unless the initial condition was corrupt. Thus, built into the exhortation, “repent and believe,” is the necessity of a person realizing that they NEED to repent. A person has to see that a change is necessary.

No one can simply repent because they are told to do. If a person is born with a corrupt mind that is at enmity towards God – if that is all we have to work with – then it is impossible to find in that corrupt mind the resources necessary to escape that corruption. That which is by nature against God cannot produce love for God. If you are spiritually dead you cannot generate life in yourself. If you are blind you cannot make yourself see. If you are dark you cannot produce light. It is therefore essential that the process of repentance begin from the outside of ourselves – that One other than ourselves be the source. This is precisely why humanity is not only told to repent – but to BELIEVE; believe the GOSPEL.

In order to repent and believe there must come LIGHT from the outside of ourselves into our consciousness. This is NOT yet salvation. It is LIGHT that makes it possible to repent, believe, and be saved. God, through the revelation of Christ, must bring the light necessary to show a person their lost condition – and to show a person Jesus Christ as the only solution. In simple terms, a person must be shown their NEED to repent – they must be given Truth to believe.

This is why Romans 10 says, “Faith comes by hearing.” (Romans 10:17) Note that it says, “Faith COMES…..” This indicates that faith isn’t there to begin with. No human being is born with a shred of faith. There is NO light or truth in natural man. There is NOT some spark of life or light that God must ignite for us to be saved. No. Faith must COME – faith must COME TO BE – in a human being. Faith must COME TO BE – and can only COME TO BE – if a human being HEARS the Truth. This fact points to the essential of God SPEAKING what can be heard. In short, God Himself must initiate the possibility of salvation by revealing Jesus Christ – by, “speaking,” Jesus Christ to a lost person. Then the person can HEAR the Truth; see the Truth – because there is Truth TO SEE.

There are many who deny that a lost person – a spiritually dead person – can hear or see. It is out of this false assumption that heresy such as Calvinism if born – Calvinism teaches that God must FIRST regenerate a person SO THAT they can hear and believe. This is the Calvinistic doctrine of, “salvation BEFORE faith.” Yes, Calvinism teaches that you must FIRST be saved, and then you believe. It is error. The question is not whether a spiritually dead person can hear – of course they cannot hear if left to themselves. Rather, the question is whether God can speak in a way that even the dead can hear – even while they remain spiritually dead. He can. Jesus Christ conquered death. Thus, God can bring light into any darkness. He can open the eyes of the blind enough for the person to turn. This is not yet salvation. It is enlightenment – it is the power of God unto salvation FOR THOSE WHO DO BELIEVE. (Rom. 1:16)

John wrote, “This is condemnation – that light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (see John 3:19) Again, light must COME in the darkened world of each of us. But there is a CHOICE – either to love darkness RATHER than light, or to love light RATHER than darkness. John clearly states the possibility of loving darkness RATHER than light – of loving the darkness DESPITE the light that has been given. In short, the light, truth, and grace that God speaks in Christ will result in salvation if we REPENT and BELIEVE. But that same light, truth, and grace will result in CONDEMNATION – “THIS is condemnation, that light has come……” – if people reject it.

Once God brings the light and Truth of Jesus Christ to a person there is no going back. A person who has been given light HAS seen. They cannot UNSEE. Of course, they can CHOOSE to neglect, deny, sidestep, or reason around what God has revealed. They can choose something INSTEAD of the Truth. And it may takes much time for the Truth to begin to dawn on them and for real repentance to emerge. But if God is bringing light we are not here talking about religion. We are not talking about the choice of whether to adopt a religious argument, list of doctrines, or philosophy. This is not a choice of whether to join a church or a movement. The issue is not conversion to what is actually a false gospel. If a person is truly under the conviction of God it is a supernatural conviction that cannot be accounted for through argumentation or mere reasoning. It is spiritual – again – it is God speaking Christ. The person is being enlightened at least enough to obey the command, “Repent and believe the gospel.” And it is real.

The exhortation, “Repent and believe the gospel,” is not a command to merely believe and accept a MESSAGE. Paul said, “The gospel concerning His Son…” In other words, this is an exhortation of embrace the PERSON to whom the message points. The gospel is the entire Truth of God in His Son, Jesus Christ.

If you examine these words, “Repent and believe,” they clearly indicate exactly what constitutes the CORE of true repentance. Repent -- of WHAT? Repent of UNBELIEF; repent of NOT believing. And if a person repents of NOT believing – has that moral change of mind towards God – then they WILL BELIEVE.

Those words, “Repent and believe,” embody a complete TURNING; a complete CHANGE of moral intent towards God. The person repents of unbelief and therefore believes; the person believes and therefore repents of unbelief.

You will note that at this point it is not a matter of listing out specific sins and one by one, “repenting,” of them. No. This is a repentance of the root of all sin – unbelief or self-ownership. It is a renunciation, because a person has SEEN and EMBRACED Christ – of SELF. The person willingly and joyfully gives themselves to Jesus Christ – not because they are afraid not to, but because they want Him; because they see the Truth about Him.

If a person truly gives themselves to Jesus Christ then He will join them to Himself and they will become one spirit with Him. (I Cor. 6:17) This is the, “repentance unto salvation not to be repented of.” (II Cor. 7:10) That is eternal security. It is once and for all forever because real repentance is once and for all and forever – it is an eternal transaction made possible by Jesus Christ. This is not a religious experience. It is not an emotional conversion. It is not the result of natural man or religious flesh. The person is born from above – the person has passed from death to life in Christ. They now belong to One other than themselves.

It is only once a person has repented of THE SIN – THE SIN of belonging to themselves – that all of the other SINS – can be overcome. It is a waste of time to try to overcome SINS all the while belonging to ourselves. Oh, we might alter our conduct. But THE SIN will nevertheless govern.

So the words, “Repent and believe the gospel,” are an exhortation to embrace the light once God speaks Christ – and in doing so – open ourselves unconditionally to Jesus Christ. We are to undergo a change of moral intent towards God Himself. We are to repent and forsake belonging to ourselves – we can ask God, “to do whatever it takes,” to bring to pass these realities. We can learn Christ and what it means to belong to Him.

In a very real sense, “Repent and believe the gospel,” will define the Christian life. The choice to, “Repent and believe,” may be real and eternal, but now will be worked out and lived out as the person experiences and discovers the Person of Jesus Christ – the Person who IS light and Truth. The person will more and more appreciate their deliverance from themselves – they will more and more experience fellowship with Him in His death and what is the meaning of the Cross. But they will more and more believe and embrace the Person who IS the true gospel.

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