If the heart of the church is the gospel of grace, then the heart of a believer is one of faith and repentance. Faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin we call “conversion.”
Every believer was at one time not a believer. They were unbelievers and unforgiven before they trusted in Jesus. The transition from unbeliever to believer can be experienced as a clear and immediate moment of transformation, while for others their experience is more subtle.
The timing and circumstances of one’s conversion differ from person to person, but every conversion consists of faith and repentance. Some are converted so early in their lives that they cannot recall a time when they were not converted. Others are converted dramatically at a later age and in such a manner that the event is sealed in their heart forever. And then there are those who remember the days before their conversion, and that they are now believers, but cannot pinpoint the precise moment. Regardless of the manner in which their conversion happens, all Christians are converted in a moment when faith and repentance are present.
Faith is often thought of as a leap into the unknown, a blind acceptance of a wish not really based on anything. But Christian faith is not wishing. It is dependence on Christ and His promises and truths revealed in Scripture. Faith is based on what God has said in the light, not a trust fall into the dark. Faith is best understood as being made up of three parts: knowledge, assent, and trust.
Saving faith in Jesus Christ requires knowledge of facts. We cannot believe in Jesus unless we know who He is, what He did, and what it all means. Jesus’ righteous life, His sacrificial death, and His resurrection from the grave saves sinners from sin, death, and hell. Unless we know this, true faith is impossible.
But knowledge alone is not yet faith. Many know the truth but do not yet believe it. Knowledge must be accompanied by assent. Assent is agreement with the facts, an acknowledgement that they are true. Some consider themselves to be Christian because they assent to the truth. But even then this is not faith. Many people, and even demons (James 2:19), know the facts and agree that they are indeed true.
“To truly believe requires more than a religious head-nod to the promises; it includes receiving and resting upon them.”
Think for a moment of a stool. If you walk up to a three-legged seat, you know what it is—something to sit on. You can see how it is made and know what its purpose is. This is knowledge. You can examine it closely and conclude that if you were to sit on it, it would bear all your weight. Agreeing that it could hold you is assent. But this is not yet faith. Faith happens when you sit on the stool and rest. Such resting is the essence of trust.
Trust, the final ingredient of faith, knows the facts, agrees with the facts, and then moves a person to fully rely on the mercy of God in Christ. To truly believe requires more than a religious head-nod to the promises; it includes receiving and resting upon them. Faith always requires repentance.
Most of us have a general understanding of repentance: to turn away from sin. In his Brief Catechism of Bible Doctrine, James P. Boyce explains, “Repentance is sorrow for sin, accompanied by a determination, with the help of God, to sin no more.”
We cannot turn away from sin completely, not in this lifetime. But faith empowers us to endeavor to forsake sin and walk in righteousness. This, if it will be experienced in any measure, will happen only with divine assistance. Accompanying such turning is a godly sorrow. Not a sorrow for the pain sin has caused us. Not a regret that one has been caught in sin. But a sorrow that is rooted in offending our good and holy God. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
The 1689 Baptist Confession explains repentance as:
an evangelical grace, whereby a person, being by the Holy Spirit made sensible of the manifold evils of his sin, does, by faith in Christ, humble himself for it with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrence, praying for pardon and strength of grace, with a purpose and endeavor, by supplies of the Spirit, to walk before God unto all well-pleasing in all things.
Repentant people see their sin, hate their sin, and prayerfully seek to reject their sin and walk with God.
While some of our sins are obvious to us, we comfortably ignore others. We all must prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to lead us in repentance as we examine our lives in light of the Word and seek to lay aside the sin that so easily entangles us (Heb. 12:1). Repentance includes knowing how to respond practically to these specific sins by replacing them with godly practices.
Repentance is not self-powered moral reformation, but a spiritual transformation that is accomplished by the work of Jesus Christ. In all our repentance from sin, we must look to Jesus as our only hope for rest from sin, encouragement in growth, and power to live for God. To rest in, be encouraged by, and find power in the gospel, we must prayerfully dwell on the person and work of Jesus. To do this we need robust theology that is continually exercised by faith.
While faith and repentance mark the beginning of the Christian life, they continue on throughout the whole of it as well. An infant comes from her mother’s womb drawing her first breath, but she must continue to breathe in order to live. Faith and repentance are like spiritual breathing. We continually breathe in faith and exhale in repentance.
by Joe Thorn
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